UNIONDALE - With shrieks of joy and tears of exhaustion, Bobby Nystrom wobbled off the ice after his goal at 7:11 of overtime and planted a kiss on the Stanley Cup. To that, he said: "Can you believe it?"
The Islanders believed.
Eight years, 11 months and 18 days after the franchise was christened in the poverty of an expansion draft, the Islanders had a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. They had their emotions. And they had the Stanley Cup.
With the sixth game of the final series ending on Nystrom's sudden, spectacular goal, Nassau Coliseum erupted, ribbons of confetti showered the ice and the words of the players shook at the thought of it all. Those who could speak, anyway.
"All I want to do is cry," Bob Bourne said. "Cry, cry, cry, that's all." And he did.
After 101 games, and after taking a two-goal lead and then watching it evaporate in the third period, the team ended its longest season. The ending came, appropriately enough, through the efforts of two players who were there from the beginning.
The Flyers had rallied from a 4-2 deficit to tie the score and send the game into overtime. The Islanders had trouble rallying their own enthusiasm. "Worried?" Dave Langevin. "Wouldn't you be?"
But in the overtime, goalie Bill Smith preserved the game after a spray of shots and then Lorne Henning, a member of the first team in 1972, poked the puck ahead to John Tonelli. The race was on.
Tonelli skated up the right flank and twisted past defenseman Andre Dupont. "That's when I saw Bobby out of the corner of my eye," he said. Nystrom raced past Bob Dailey to the doorstep of the net and Tonelli snapped a pass.
In one quick motion, Nystrom - a member of the first team in 1972 - took the puck on his backhand and deflected the pass behind goalie Pete Peeters. Nystrom dropped his stick and pumped his fist.
"I was stunned," Bob Lorimer said. "We were in shock."
The goal gave the Islanders their sixth overtime win of the playoffs and it gave a New York team the Stanley Cup for the first time in 40 years. For the Islanders, it seemed like forever.
So Bryan Trottier, winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, somersaulted over the ice and a carousel of teammates swirled around him. Denis Potvin clutched the Stanley Cup and Langevin wept openly.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world," Nystrom said. "It's everything it's supposed to be. It's everything you dream about. It is."
Nystrom's goal was his fourth in overtime, second in the NHL only to the six scored by Maurice (Rocket) Richard. More than that, Nystrom thought, it made the frustration of two stunning eliminations the last two years vanish completely.
"Say anything you want," he said, "but you can't say we choked."
In their 716th game, the team had completed general manager Bill Torrey's quest, becoming only the second expansion team, along with the Flyers, to win the Stanley Cup. It wasn't easy.
Thinned by injuries and wracked by turmoil, the team did not climb above .500 until Jan. 15. It was still in pieces when Torrey completed the surprising trade for Butch Goring on March 9. With Goring aboard, the team surged. There were others to remember.
"I look back and I think of the guys who helped along the way," Henning said, his eyes stung by champagne and his face dripping with perspiration - or tears. "I think of Dave Lewis and J.P. Parise and Jude Drouin and Andre St. Laurent. I think of so many."
He didn't say he thought of himself after fighting hard all season for the chance to play, but he smiled at the suggestion. Then his voice choked and he wiped his eyes.
The Islanders had their 15th victory of the playoffs, three more than they had their entire first season, but it had not been accomplished easily. For one thing, the Islanders scored twice in the first period while the Flyers hotly disputed both goals.
First, Potvin tied the score at 1-1, chopping the puck in with a stroke from his shoulder to his waist, but the Flyers protested that the high stick should have erased the goal. Referee Bob Myers said the goal counted.
Then Duane Sutter scored after a drop pass from Clark Gillies to Goring had drifted nearly a foot offsides. Linesman Leon Stickle, who made the call - or didn't make it - said: "I guess I blew it."
Still, the game was not decided right there. The teams exchanged goals by Brian Propp and Mike Bossy and then, with just 14 seconds left in the second period, Nystrom shoveled a shot past Peeters for his first goal and a 4-2 lead. The crowd of 14,995 was frantic with anticipation.
"They wanted it over with," Bossy said. "And so did we."
Instead, goals by Dailey and John Paddock tied the score and silenced the crowd. But when the overtime began, the Coliseum shook again and the banners flapped and the stomachs of the players churned.
Then Nystrom deposited his shot past Peeters and the team, including coach Al Arbour, leaped over the boards, some of them crashing onto the ice. Peeters' head dropped to his chest.
"What's there to say?" Peeters whispered later. "It's over."
It was not over for the Islanders. Ken Morrow, the first player ever to win an Olympic gold medal and a Stanley Cup - both in the same year, yet - was swallowed in the arms of Gillies. Tonelli, cherishing the moment of his assist, wrapped his gloves around Nystrom. Smith, another original Islander, hugged the Cup to his breast.
"You can't know this feeling," Bourne said. "For 25 years, I've seen guys walk out on the ice and hold that Stanley Cup over their heads and parade around. And now I'm one of them. I've done it, too."
Torrey embraced managing general partner John O. Pickett Jr., the man who helped rescue the club from bankruptcy two years ago, and a glaze covered their eyes. Bob Lorimer hugged his wife, Sheila. Garry Howatt howled in laughter.
And Wayne Merrick charged off the ice and pleaded: "Where's my dad? Where's my dad?"
He felt a tap on his shoulder and then turned around to grab his father. Together they cried.