Anders Lee likely received a text from John Tonelli – the retired No. 27 reaching out to that jersey’s current captain occupant – prior to the Islanders’ Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Lightning on Wednesday night.
“I was talking to JT,” former Islanders captain Patrick Flatley told Newsday on Wednesday morning. “He was telling me in 1980, they lost to Philly 8-3 (in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final). I think he was going to send Anders a note just to say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, you can come back.’”
The Lightning won Monday night’s Game 1, 8-2, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, marking the most goals the Islanders have allowed in a playoff game since that loss at Philadelphia on May 15, 1980. Those Islanders responded with a 6-2 win in Game 3 as the Cup Final shifted back to Nassau Coliseum and won their first of four straight Cups in six games, with Tonelli setting up Bobby Nystrom for the overtime, series-winning goal.
Flatley was the captain the last time the Islanders reached the conference finals, in 1993 and said there are similarities between that playoff run and this one.
These Islanders beat the Flyers in an emotional, seven-game, second-round series at Toronto – the Flyers forced a seventh game after trailing 3-1 in the series – while Flatley’s team eliminated the two-time, defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins on David Volek’s overtime goal in Game 7 before being eliminated in five games by the eventual Cup-champion Canadiens.
“It was a very emotional Game 7 and we went straight to the Pittsburgh airport where I recall some delays,” said Flatley, adding Game 1 at Montreal was scheduled at noon on May 16, 1993 to accommodate television, less than 48 hours after the win over the Penguins. “We got in late, much like the Islanders did. So, that first game, we got thumped (4-1).”
The Islanders then lost the next two to the Canadiens and goalie Patrick Roy in overtime.
“I remember going out for one of the overtime games and I said to (goalie) Glenn Healy, ‘Hey, are you going to win one of these games or what?’ ” said Flatley, who lives near his friend and former teammate in the Toronto area. “He got so ticked off. He’s like, ‘What’s the matter, why can’t you score on this guy.’ I was just trying to lighten the mood.”
Flatley, who was in his first NHL season in 1984 when the Islanders made their last appearance in a Cup Final, said the key for any team in the playoffs is maintaining health. They were a banged-up bunch by the time they faced the Canadiens in the conference finals.
Most notably, leading scorer Pierre Turgeon, who had 58 goals and 74 assists in the regular season, was playing essentially with one arm after Dale Hunter’s infamous, post-goal, blindside hit on him in the first round.
“That’s over and I have nothing but respect for Dale,” said Flatley, who said he has since met Hunter and called him a “nice fellow, a great coach, a great everything.” “But that play, in itself, it hurt our team immeasurably. Do I still get ticked off? Yes, I do.”
But Flatley could have never imagined it would take the franchise 27 years to get back to the conference finals.
“No, I would not have, it’s hard to believe,” said Flatley, adding losing Healy through the expansion draft to the Ducks before he was eventually traded to the Rangers, was hard to overcome the next season. “He was a big part of that team. Not only for his goaltending, he was definitely one of our leaders. He kept the room light. He was missed.”
As for the current series, Flatley said it will be critical for the Islanders to wear Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman down physically while slowing their top line through the neutral zone.
And, as Tonelli was planning to text Lee, to understand nothing is decided in Game 1.
“We have a lot of respect for these guys,” left wing Anthony Beauvillier said of the alumni. “They’ve done a lot of good things. They’re winners. We want to do the same thing. We want to be successful as a group. We want to have the same kind of respect these guys had.”