The New York Islanders had won the previous three Stanley Cups. The Edmonton Oilers had been building toward their own with Wayne Gretzky breaking into the NHL the year the Islander reign began, and winning the Hart Trophy, as league MVP, all three seasons. It was one team that was already a dynasty and another poised to become one. The 1983 Stanley Cup Finals would mark the moment when the crossed paths.
When observed from the perspective of history, the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals matchup looks almost inevitable, but the regular season didn’t play out that way. The Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers each had better records, and New York’s offense slipped to mediocrity, as Bryan Trottier’s goal-scoring dropped and no one else could help prolific Mike Bossy keep up. But the Isles still had a great goalie in Billy Smith and their path was cleared when Philadelphia was upset in the first round.
New York beat the Washington Capitals, the crosstown Rangers and then unleashed all their pent-up power against Boston in the conference finals. The once-quiet offense scored eight goals twice and seven on another occasion in winning the series in six games.
Gretzky scored 71 goals, handed out 125 assists and won his fourth MVP in as many seasons. Mark Messier, Glen Anderson and Jari Kurri joined Gretzky to form the league’s best offense. They blasted through the playoffs with an 11-1 record against Winnipeg, Calgary and a Chicago Blackhawks team that had finished within two points of the Oilers in the regular season, but was mismatched in the conference finals.
The 1983 Stanley Cup Finals promised drama, but New York showed Edmonton that the veterans still had it. Smith and the defense held Edmonton to 1.5 goals per game, and the Islanders won in a sweep. It was the fourth straight Stanley Cup, and in another historical oddity marked the second straight instance of an NHL dynasty winning four straight—the Montreal Canadiens had won each year from 1976-79 before the Isles picked up the torch in 1980.
1983 was the last great hurrah of the New York dynasty, and the first big breakthrough for a soon-to-be Edmonton dynasty. What the Finals lacked in drama, they made up for as that rare historical benchmark when dynasties cross.