It was the year of the dynasty and the dynamo, of the New York Islanders and Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky. The Isles of Uniondale solidified their claim to being heirs to the Habs of Montreal by winning a third Stanley Cup in as many years, while Gretzky, the Oilers' 5'11", 170-pound center, whirred to three implausible records: 92 goals, 120 assists, 212 points. Gretzky's pursuit of Phil Esposito's 11-year-old goal-scoring mark (76) was the highlight of the NHL's highest-scoring season since 1944. But the islanders, winners of a record 15 straight during the regular season, nearly blew the Stanley Cup in the first round of a playoff fraught with upsets: Gretzky's Oilers, Montreal and Minnesota—division winners all—were ousted in the opening series. With less than six minutes remaining in the final game of a best-of-five series, the islanders trailed lowly Pittsburgh 3-1. But some saving grace—like that shown by Goalie Billy Smith (right) against upstart Vancouver in the finals—kept New York in the game, and the Isles won 4-3 in overtime. They then steamed to the Stanley Cup, past the Rangers, the Nordiques and the Canucks. The playoff MVP was Islander Mike Bossy, who led all Cup participants in goals (17). That capped a remarkable year for Bossy: 64 goals, 83 assists, 147 points, the fourth-best single season in the NHL. But—ah, Gretzky—Bossy just picked the wrong year to do it.
Groping for an apt analogy, those who tried to sort out Gretzky's records spoke of 85 home runs. Or 3,000 yards rushing. Or 50 points a basketball game. Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington, who gave his 21-year-old star a 21-year, $20 million-plus contract, went so far as to liken Gretzky to Rudolf Nureyev. That comment was, perhaps, in recognition of the stylish manner in which Gretzky had set his records, a sharp contrast to the goon tactics that still plague the game. And if records weren't enough, the Oiler center may also have started a revolution in tactics, setting up behind the opposition goal, from where he'd flick a pass or even carom a goal off an opponent. "From now on," said one G.M., "Gretzky's only point of reference is himself."
Denis Potvin hefts the Stanley Cup for the islanders one more time.
As Chicago played host to Minnesota in a Cup series, North Star Goalie Gilles Meloche found safety in the net after a bottle shattered nearby.
February 16, 1983
A puck flies over the Flyers' net on its way to—Egad! Gretzky! After his 77th goal, the Kid kidded Esposito.
It was a bloodletting when Canucks and Hawks battled in the playoffs