Monday, April 25, 2016

How Long It's Been: The Islanders Won a Playoff Series

Last night, the New York Islanders beat the Florida Panthers, 2-1 at the Barcalys Center in Brooklyn, on an overtime goal by their Captain, John Tavares, and won their NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series 4 games to 2.

They will play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Semifinal.

With the New York Rangers, gutless wonders as always, clowning their way to a 5-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the New Jersey Devils not having made the Playoffs at all, this is the 1st time the Islanders have been the last team standing in New York Tri-State Area hockey since 1993.

It is also the 1st time since then that the Islanders have won a Playoff series. It was on May 14, 1993 that the Islanders eliminated the 2-time defending Penguins in 7 games, before falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the Conference Final. The Canadiens would beat the Los Angeles Kings for the Cup.

(The Kings' Marty McSorley got caught using an illegal stick in Game 2, and the ensuing power play turned a likely 2-0 series lead for the Kings into a 4-1 series win for the Habs. Back then, the Kings got punished for their cheating.)

May 14, 1993. Almost 23 years. How long has that been?


The Islanders opened the season losing 4-3 away to the Devils, then lost away to the Penguins, which emphasized the way the previous season ended: The Rangers winning the President's trophy for best overall League record, and eliminating the Devils in the 1st round, before falling to the defending Champion Penguins. Then they had a 5-game losing streak from October 31 to November 12. But they won 6 out of 7 from December 13 to 26, had a 5 win and a tie run from January 16 to 28, won 5 straight from February 27 to March 9, and got into the Playoffs.

The Isles played the Washington Capitals in the 1st round, and won 3 games in overtime before Pierre Turgeon's goal clinched Game 6 and the series, before Dale Hunter's cowardly cross-check, knocked Turgeon out until the middle of the Conference Finals against the Canadiens, but the Isles didn't need Turgeon to beat the mighty Penguins.

Two years later, the Islanders had fallen apart, and general manager Don Maloney -- an ex-Ranger, a member of their 1979 Stanley Cup Finals team -- decided to rebuild (which failed). He traded several players, including Turgeon. A 5-time All-Star, the 3rd and 4th times with the Isles, Turgeon's been out of hockey since retiring as a player in 2007. He is 46 years old. That's right, the last real Islander hero is closer to 50 than to 40. His son Dominic now plays in the Detroit Red Wings' organization.

The Rangers hadn't won the Cup in 53 years. The Detroit Red Wings, 38 years. The Chicago Blackhawks, 32 years. The Boston Bruins, 21 years. Those droughts have now ended.

The New Jersey Devils, the franchise then known as the Quebec Nordiques franchise, the Washington Capitals, the franchise then known as the Minnesota North Stars, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the franchise then known as the Hartford Whalers, the team then known as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and the Los Angeles Kings hadn't yet won their 1st Stanley Cup. The Devils, the Kings (though they were about to), the Nordiques franchise, the Florida Panthers, the Whalers franchise, the Ducks and the Lightning hadn't yet reached their 1st Stanley Cup Finals. All of these have since reached those achievements.

The North Stars hadn't yet moved to Dallas, except officially. The original Jets were still in Winnipeg, and the Nordiques and Whalers hadn't yet moved. There was no NHL team in Texas, or Arizona, or the Carolinas, or Ohio. The Ducks and the Panthers existed only on paper. The Nashville Predators, the Minnesota Wild, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Atlanta Thrashers -- now the new Winnipeg Jets -- didn't exist at all. All those facts have now changed.

With the Edmonton Oilers having just left the Northlands Coliseum/Rexall Place for a new arena to open this Autumn, only 3 NHL teams are currently playing in the same arenas they were using in the 1992-93 season: The Rangers, the Red Wings and the Calgary Flames -- and the Wings are building a new arena that they plan to open in the 2017-18 season.

The Islanders have left the Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center, which is now also the home of the team known in 1993 as the New Jersey Nets. The Devils, the Yankees, the Mets, the Giants and the Jets have built new venues. Of the 9 teams playing major league sports in the New York Tri-State Area in May 1993, only the Rangers and the Knicks have not moved. And they may have to, within the next few years, due to a lease issue with Madison Square Garden. The New York Liberty, who also play at The Garden, and their league, the WNBA, did not exist yet. Neither did the team now known as the New York Red Bulls, and their league, MLS. The Red Bulls have also built a new venue.

Hockey legends Maurice Richard, Sid Abel, Syl Apps and Red Horner were still alive. So was Murray Murdoch, who won the Cup with the Rangers in 1928 and 1933. Of the defining players of my youth, only Bryan Trottier, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and, ugh, Mark Messier were still active.

Martin Brodeur had barely played in the NHL. Patrik Elias and Zdeno Chara were in what their country calls high school. Henrik Zetterberg was in junior high. Henrik Lundqvist was 11 years old; Andy Greene was 10. Rick Nash and Marc-Andre Fleury were 9. Alexander Ovechkin and Jonathan Quick were 7. Evgeni Malkin was 6. Sidney Crosby, Carey Price, Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews were 5. Ryan McDonagh and Steven Stamkos were 3. John Tavares was 2. Connor McDavid wasn't born yet.

Current Islanders coach Jack Capuano had just started coaching in minor-league hockey. Alain Vigneault of the Rangers was an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. John Hynes of the Devils and Ben McAdoo of the Giants were in high school. Joe Girardi was the starting catcher for the expansion Rockies. Terry Collins of the Mets was the bullpen coach of the Pirates. Todd Bowles of the Jets was playing as a cornerback for the Washington Redskins. Kurt Rambis of the Knicks was playing for the Sacramento Kings. And Kenny Atkinson of the Nets was playing in Spain's basketball league.

As I said, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The defending World Champions in the other sports were the Toronto Blue Jays, the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bulls. Riddick Bowe was the Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The Olympic Games have since been held in America twice, Norway, Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China, Canada, Britain and Russia. Soccer's World Cup has since been held in America, France, Japan, Korea, Germany, South Africa and Brazil.

The President of the United States was Bill Clinton -- who, of course, was married to Hillary Clinton. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, their wives, and the widows of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all still alive. George W. Bush was 46, failing as owner of the Texas Rangers, already a 3-times-failed businessman and a once-failed candidate for Congress, and was wondering what he was going to do with his life. Barack Obama was a civil rights attorney in Chicago, who had not yet run for public office. His wife Michelle was running a nonprofit organization. Donald Trump was... doing something douchey.

The Governor of the State of New York was Mario Cuomo; his son, Andrew, now Governor himself, was then Assistant Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. The Mayor of the City of New York was David Dinkins, but he was about to lose the office to Rudy Giuliani; the current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, was then an aide to Dinkins. The Governor of New Jersey was Jim Florio, but he was about to lose his bid for re-election to Christine Todd Whitman. The current Governor, Chris Christie, was running a primary challenge to the State Senate Majority Leader, John Dorsey. He lost when it was legally proven that he didn't get enough signatures in his petition to get on the ballot.

The holder of the Nobel Peace Prize was Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan activist for the rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas, later discredited for lies in his memoir. Few Americans had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. Or Osama bin Laden: The World Trade Center had recently survived a bombing, with 6 deaths.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Brian Mulroney, but he was about to retire, and let his successor, Kim Campbell, the 1st female head of government in North American history, take the fall at the polls for his mismanagement of the country, making Jean Chretien Prime Minister. The monarch of Canada, and of Great Britain, was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- but the Prime Minister was John Major.

Manchester United had won England's Premier League the previous spring, while Arsenal became the 1st team ever to take both domestic cup competitions: The FA Cup and the League Cup. Arsenal defeated Sheffield Wednesday in both tournament's Finals at the old Wembley Stadium in London, but needed a replay to take the FA Cup, as the original game ended tied. It was the last time an FA Cup Final or Semifinal went to a replay: The Football Association prescribed penalty kicks after regulation and extra time. (What we would call "overtime.") The 1st ever penalty shootout in a Final would also involve Arsenal, beating Manchester United in 2005.

Major novels of 1993 included Honor Among Thieves by Jeffrey Archer, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Client by John Grisham, Death In the Andes by Maria Vargas Llosa, and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Historian Stephen Ambrose published Band of Brothers, immortalizing a U.S. Army unit marching through Europe in World War II. None of the Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire books had been published yet.

Major films released in the Spring of 1993 included the baseball film The Sandlot, Indecent Proposal, Dave, Sliver and Super Mario Bros. Soon to be released: Jurassic Park, The Last Action Hero and Sleepless In Seattle.

There was, as yet, no Fox News Channel, WB Network or UPN. Major TV shows that had just ended included Doogie Howser, M.D., Major Dad, Reasonable Doubts, Quantum Leap, Knots Landing and The Wonder Years. Cheers, Saved by the Bell, Life Goes On, Designing Women and A Different World were about to wrap up. David Letterman was in the process of moving his talk show from NBC to CBS.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Homicide: Life On the Street, Beavis and Butt-head and Walker: Texas Ranger -- the last of these, not as good a cop show as the first, and almost as stupid and cartoonish as the second -- had recently premiered. Soon to do so were Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Living Single, The X-Files, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Animaniacs, Ricki Lake, Biker Mice from Mars, Frasier, NYPD Blue, Boy Meets World, Grace Under Fire, Diagnosis: Murder, The Nanny, and the original Jon Stewart Show, an MTV variety series.

The Paula Poundstone Show, a talk show, and South of Sunset, featuring Glenn Fry of The Eagles as a private eye, would soon premiere -- and both were canceled after 1 episode. I saw both, and Poundstone's show was a genuine what-the-hell. Nobody knew what she was doing, including herself. Frey's show, billed as Moonlighting in L.A., wasn't great, but it certainly wasn't bad. I still don't know why CBS didn't give it another chance. It was only the 2nd episodic series (not a game show, a variety show, or a "reality" show) on U.S. TV to be canceled after just 1 airing. There have since been 4 more. South of Sunset was easily the best of these. But neither it nor Poundstone was as big a bomb as The Chevy Chase Show, Fox's attempt to turn Weekend Update, the Saturday Night Live sketch that Chase premiered in 1975, into a full-length show. 

The Number 1 song in America was "That's the Way Love Goes" by Janet Jackson. Her brother Michael had recently played the Super Bowl halftime show and sat for an interview with Oprah Winfrey, but a legal cloud was beginning to form over him.

Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr returned to the Hollywood Bowl, 27 years after last playing it with John Lennon and George Harrison, and headlined an Earth Day concert that also featured ex-Eagle Don Henley and Steve Miller. Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles married screenwriter Jay Roach. They're still together. Not still together are Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones and Suzanne Accosta, who married a few days before the Islander victory in question; and Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola, who married a few days after.

A month before, the American establishment essentially surrendered in their long war against Sixties activism, as the San Francisco Giants had the Grateful Dead sing the National Anthem before their home opener; and a musical version of The Who's Tommy opened on Broadway. The month after, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, which he kept, along with the identification "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince," for 7 years.

Kanye West, Stana Katic, Katie Holmes and Kourtney Kardashian were in high school. Pink, Kim Kardashian, Chrstina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, Jessica Alba, Natalie Portman and Chris Evans were in junior high school. Beyonce Knowles, Britney Spears, Kate Middleton, Hayley Atwel and Kirsten Dunst were 11 years old; Prince William, Matt Smith and Anne Hathaway were 10; Khloe Kardashian and Prince Harry were 8; Lady Gaga was 7; Drake, Emilia Clarke and Rob Kardashian were 6; Kevin Jonas and Rihanna were 5; Daniel Radcliffe, Joe Jonas and Emma Watson were 3; Louis Tomlinson was a year and a half; Selena Gomez was 10 months, Demi Lovato was 9 months, Nick Jonas was 7 months, Miley Cyrus was 6 months, Nicki Minaj was 5 months, Zayn Malik was 4 months; and Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Abigail Breslin, Maisie Williams, and all of the Modern Family kids (except Sarah Hyland, 2 1/2) had not yet been born.

Most of us had not yet heard of the Internet. Mobile phones were about the size of the communicators on the original Star Trek series. There was, as yet, no Nintendo PlayStation, no Bluetooth, no smart phone, no tablet computer, no Wikipedia, no Skype, no MySpace, no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Tumblr, no Pinterest, no Instagram, no Vine, no iPod, iPhone or iPad. If you had suggested in the Spring of 1993 that things like these would become possible over the next 22 years, you might have gotten some interest, but it would have been hard to take that interest seriously.

In the Spring of 1993, Janet Reno was confirmed as the 1st female U.S. Attorney General. David Koresh, a bigamist child molester with a gun fetish and a messianic complex, had his cult in Waco, Texas kill 4 federal agents, before the FBI moved in; Koresh had the cult commit suicide by fire rather than be captured alive. Governor George Mickelson of South Dakota and 7 others were killed in a plane crash. Another killed the national soccer team of the African nation of Zambia. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia.

Mets star Bobby Bonilla was caught on tape threatening sportswriter Bob Klapisch, who had written an unflattering book about the team. Wade Boggs, Paul O'Neill, Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott made their Yankee debuts. Auto racer Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. Drazen Petrovic of the Nets was killed in a car crash in Germany. And in the same country, tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed during a tournament.

Marian Anderson, and Cesar Chavez, and Johnny Mize died. Ariande Grande, and Romelu Lukaku, and, on the very day of this Islander victory, Miranda Cosgrove were born.

May 14, 1993. The New York Islanders won a Playoff series. Between 1975 and 1993, this was not considered a big deal. But it would take them 22 years to do so again.

Now, they have. Can they go further? They would have to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, defending NHL Eastern Conference Champions to advance to the Conference Finals. If successful, they would have to beat the winner of the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

We shall see.

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