Howie Mooney
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Monday, June 5, 2023


For the second straight series, the Islanders were facing a team that was far superior to them offensively. But they held an edge when it came to limiting other teams from scoring. The Penguins were fourth in the league in goal scoring, but they were twelfth when it came to keeping the puck out of their own net. Pittsburgh had a 43-goal scorer in Jean Pronovost. They also had a very young Pierre Larouche who scored 31 goals in ’74-75. Vic Hadfield and Rick Kehoe had also reached the 30-goal plateau. Ron Schock, Syl Apps, Jr. and Ron Stackhouse were also excellent playmakers.

In goal, the Pens had relied mostly on Gary Inness who played in 57 games. Michel Plasse appeared in 20 games, while Bob Johnson played in 12 and a young Denis Herron played in three games. When it came to toughness, the Islanders had Hart, Garry Howatt and Bob Nystrom. Denis Potvin could also be counted on to drop the gloves if needed. Colin Campbell was the Penguins’ chief enforcer, but Bob Kelly and Bob Paradise could also chuck the knuckles too.

But Parise was confident in what he and his teammates could do against the Pens. “I know we can beat them, but it’s not going to be easy. They have three tough lines. They’re going to be hard to contain, especially that line centered by Syl Apps. We can do it, though, because these guys have learned to believe in themselves.”

Arbour echoed what Parise had said about Pittsburgh’s offensive capabilities. “The Penguins have a very strong offensive team. They have three solid lines – nine guys who scored at least twenty goals. We won’t be able to key on any one line because they have such great balance.”

The Pens played forty games at ‘The Igloo’ in 1974-75, losing just five times there. Those numbers didn’t phase Arbour one bit, though. “Hey, we just won three games in six nights at Madison Square Garden, didn’t we? If you’re going to get anywhere in the playoffs, you have to win on the road.” He still hadn’t made a decision as to which goalie would start in the first game of the series. “I’ll talk it over with both guys, see how they feel, what their thinking is and then make my pick.”

The first game of this series started the way the second game of the Rangers’ series did. Badly, for the Isles. That first fifteen minutes proved to be their undoing as they got behind 3-0 and then had to chase the game the rest of the way. Vic Hadfield with a shorthanded goal, Ron Stackhouse and Peter Laframboise (who, six years later, would be in my marketing class at Algonquin College in Ottawa) put Pittsburgh up by three, with just over five minutes left in the opening period. 

The Penguins held on, after a late flurry by the Isles, to win the opener 5-4. Penguins goaltender Gary Inness was pumped after the victory. “We’re going right to the Cup,” Inness proclaimed after he and his mates held off the Islanders onslaught in third period. He was great as New York outshot Pittsburgh 40-34 in the game. Al Arbour acknowledged that after the game. “Inness was the difference. We had our chances and we couldn’t take advantage of them.”

Inness was oozing confidence after the game after keeping the Isles scoring in the last 53 seconds despite their enjoying a 6-on-4 advantage to close the game. “I know I have to handle pressure and I believe I can. I got hot tonight and the puck took the right bounce at the right time,” Inness told the assembled reporters after the game. 

For Pittsburgh, they did what they had to do – win the first game at home. For the Islanders, they had a chance to mentally get out of the Rangers series and focus on this set against a new foe. The teams had an off day after this one was done and played again on April 15 at ‘The Igloo’.

The second game of the series may have been worse for the Islanders than the first one, but Billy Smith was great as the Pens out shot the Isles 47-34 and won the game 3-1. 33-year old Lowell MacDonald scored twice for Pittsburgh and had an assist on the third goal, while Jean Pronovost scored once and assisted on MacDonald’s goals. 

While Pittsburgh carried the play in the game, they still showed some reverence to the upstart team from Nassau County when it was all over. “The Islanders have a tough team and they battle back,” MacDonald said. “I would just as soon have played Los Angeles or even Boston in this series. That’s how much I respect the Islanders.”

Billy Smith stopped all 21 Penguins’ shots in the first period and MacDonald also talked glowingly about the game that the opposing goalie played between the pipes for New York. “Smith played exceptionally well. He kept them in the game and to be honest, I was worried about how hot he was in that first period.”

Before this series started, Al Arbour figured it would be a stressful and extended one. Despite being down 2-0, he was not surrendering just yet. “We let the Penguins play their game tonight but we’re going to bounce back. I said before that this would be a long series.”

Two nights later, the teams went at it again at the Nassau County Coliseum. If this was the only game you ever watched, you might think that Gary Inness was the greatest goalie you ever saw play! After the second period, the Islanders had outshot Pittsburgh by a count of 32-26. But, at that point in the game, the Penguins enjoyed a 3-1 lead…and that was because of the stellar play of Inness.

It was 4-2 for the Pens with just over four minutes left in the third period when Garry Howatt ran over the Pittsburgh goalie and it was a hit that caused Inness to get up very slowly. “I’m not sure what happened,” Inness told the media after the game. “Howatt hit me from behind and I don’t remember anything after that. Kenny (Penguins’ trainer Ken Carson) said I wasn’t out, but I’m not so sure.”

Just under two minutes after that Howatt hit on Inness, the Isles’ Bert Marshall took a slap shot from the point that Inness couldn’t locate and with just over three minutes left, it was a one-goal game. But 34 seconds later, Syl Apps went in on a 2-on-1 and scored short side on Smith to restore the two-goal difference. But, less than a minute after that, Jude Drouin got the puck out of a scramble and slid it under Inness to make it a 5-4 game. 

There were still 52 seconds left. 

Twelve seconds later, the Isles got the chance to pull Smith from the net to get the extra attacker on the ice. There was a faceoff in the Penguins’ end. Pittsburgh won the draw and eventually MacDonald was sent in on the wing and deposited the puck into the empty goal to ice the victory and put a stranglehold on the series for Pittsburgh. They now led three games to none.

Neither coach was really happy after the game. Arbour talked about mental errors from his squad. “We dug ourselves a hole again. We made too many mistakes. Passed when we should have shot and shot when we should have passed.” Pittsburgh coach Marc Boileau was upset because his charges allowed the Isles to get back into the game late. “They never should have had two goals. Not in the last few minutes like that. One, maybe. Not two. Geez, on the second one, Stackhouse had the puck behind our own net and he gets checked and turns around and – boom –they score.”

Game 3 was played on a Friday night. The fourth game was scheduled for Synday afternoon and was going to be the NBC Game of the Week. That meant it would be nationally televised across the United States. That evening, John Denver was supposed to be having a concert at the Nassau County Coliseum. Denver canceled the concert so the teams could play their game.

Also, and perhaps more pertinent to the matters at hand, was the fact that during the first three games of this series, Al Arbour had been experiencing some horrible back issues, to the point that he was having to spend time in a hospital bed in traction between games. It was causing Arbour to miss times between games in which he should have been at the arena. He was feeling stress and anxiety over the situation, which was undoubtedly exacerbated by the scores in the first three games.

Between the third and fourth games, Arbour called for a team meeting in the team’s clubhouse. The players were anticipating being intensely chewed out by their head coach. Years after the series took place, Chico Resch talked with Stan Fischler about what could be thought of as the pivotal moment in the series.

“The way we were losing, it could have been Al giving us a real good bawling out.” But it wasn’t going to be that at all. Arbour shocked the team with his address to his players that day. “I apologize to you,” the man nicknamed Radar began. “I haven’t been able to coach you in the manner that I’d like. My back has been giving me problems and I owe you guys an apology for not doing more for you all.”

The team felt shocked and many in the room became even more resolved to do anything for the man who was taking the blame for what many of the players felt was their responsibility. “We all came out of that meeting wanting to do anything to help Al and the best medicine we could give him was wins and more wins!”

Denis Potvin reiterated what Resch had said in his book, Power on Ice. “Following the third loss to Pittsburgh, Arbour left the hospital and met with us in the Islanders’ dressing room. It was the most poignant scene I experienced since I had sat down with Dad after running away from home during my junior days. But this time the context was different.”

After Arbour’s apology to the team, Potvin said, “The room was so quiet you could hear an ant breathe. To a man, the team was moved that Al would shoulder the blame (when he was blameless) for our being down three games with the Penguins.”

“That brief moment in the dressing room proved to be the turning point in the series. The Islanders were a new club after that,” Potvin wrote. “Thankfully, Al recovered from his back woes and has since been, literally, a pillar of strength for the club.”

Arbour’s next decision was an important one. Before the Sunday afternoon game, Arbour took Billy Smith out as the starting goalie and announced that Chico Resch would be between the pipes. “Whatever it was that Al did,” Resch told Fischler, “we took it from there.” Pittsburgh had scored 14 goals in the first three games of the series. The Islanders were about to put a chokehold on the Penguins’ offense. 

There was another, perhaps bizarre, aspect to this series that some people may already know about.

Do you remember when the Islanders were winning both games at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers? Some of the Islanders’ players got together and tried to figure out why they had played so well against the Rangers and were now not getting the same results against the Penguins. They isolated it down to one thing……the circus and the elephants.

They agreed that they needed the odour of the elephants around the team in order to restore the winning mojo to the team. So, with nothing to lose, they had a friend of Billy Harris’ go over to Madison Square Garden and ‘borrow’ a bag of elephant dung from the circus and bring it back to the team before their fourth game at Nassau County Coliseum. The bag was to be kept in their dressing room.

Only hockey players would think of something like this!

Game 4 took place at the Nassau County Coliseum on the afternoon of April 20, 1975. The game would be broadcast nationally and the talk going into the game was about how the Islanders did not want to be swept. Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press wrote “The New York Islanders have been on the ropes so often, the rope burns look like stripes across their backs.”

As it looked at that very moment, the Islanders had loved the little run they went on against the Rangers. But was Derek Sanderson right when he said the Islanders would never win another playoff game again? The players sure didn’t want the good times to end. They just started the week before! As Denis Potvin put it in talking with Donovan, “We have a large amount of personal pride. We are not going to roll over and die.”

At that point, only one National Hockey League team had ever come back from an 0-3 series deficit. In 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs were down 0-3 in the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings and came all the way back to win the final four games and that Cup. But that history was not necessarily top of mind for someone like Isles’ winger, Gary Howatt. “I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” Howatt said, “but if it hasn’t, we’ll be the first.”

The difference in the series between the two teams in the first three games had been the Pens’ goalie, Gary Inness. Islanders’ rookie netminder Chico Resch gave credit where it was due. “The Penguins are very offensive minded. As soon as the puck starts around the boards, they all start up the ice. We figured that would give us enough shots on goal to win. And well, we have had enough shots on goal, except Inness has been stopping us.”

The Islanders’ leading goal scorer in 1974-75 had been Bob Nystrom. He tallied 27 markers on the season, two ahead of each of Billy Harris and Clark Gillies. But Nystrom was stuck, after six playoff games, at just one assist. No goals in six games. Was he frustrated? “I’ll say I’m frustrated. I feel like the team counts on me and I’m letting the guys down. I guess Inness has me psyched out.”

During the regular season, Pittsburgh amassed one more point in the standings than the Isles, and their captain, Eddie Westfall was candid in what he thought of the team that had a stranglehold on the series. “The Penguins are opportunistic, smart and they move fast. We have to be on our toes to keep up with them.” But Potvin did acknowledge that the Penguins were a solid team. “Overall, Pittsburgh has a helluva hockey team. If they beat us – and I’m not conceding yet – they can go a long way in the playoffs.”

Having a couple of days off between the third game of the series and this potentially deciding game may have been a tonic for the Islanders. The Penguins had never trailed in a game in this series. That changed less than four minutes into the first period. At 3:45, Pittsburgh’s Ron Stackhouse (6’ 3”) put the grab on Garry Howatt (5’ 9”) and went to the box. There was a faceoff in Pittsburgh’s end to Inness’ right.

Andre St. Laurent won the draw and moved the puck over toward the slot. He fired it at the net and scored. That took three seconds off the clock since Stackhouse went off to ‘feel shame’. After that, The Islanders continued to put the pressure on the Pens’ goal, but Inness was still in that ‘zone’ and he kept the game at 1-0 after twenty minutes were up.

As good as the Islanders were in the first period, the Penguins woke up in the second and imposed themselves on the game. And, as good as Inness was in the opening frame in stopping so many shots from the home side, Resch, who hadn’t played since that awful second game against the Rangers, did his job in keeping the Penguins at bay in the middle period. Well, except for one puck that got by him. Pittsburgh had a power play in the middle of the period and J. Bob Kelly backhanded a puck past the goalie named Chico.

The score was tied 1-1 after forty minutes. Was there just twenty minutes left in the Isles’ season? Could they salvage at least another game in this series? Could the Nassau County Coliseum faithful maybe be allowed to breathe before being put out of their misery? All of these questions and more would be answered once this game was over. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

A little over six minutes into the third, the puck was dumped into the Pittsburgh zone. Billy Harris went after it. Stackhouse corralled him behind the net. “I held him too,” Harris told reporters after the game. “Didn’t want him to get the puck sitting up there ten feet away. Hartie (Gerry Hart) was able to reach it and shovel it over to Clark (Gillies) for the goal.” Gillies got the game-winner at 6:16 of the third period. 39 seconds later, J.P. Parise added another goal on assists from Westfall and Jude Drouin. 

That was how the game ended. The Islanders won 3-1. They were still alive as the series went back to The Igloo. One of the heroes in this victory, perhaps unsung, was Glenn Resch. His last game was awful and he had wanted the opportunity to redeem himself. He sat through the three losses to Pittsburgh and when given the chance to play, he showed himself and his teammates that he was up to the task.

“A lot of times, too many times, I’ve played a big game and then lost the next one,” Resch told Bill Verigan of the New York Daily News immediately after the 3-1 win. “It’s a letdown. I was high for the first game against the Rangers, and we won 3-2. Then I had that second game. I’ll never be more than an average hockey player when that sort of thing happens. To be good, you need consistency.”

“All season, I’ve wanted to out-guess Al Arbour and have been wrong, but I thought he might come back with me today. Not because Smitty was playing poorly, but because he wanted to give me a chance. In the first period, I thought it was going to be just like the last three. We haven’t played well and we haven’t gotten the breaks.”

“The puck hit the post three times in that first period, and we only got one goal, and then in the second period, Kelly tied it. If I’d played him instead of anticipating, I could have had it.” There is a sense of relief that a goalie feels after a victory, that is difficult to understand for people who aren’t goalies. The games against the Rangers were different from this series against Pittsburgh. Those games had a visceral quality that wasn’t there versus the Penguins.

“Those (Ranger) games were emotional as any I ever played in college. It’s hard to get your mind on what you’re doing after that. We didn’t play our game against Pittsburgh, and I know it had to make a difference that our opening series was against the Rangers.”

J.P. Parise’s stall was right next to Resch’s. His opinion about the series was the same as his goaltender’s as well. “There was a different feeling when we beat the Rangers. It wasn’t only winning, it was beating THE RANGERS! There’s no question it was emotional. This one is for the money.” 

Jean Potvin chimed in too. “No series, the rest of the way, can compare to beating the Rangers.”

That said, this series was going back to Pittsburgh. It would be Tuesday night. Once again, it would be for all the marbles. There was talk of overconfidence on behalf of the Penguins in that fourth game. Perhaps they had lost sight of the importance of that game and might have difficulty getting it back for the fifth game back at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. 

That talk was quashed by Pens’ coach Marc Boileau. All he said to Bob Whitley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was “We’ll be ready.” He was looking through video of the loss and picking apart everything he saw on his screen. Fuming, he talked about the Islanders. “They’ll be jumping. And not just the first period. The second and the third periods too.” 

“They haven’t quit yet. They’re down 3-0, three straight games and never let up. They aren’t going to quit now. I think that was part of our problem Sunday. I think our guys felt a little like they just had to skate out there and win.”

“On Saturday morning, I could tell we weren’t ready. A couple of guys were late for the bus. That’s not a good sign. Then we were twenty minutes into the workout and a couple of guys were still horsing around. I told them about it too. You can’t take any team too lightly. I don’t care if you are up 3-0 in the series.”

So, with that assurance, the stage was set for the fifth game of this series. It would be the two rookies in goal again...Resch and Inness. Oh, and just so you know, in the entire 1974-75 season, Pittsburgh lost just five games all year at their home rink. 

The Isles’ victory at home was like a tonic for the young bunch from Long Island, at least according to their eloquent and lugubrious defenseman, Denis Potvin. He said the win in Game 4 was like “a bunch of guys finding themselves after a week of being under anaesthetic.” The team needed that wake-up call and now, this was, at least, a series.

After the Islanders’ win, the Associated Press disclosed that Potvin was playing with a fairly serious groin strain. It hadn’t stopped him from taking his regular shifts, but there was no doubt that he was playing with pain. “At this point of the game, there is no picking and choosing,” he told reporters. “You have to play and we’re going to go out and play our best.”

Someone asked him about Gary Inness, possibly hoping for an answer that might be perceived as negative, but Potvin wouldn’t take that bait. He described the Penguins’ goaltender as “superb” and yet, there was a proviso with that. 

“But I think he’s cheating a little bit. What I mean by that is that he’ll drop down before the puck is shot. You know, the talk around the league is that goaltenders are weak on long shots. They’re tough to stop. So, everybody goes lower and lower and he’s already down and the puck is sitting on him.”

Pittsburgh enjoyed a 12-game winning streak at the Igloo going into this one and since mid-November they had posted a 24-1-8 record at home. But all that success may have gone to their heads a bit as the Islanders jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead and rode that to a 4-2 victory in the elimination game. Billy Harris and Ralph Stewart led the way with a goal and an assist each before the first twenty minutes was up.

After the game, at least one member of the Pens admitted that his team may have been looking past this game. “Maybe we were a little overconfident,” defenseman Dave Burrows said. “We were thinking too much of Philadelphia. But I tell you we won’t be overconfident the next time.”

One of the things that Al Arbour had his team implement on defense was an early and somewhat rudimentary form of a neutral zone trap that completely confounded the Penguins. Jean Pronovost was trying to make sense of it as he spoke to reporters after the loss. “We were fooling around with the puck in the middle of the rink instead of just firing it into their end. Their defense is a line at centre ice and we fool around trying to get past them instead of just dumping the puck in.”

Ed Westfall tried to explain to the media members what Pronovost was talking about. “What we’re trying to do is control their wingers a little better. In the first two games, we controlled the puck but we didn’t control their players.” The Pens liked to work with the long pass from their zone to the red line. But the Isles took that away and, even though Pittsburgh outshot the upstart Long Island club, their chances were not of the high quality that they were used to.

Arbour talked about what his defensive alignment did to the Penguins’ potent offense. “We got a piece of a lot of those shots. All our guys worked hard. It was a superb team effort. We executed our team system well.” He continued on, discussing the importance of getting on the scoreboard before his opponents did. “The team that scored the first goal has won every game so far, so it must be important.”

The way the Islanders played their defensive system was important, but it would have meant nothing if not for the play of their young goalie, Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch. Resch made timely saves throughout the game – especially as the game was winding down -- and members of the Penguins noticed. Dave Burrows mentioned it to the press. “Resch was a big part of their third period. He made some big saves.”

Resch deflected any praise and pointed to factors that may or may not have been in his sphere of influence. “Everything was going good for us this time. The post saved me on Pierre Larouche’s shot (in the third period) and even the boards, which we had trouble with before, helped us on the empty net goal.”

All that mattered was the fact that the Islanders were still alive, when, a couple of days earlier, they appeared to have little more than a faint pulse. Arbour was rationalizing about how they transitioned from the Expressway Series to the Penguins’ games. “We settled a bit after beating the Rangers in the opening playoff. Maybe the players thought this series would be easier. It isn’t. It’s tougher. Thank goodness we’ve caught up.”

“I love coaching this club. You can see how much improvement some of these players have made over the course of the season. The big thing is not to get overconfident.” That was Al Arbour in a nutshell right there. The sixth game was going to take place back on Long Island. As usual, Denis Potvin took it upon himself to make a statement on where his team might be at this moment. “The Penguins won three in a row. There’s no reason we can’t win three in a row. Then it will be a new ball game.”

“We haven’t done it yet. We’re two-thirds of the way there, but it won’t mean a thing if we don’t even it up on Thursday night.”

Thursday, April 24, the Penguins and the Islanders reconvened at the Nassau County Coliseum. The opening twenty minutes produced nothing. But a little more than four minutes into the second stanza, Ralph Stewart, who for a good number of months now had been playing the best hockey of his life, gave the Islanders the lead in this vital game. 

Less than a minute later, the very young sniper, Pierre Larouche, evened the score. But the rugged Garry Howatt restored the Isles’ lead with less than five minutes left in that middle frame. The game stayed that way into the final minute of regulation time. Marc Boileau pulled Gary Inness from the net. That ploy resulted in two empty net goals by the home side. First by Eddie Westfall and then, with a second remaining, by Howatt for his second of the contest.

The Islanders had fulfilled Denis Potvin’s projection and the series was now tied at three games apiece. Suddenly, comparisons began to be made with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs. That Leafs’ team had come back from an 0-3 deficit to win the Stanley Cup against the Detroit Red Wings. In this case, the Isles would be going back to Pittsburgh to face the Pens in The Igloo in a dramatic seventh game.

In the aftermath of that sixth game, an interesting little dialogue emerged. It was one that would not necessarily have been expected. In a series in which Pittsburgh coach Marc Boileau had offered no praise of Resch whatsoever through the six games, suddenly, the two men appeared to be proffering snipes back and forth…..

First, it was Resch, seemingly sending a shot across the bow of the Pens’ coach from the days they played against one another in the minor leagues. “I don’t think he ever scored a goal against me,” Resch said, referring to Boileau. Resch was playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the International League. Boileau was a player-coach with Fort Wayne. 

When informed of Resch’s comments, Boileau shot back, “Is Glenn bragging about that? Hell, I was an old man then – almost 40 – and my legs were gone.” To which Resch replied, “It’s a good thing he was the player-coach then, because he never would have gotten on the ice.” Boileau has acted unimpressed with Resch’s performances, at least until after the sixth game. “In the fourth and fifth games, I didn’t think Resch was the difference, but he did play well tonight. I think we would have beaten him though, with a couple of breaks.”

When it comes to the goalies, both were in their first year in the NHL and both came out of college programs. Both are intelligent guys and neither was willing to say anything detrimental about the other. Resch: “He (Inness) seems to be a nice fellow.” Inness: “Resch has played very well for the Islanders.”

Resch did give reporters a little insight into the on-ice conversations he had been having with Pierre Larouche of the Penguins. “He talks to me a lot. We kid back and forth. When he hit the post on one shot, he said ‘I’m getting close…better watch out.’ I like that sort of talk. It keeps me loose.” When the reporters heard these comments, they, of course, ran over to Larouche for his thoughts. He said, “Ya, we talk a lot. He’s okay, you know. I was falling once right near the net and Resch held me up. Not too many guys would do that, eh?”

Ralph Stewart summed things up succinctly. “Sh**. After being down 3-0, who would think we’d be here?”

It would be interesting to see how this would all translate into the seventh game of this series. Neither team had ever played in a Game 7 before this. The Islanders had played in a decisive game a couple of weeks before, of course, when they defeated the Rangers. Could they pull off another road win in this one?

It was a rollicking Saturday evening in Pittsburgh. A perfect night for a deciding game in a series that had swung like a pendulum, first one way and then, decidedly, the other. Meanwhile, in Toronto, George Foreman was putting on a boxing exhibition in which he fought five different men in succession. There was no such display at The Igloo, but something similar did take place on the ice.

The first period featured no scoring, but less than three minutes in, the fans saw their first fight of the night. Clark Gillies and Bob Paradise squared off and were sent off. Paradise got the better of that one as Gillies had to get stitched up before coming back. Before the end of that frame, Pittsburgh’s Bob Kelly and the Isles’ Dave Lewis dropped the gloves for another engagement. Between those two tussles, the game sheet was littered with hooking, tripping, elbowing, highsticking and boarding penalties.

Things settled down in the second period and the teams stuck to hockey the rest of the way. But in that middle frame, neither club was able to get a puck past their opponents’ goaltenders. The Penguins had carried the play for the most part – after forty minutes, they were outshooting the Isles 25-11 – but the Islanders played their responsible style to a tee and frustrated the Penguins again and again.

Halfway through the third period, the game was still scoreless. It continued that way for a few more minutes. The puck was down in the Penguins’ zone and they tried to move it out. A pass out was intercepted by Isles’ defenseman Bert Marshall before it could reach the blue line. He faked a slapshot and played it over to Westfall who skated in on Inness and backhanded it over his shoulder, glove side for the games first – and eventually, only – goal.

The game would end with a 1-0 score in favour of the Islanders. They had come all the way back from being down 0-3 in the series and won. It was the second time in NHL history that a team had accomplished that feat. The Isles would move on to face the Flyers in the semi-final series. The Penguins would go home.

After the game, Westfall had a group of reporters around him as he described the game’s only goal. “All the Penguins went towards Bert (Marshall), so I yelled to him. I held the puck for a second when I got it. The goaltender leaned a little towards J.P. Parise coming in on his right side. So, I put it up high and tried to get the puck in the eight inches he left open near the post. It’s easier to get more strength on a backhand shot if you get it high. I knew I had to get something on it because he has a fast glove hand.”

Once Westfall got that goal, the Islanders played ‘Kitty, bar the door’ hockey and did everything they could to not allow the Penguins anything. Resch acknowledged that after the game. “After we scored, Pittsburgh didn’t get a shot on goal.” A couple of minutes before Westfall’s goal, Resch made his biggest save of the night on a Pierre Larouche breakaway. “I was just watching for his deke, and when it came, I went for him.” Resch made the save and inadvertently tripped the Pens’ centre into the boards.

Arbour lauded his goalie after it was all over. “Resch repeatedly made the big saves.” The coach also talked about how he felt about his team’s performance. “Beautiful. We were written off before the New York Ranger series. We were written off when we were down by three games. This team doesn’t know what the word ‘quit’ means.”

Indeed, after Arbour’s apology to his players (and the acquisition of the bag of elephant dung), the tenor of the series changed. And it changed suddenly. Penguins’ coach Marc Boileau talked about that with the press. But he didn’t credit the Islanders right away. “We were overconfident, definitely. Sunday afternoon (Game 4 at Uniondale), we were terrible. We were a little better Tuesday.” Then, he paused for a moment and said, “All they did was work for seven games.”

Pittsburgh’s captain, Ron Schock, admitted that he and his teammates took their proverbial foot off the Islanders’ throat. “That (Game 4) was the turning point. We let them off the hook.” But what Boileau and Schock didn’t really express was the adjustments that Arbour made with his defensive approach in taking the Penguins’ wingers away as they tried to get out of their end. 

In the first three games, the Pens scored 14 goals. In the final four games, they scored only four. Pittsburgh’s defensemen would get control of the puck but couldn’t find anyone up ice to move it to. Jean Pronovost said that after the final game. “We were hurting on defense, and our guys got stuck where to pass the puck.”

In the end, the Islanders, as Arbour suggested, refused to allow themselves to lose. Bill Heufelder, of the Pittsburgh Press, wrapped it up brilliantly when he wrote, “What will be remembered is the Penguins had the door opened to them to the semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and let a determined three-year-old franchise slam it in their faces.”

Heufelder was right. Derek Sanderson, of the Rangers, when he said the Islanders wouldn’t win another playoff game, was wrong. 

Keep your eyes open for Part 3 in this series, The Last Bespectacled Man – Part 3 – Another Comeback?, coming soon.

Get Howie’s great, new book Crazy Days & Wild Nights on Amazon. 19 different, outlandish stories taken from the pages of sports history! It makes a great Father’s Day gift! You can hear Howie and his co-host Shawn Lavigne on The Sports Lunatics Show, a sports history podcast, right here on the FiredUp Network or on 212 different platforms, including Spotify, iHeart Radio and TuneIn Radio or wherever you find your podcasts.