It’s already been a quarter century since Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers laid claim to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
Led by Gretzky’s 205 points in 1983-84, the Oilers set a league record 446 goals in the regular season. That record still stands today.
Their opponents were the four-time defending champion New York Islanders, and they were not about to relinquish the crown easily.
New York, led by captain Denis Potvin and sniper Mike Bossy, had won their last nine Finals games, sweeping the Oilers in the previous season and outscoring them 17-6.
This season, the schedule for the finals format had been altered by the NHL with a two-three-two games format.
Opening the series in New York, a lone goal by Oilers tough guy Kevin McClelland, was all goaltender Grant Fuhr needed to blank the Islanders 1-0 in game one.
The Islanders countered in game two with a 6-1 shelling of Edmonton as the Nassau Coliseum fans chanted “Drive for five”.
However, gaining a split in the first two games gave the young Oilers a boost of confidence and a three game run at home.
The Oilers’ offence took advantage of their home arena, the Northlands Coliseum and pounded the defending champions in successive 7-2 victories in games three and four.
Defenseman Kevin Lowe recalled how Gretzky stood up in the Oilers dressing room, before the start of game five, and said, “I’ve had a lot of individual honors and personal recognition, but nothing I’ve ever done, won or received means as much to me as winning the Cup.”
Led by their captain’s words ,Edmonton was determined to clinch the series at home and opened a 4-0 lead in game five after two periods.
Proving they were not done, a young Islanders rookie named Pat Lafontaine answered back with two goals in the first 35 seconds of the third period.
With Fuhr injured in game three, Andy Moog kept the relenting Islanders attack at bay.
Dave Lumley added an empty net goal late in the third and the game was over with a score of 5-2.
The Oilers were the new Stanley Cup Champions.
“I hope we’re an influence on the game,” said Gretzky during the team’s dressing room celebration.
“We proved that an offensive team can win the Cup. We showed you can win by skating and by being physical without having to fight all the time,” he added.
“The first thing that sticks out in my mind from that first Stanley Cup was the team that we beat,” recalled Oilers’ defenseman Lee Fogolin.
“The Islanders were such a great team and they were great champions. They had a never-say-die attitude and playing against them, you could never trust any lead you had.”
With eight goals and eighteen assists in nineteen playoff games, Mark Messier emerged from Gretzky’s shadow and won the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
“We had a great teacher in the Islanders,” said Edmonton general manager and coach Glen Sather.
Edmonton’s patterned forechecking and disciplined play in front of its own goal were crucial to the team’s success, and was a key element missing in the previous season.
The Islanders dynasty was finished and the Oilers dynasty was about to begin.
Edmonton would repeat as champions the following season as well as in 1987, 1988 and add a Gretzky-less Cup victory in 1990.