Franchise Best: New York Islanders 1980-81 Season

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The Franchise Best Series comes to you to dive into the all-time best single season for every organization. This, of course, includes post-season results. Join us for a look back at some of the most memorable moments in each franchise’s history. Here is the New York Islanders best season.

New York Islanders 1980-81 Season

The New York Islanders 1980-81 season remains their best season. The team powered their way to the first Stanley Cup the previous season under the tutelage of Al Arbour.  The team was a juggernaut with future superstars, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, and Bryan Trottier leading the way. In 1979-80 Arbour made the decision for the team to get to the Stanley Cup and not worry about finishing in the top of the NHL. Let’s take a look at how his strategy played out during the season and into the postseason.

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Fewer Victories But More When It Mattered

The 1979-80 team finished the season with fewer than 100 points and made the playoffs. Arbour’s strategy had already paid dividends. After moving easily through the playoffs, the Islanders found themselves up against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers were in their fourth Stanley Cup Final and looked to take care of the Islanders quickly. Though the Islanders prevailed in the series 4-2, the Flyers took the Islanders to task winning the second game of the series 8-3 and the fifth game by a score of 6-3 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The series was also bookended by two overtime wins by the Islanders. The overtime win in Game 5 gave the Islanders the cup.

Less than a decade old, the New York Islanders cemented their dynasty during the 1980-81 season. They boasted a great regular season record with 110 points and systematically destroyed their Stanley Cup playoff opposition on the way to hoisting the second of four consecutive Stanley Cups. The team was stacked with players that had their sights set on another Stanley Cup victory and had the exceptional leadership needed to achieve that goal.

Riding Into The Season After Winning the Stanley Cup

The Islanders came into the 1980-81 with a Stanley Cup to their name. Seemingly destined for the league-leading 110 points in 1980-81. Al Arbour and his team were dead set on repeating that feat before the new season began. The team made a few moves to settle the roster. The final piece of the puzzle had been added in 1979-80 – a trade for Butch Goring. General manager Bill Torrey worked a trade that brought him to Nassau from the Los Angeles Kings. His addition fueled the Islanders run to the Stanley Cup in 1979-80. It was that chemistry and drive that excited fans and players alike as they moved into the 1980-81 season.

Leaders In The Regular Season

The team went on a tear during the regular season. Some highlights were a 15-game winning streak, a record for the Islanders at the time and Bossy’s 50 goals in 50 games. The latter was thought never to be done again after Montreal Canadiens Maurice Richard accomplished the feat during the 1944-45 season. Bossy would continue to score goals at an alarming rate, finishing the regular season as the NHL leading scorer with a remarkable 68 goals and 119 points.

On The Back Of Bossy

Bossy, with his 68 goals and 119 points, tells only part of the story. Bossy dominated the NHL in a number of categories. He finished at the top of the league in goals with 68, power play goals with 28 and 10 game-winners. His nine hat tricks propelled the Islanders and led the league. Those offensive categories that he did not hold the lead spot in were held by an up and coming forward for the Edmonton Oilers by the name of Wayne Gretzky. Bossy and the Islanders would face the Oilers on the way to the Stanley Cup during this season.

Trottier Powers A Passionate And Potent Offense

Not to be left out, Bryan Trottier amassed points while lighting up opposing goalies. He finished with 31 goals and 72 assists for 103 points. This was good enough for second in scoring on the team and might have been higher if it weren’t for his 74 penalty minutes. His penalty total was double that of Bossy. But two players are not a whole team. Remarkably, the team lost more than three consecutive games only once during the season. For the majority of the year, they were almost unstoppable, which showed with the team taking the Campbell conference and Patrick division titles. The Islanders only lost in three of their final 20 games of the regular season. The team also finished atop the NHL with 110 points and received the Clarence S. Campbell bowl for that achievement.

Preliminary Round

The Islanders matched up against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and quickly dispatched of the 16th seed in three straight games. Game 1 saw the Islanders, a heavy favourite dismantle the Maple Leafs. They scored three power-play goals and Bryan Trottier notched two goals and three assists as the Islanders defeated the Leafs 9-2 This continued into Game 2 which saw Trottier bag a hat-trick as the Islanders won 5-1. The next game, in Toronto, marked the only time that the Islanders have won a playoff game in Toronto. It was enough to seal the series at three games. The five-game series saw the Islanders outscore the Leafs 20-4.

Quarter Finals

The Islanders quarterfinals opponent Edmonton Oilers with their star forward, Wayne Gretzky. They provided the Islanders with their only competition during the playoffs.

Game 1 of the series saw the Islanders special teams take control as three of the Islanders goals came on the power play and one shorthanded goal in a lopsided 8-2 victory. In Game 2, it was a similar affair with a hat-trick from Denis Potvin leading the charge. The Islanders won easily by a score of 6-3. Game 3 was interesting as Gretzky netted his own hat-trick on home ice to power the Oilers to a 5-2 victory.

The Islanders took Game 4, a 5-4 OT win, with 1980 Olympian Ken Morrow finding the net at 5:41 in OT. However, Game 5 in Nassau marked the only time that the Islanders lost at home during the 1981 playoffs. In a total team effort, the Oilers won 4-3.

That took the series back to Edmonton, where the Isles sealed the deal in the third period on a Bob Nystrom goal and won 5-2. Though the Islanders took the series 4-2, a statement had been made by Gretzky and the Oilers as they provided the Islanders with their only true competition in the post-season. The two teams would account for eight of 10 Stanley Cup wins during the 1980’s.


The semifinals were a memorable affair for only one reason. Their opponent was their Manhattan neighbour, the New York Rangers – a team that they handily swept in four games. They outscored the Rangers 22-8 during the semifinals. Despite the rivalry and hatred that exists between players and fans of each team, it was a lopsided series. A memorable aspect of the series is chant begun by Islanders fans. It was “1940”, referring to the last time the Rangers had won the Cup. The chant was in use until the Rangers won their next Cup 13 years later in 1994.

Stanley Cup Final:

The Islanders found the Minnesota North Stars in the Final. The North Stars were fresh off of sizable wins against the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames. The team including 1980 Olympian Neal Broten and sniper Dino Ciccarelli looked to be a worthy foe. Alas, that was not the case. The Islanders thrashed the North Stars 4-1 in the series.

Notably, the Ciccarelli set a rookie record with a 21-point effort, 14 goals and seven assists that would stand until 2010. This also marked the last all American final of the decade. The Islanders allowed the North Stars a single win in the Met Center. Otherwise, the Islanders were in control of the series. The North Stars, appearing in their first final played well but ultimately fell to the heavily-favoured Islanders. The Islanders soon-to-be legends, Denis Potvin, Bossy and Bob Nystrom always found an answer for each North Star goal, often scoring at double the rate of Minnesota. In a follow up to his regular season effort, Bossy set records for points (35), and power play goals (9) during the postseason.

But it was Butch Goring that was the star of the postseason. Widely regarded as one of the league’s most complete players, his 10 goals and 10 assists during the playoffs allowed the final piece of the Islanders puzzle to take home the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.

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