Sunday, April 17, 2016

New York Islanders (1976-77, NHL)

1976-77 Regular Season--Opponent Unknown
     The New York Islanders were in only their fifth season of existence in the NHL, yet were already considered a rising power in the league. Just three years into their existence, they came within a win from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Their quick rise from expansion laughingstock to contender is quite impressive!
     Bill Torrey was back as General Manager, as was Head Coach Al Arbour. The previous season saw the Islanders go 42-21-17 (2nd place, Patrick Division) and hand the Montreal Canadiens their sole loss in the playoffs in the semifinals. 1976-77 continued the franchise's steady ascent up the NHL ladder. The team again finished second in the Patrick Division, with a 47-21-12 mark. Their 106 points were just six behind division leader Philadelphia and 26 ahead of third-place Atlanta. 14,965 fans per game jammed Nassau Coliseum to see the Isles that season,
     New York had the sixth-best offense that season, notching 288 goals. All-Star defenseman Denis Potvin (the team's first overall pick in 1973) lead the charge, scoring 25 goals and 80 points. Clark Gillies led the team in goals with 33, joining Bryan Trottier (30) as the team's 30+ goal scorers. New York featured a balanced attack that year, with five players (including Potvin) notching at least 20 goals.
     The Islanders had an excellent defense that season, allowing just 193 goals. In another season, that may have garnered a Vezina Trophy, but this was 1976-77, and the Montreal Canadiens were in another stratosphere in all categories. The Isles featured a tag-team combination in net for most of the 1970s in Billy Smith and Glenn "Chico" Resch. That year, Resch held the edge in games played (46), going 26-13-6 with a 2.28 GAA and 4 shutouts. "Battlin'" Billy played in 36 games, going 21-8-6 with a 2.50 GAA and 2 shutouts. Smith played the majority of the playoff games that year.
   Making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight year, the Islanders quickly dispatched the Chicago Blackhawks in the preliminary round, 2-0. In Round Two, they similarly swept aside the Buffalo Sabres to set up a rematch with Montreal, who obliterated St. Louis in their series.
     Montreal was having an unforgettable season that year. The defending champion Canadiens went 60-8-12 and were heavy favorites to run away with the Cup again. The Islanders, by far, gave Montreal it's toughest test in the playoffs. stretching the series to six games (including a Game 5 win at Montreal) before succumbing. Montreal would then crush Boston in the finals to win their second of four-straight Cups. Denis Potvin would be named to the 2nd All-Star Team. The Isles would console themselves by drafting future Hall-of-Famer and perennial 50+ goal scorer Mike Bossy in the 1977 Draft.
     I found this online awhile ago. I've become an Islanders fan the past several seasons (before they started winning again, btw) and wanted programs from their glory years. This is a pretty good one. It has 48 pages and most of them are color. The top players on that season's team each had full-page bios with color photos. There is also a roster for that season and bios of "future Islanders" from the farm system. Not as many ads as usual in this one. A few beer ads, including Schaefer (pull-tab can) and Budweiser. Local ads include Dairy Barn Stores, Citibank and Getty Unleaded Gasoline. There's also an order form for souvenirs. I have the pennant that's listed.

Aftermath: The Islanders seemed to plateau on their ascent to the top of the league after this season. Favored to reach the Finals in 1978, they were upset (and outmuscled) by the Maple Leafs in Round 2. After finishing first overall in 1978-79, the Isles were then upset by the arch-rival Rangers in the semis. After surviving a financial crisis and eventual sale to John Pickett, the Islanders finally broke through in 1980, winning the first of four straight Stanley Cups. They remain the last North American pro sports team to win four straight championships.

Sources:
National Hockey League Standings: 1976-77 (from hockeydb.com)

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