Islanders warming up to their fans on special night
A Saturday evening at the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum in the first part of the NHL season normally doesn't conjure up current day cheers and nostalgic memories. But this has not been the usual start for the New York Islanders. And they even have been drawing good crowds to their arena, something that has been as rare as big wins.
Last night, the Islanders entered Bob Bourne into their Hall of Fame, and sent the 13,214 fans home happy by defeating the Washington Capitals by a score of 4-1. The win put the Islanders five games over .500 and they are tied with their archrivals, the New York Rangers, for first place in the Atlantic Division with 27 points. The way the division is shaping up, there is a dogfight between the two New York clubs, the New Jersey Devils, and Pittsburgh Penguins. Only three points separate the four clubs, who are comfortably ahead of the slumping Philadelphia Flyers, holding up the basement with only 17 points.
Bourne was a hero from the Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980's and was acquired by General Manager Bill Torrey in 1974 after he was drafted by the long-gone Kansas City Scouts. The center played for the Islanders that first season, but was sent to the minor leagues for more seasoning a year later. Once he returned for the 1976-77 season, he became a mainstay for a decade and recorded thirty goals in three seasons and over twenty in three more. He finished his career playing for the Los Angeles Kings.
Bourne joins a group in the Islanders Hall of Fame that is like a 'who's-who' of their four consecutive Stanley Cup championships. The other members are Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Al Arbour, and Bill Torrey. Fine company, indeed, for old number 14.
Bourne must have been proud of his present day brethren by the way they played on his special night. Much-maligned goaltender Rick DiPietro played another solid game in the net with 33 saves, and the chatter on sports talk radio of his 15-year contract has been quiet. Jason Blake lit the lamp twice for his 13th and 14th goals of the season. Following Trent Hunter's empty-net goal with only 50 seconds remaining in the game, the fans were chanting 'first place.' A different feeling around these parts that has been a long time coming.
This is a franchise that has not won a playoff series since the 1992-93 season and the last time they finished in first place was 1987-88. They did qualify for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2001-02 to 2003-04) before the strike and last season. They are playing inspired hockey and have a home ice advantage that has been missing. Could be the start of a beautiful relationship.