In the first season for professional hockey on Long Island, the expansion Islanders were one of the worst teams in NHL history - winning only 12 games and tying 6, while losing 60.
The following season, the team would hire Al Arbour as head coach, and would soon turn around. In the 1975 playoffs, they made the playoffs for the first time, led by defenseman Denis Potvin and forwards Clark Gillies, Billy Harris and Bob Nystrom. In the first round, the Islanders won a hard-fought series against the favored Rangers on Jean-Paul Parise's goal in the first minute of overtime of the deciding third game. The next round, against the Pittsburgh Penguins turned out to be an even bigger surprise. Down three games to none in the best-of-seven series, the Islanders rallied to win the next four - only the second time that has happened in any of the major North American professional sports. It almost happened a second time, in the semi-finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders rallied from another 3-0 deficit to tie it at three games apiece, but the Flyers would take the deciding seventh game and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The following two seasons, the Islanders would go just as far (though not in as miraculous a fashion), losing both times in the semi-finals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. In 1978, they would be upset in the second round in overtime of game 7 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1978-1979, Bryan Trottier would lead the league in point scoring, and second-year man Mike Bossy scored 69 goals, which would also lead the league. Despite the offensive power, they lost the semi-finals to the hated New York Rangers that year.
In 1980, the Islanders finally broke through and won the Stanley Cup. Trottier and Bossy once again provided a 1-2 punch on offense, but it was Bob Nystrom that would prove to be the hero, scoring in overtime in the sixth game to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bossy would score 50 goals in 50 games in 1981, as the Islanders would be the top team of the regular season and would win their second Stanley Cup, knocking off the Minnesota North Stars in five games. The Islanders would dominate the 1981-1982 season as well, winning both the regular season title and the Stanley Cup, this time over the Vancouver Canucks. The following season, the Islanders defeated the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers to win their fourth straight Stanley Cup - the third and last time that would happen.
The Islanders almost made it five straight, but they would lose in five games to the Oilers in the 1984 finals. Only once would the Islanders ever again make it out of the second round of the playoffs.
By the late 1980s, Bossy and Potvin would retire, and an aging Trottier was plagued by injuries. In 1989, the Islanders would miss the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
The Islanders re-stocked in the early 1990s, adding players like Pierre Turgeon, Derek King, Ray Ferraro, Steve Thomas and Benoit Hogue. The team hit paydirt in 1993, climbing out of the cellar and making it to the Wales Conference final, (despite losing Turgeon for much of the playoffs after a vicious hit by Washington Capitals enforcer Dale Hunter in the first round.) They defeated heavy favorites and defending Stanley Cup champions, the Mario Lemieux-led Pittsburgh Penguins, in overtime of the deciding seventh game, before bowing out to the eventual champion Canadiens
Their glory was short-lived. By 1996, Turgeon ended up in Montreal, Hogue in Toronto, Ferraro with the cross-town Rangers, and King's performance dropped off. The Islanders missed the playoffs each year between 1995 and 2001. In time for the 2001-2002 season, they would acquire Alexei Yashin from the Ottawa Senators, goalie Chris Osgood from the Detroit Red Wings and Michael Peca from the Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders made the 2002 playoffs before bowing out to a physical Maple Leafs team in the first round, and they made a similar exit in 2003 against the regular-season champion Ottawa Senators.
Players of Note
Hall of Famers:
Not to be forgotten:
New York Islanders official web site