On May 17, 1983, the New York Islanders win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, sweeping the Edmonton Oilers four games to none with a 4-2 win at home on New York’s Long Island.
After struggling in their inaugural season as an expansion team in 1972-73, losing 60 games and winning only 12, the Islanders hired Al Arbour prior to the 1973-74 season. The enthusiastic young coach, who had himself played 600 games in the NHL, went on to guide the Islanders for 19 seasons between 1973 and 1994, including all four Stanley Cup-winning years.
Arbour went about building the team around the Islanders’ franchise player, 1973 first overall pick Denis Potvin. Potvin, the team’s captain, was the first defenseman to score 1,000 career points and was recognized with the Norris Trophy as the league’s outstanding defenseman in 1976, 1978 and 1979. In the 1977 amateur draft, with the 15th overall pick, the Islanders took Mike Bossy, who had been passed over by other teams for what was deemed timid play, in spite of an impressive 309 goals in his four years of junior hockey. With help from two other young speedsters, Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, Bossy scored 53 goals in 1977-78, breaking a rookie record and winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding rookie. With the steady Trottier centering a line and tenacious left-winger Gillies on the opposite side, Bossy scored 50 goals a year for the first eight of his career, including 50 goals in 50 games in the 1980-81 season.
With this strong core in place, the Islanders’ play steadily improved. After losing in the conference semifinals four out of five years and never making a Stanley Cup final, the Isles finally won the East and played for the title in 1980, beating the Philadelphia Flyers for their first championship. They followed this with wins in 1981 and 1982. In 1983, after what many saw as a lackluster regular-season performance, the Islanders made their fourth finals in a row, against a talented but inexperienced Edmonton Oilers team led by young superstar Wayne Gretzky.
The Islanders quickly silenced any doubts about their dominance by shutting down the Oilers with early goals and suffocating defense. In Game 1, Islander goalie Billy Smith, who went on to win the 1983 Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs, denied the prolific offense from Edmonton for a 2-0 New York victory. The Isles’ second-year center Brent Sutter scored two goals in Game 2 to lead his team to a 6-3 win. In Game 3, a 1-1 tie turned into a 5-1 Islander blowout. The Isles captured their fourth straight Cup in Game 4 with a commanding 4-2 win. The stingy Islanders defense held the Oilers to just five goals in the four-game sweep; Gretzky went scoreless. Amid the post-win celebration, team captain Potvin said, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re the best hockey team ever to lace on skates.”
The Islanders were the second team in hockey history to win four straight Stanley Cups. The Montreal Canadiens won five straight between 1956 and 1960, and four in a row from 1976 to 1979.