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New York Islanders

It’s Possible: Remember When Islanders Came Back from 3-0?



Glenn "Chico" Resch

Tonight, the Edmonton Oilers are looking to do the impossible. They’re trying to finish their comeback and beat the Florida Panthers in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final after falling behind 3-0 in the series.

It would be the fifth time such an event had occurred. The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off the feat during World War II, and the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings both did it during the last decade. Then, snug right in between those two and the Leafs, a plucky underdog did the same.

The 1974-75 New York Islanders completed a miraculous comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, erasing a 3-0 series deficit. I, of course, have absolutely no recollection of it. Being a 22-year-old, this series took place a good 26 years before I was born.

Also young back then, the Islanders featured 21-year-old Denis Potvin, 22-year-old Bobby Nystrom, 20-year-old Clark Gillies, and 24-year-old Billy Smith. Smith was struggling against the Penguins, and after another loss in Game 3, Al Arbour had seen enough. He benched Smith and inserted Glenn “Chico” Resch.

The Story of the Comeback

With his insertion, Resch changed the story. Before his arrival, the Islanders let in 14 goals in the first three games, which was terrible. It helped when, in Game 4, the Islanders got their first lead of the series when Andre St. Laurent scored a power-play marker. The Penguins got a power-play goal of their own in the second period.

Entering the third with the score tied at one, the Islanders needed a leader to step up. Future Captain Gillies stepped up and scored the winning goal 6:14 into the third. Moments later, JP Parise got the insurance marker. That was game four. Resch turned aside 27 of 28 shots.

Then came Game 5 in the Igloo, a building that was replaced before I turned 10. The Islanders knew it would be an extremely tough game to win. The hope was the same road map every road team wants to follow: score quickly, take the crowd out of it, and keep pushing. 80 seconds into the game, Bob Kelly of the Penguin took a needless charging penalty. Billy Harris made the Penguins pay, cashing in 2:11 into the game.

Three minutes later, Ralph Stewart made it 2-0 for the Islanders. All told, the Islanders had taken a 2-0 lead just over five minutes into the game. It was the perfect start.

Each time the Penguins would push, the Islanders pushed back. The Penguins made it 2-1 in the second period, but three minutes later, Ed Westfall scored to restore the two-goal edge. The Penguins scored again with under three minutes to play, but the Islanders got the empty netter quickly after.

Heading back to Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders had all the momentum in the world. They won a close game 4-1, with two empty netters late in the game. Resch stopped 31 of 32 pucks. Game 7 at the Igloo awaited.

It was 0-0 all the way until Ed Westfall, with 5:18 left on the clock, scored in a third-straight game. That was all the Islanders needed for their miracle. Resch shut out the Penguins with a 30-save shutout.

All told, Chico allowed only four goals in games four through seven. It was an extraordinary comeback, one that showed that a 3-0 comeback was possible. Ironically, in the very next series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders went down 3-0.

They stormed back, winning three straight against the defending champions, but they lost the decisive game 4-1. Now, most people don’t even remember that series.

What’s amazing is in this Game 7 tonight, if the Panthers win, nobody cares about the comeback anymore. It will get lost to history like the Islanders against Philadelphia. Sure, people might remember Connor McDavid having 40-something points in the playoffs. But if he loses the last game and goes pointless in it, that’s what gets remembered.

History is on the line tonight. The 1975 Islanders did the unthinkable. Now, can the Oilers?