Denis Potvin impressed by Islanders squad full of ‘heroes’

A year ago, when I spoke to Denis Potvin on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Islanders’ first Stanley Cup, the dynasty’s captain mentioned how much he had enjoyed the “Big Boy” final of 2019 between St. Louis and Boston.

So you should be able to imagine how No. 5 feels about these Islanders as they continue the Drive for a Franchise Five entering Saturday night’s second-round opener against the Bruins in Boston.

“I am very impressed,” Potvin told The Post on Friday while making the drive from his home in Florida to his house in Canada. “First of all, when you talk about ‘Big Boy,’ I mean, it doesn’t get better than Anders Lee, and when he went down, in my mind I thought, ‘How the heck are they going to replace him or at least compensate for the lack of Big Boy presence in front of the room as their captain, and all of that?’

“So from that aspect, I am truly amazed at how well they’ve done. And of course, Lou Lamoriello the last couple of years with [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau, [Kyle] Palmieri, [Travis] Zajac at the trade deadline, I just think the machine on Long Island is working very, very well.

“And that’s because it’s working as a team,” Potvin said. “They’ve got big strong defensemen, they’ve got centermen who can win draws and score, they have depth, and like everybody else they’ve got the goaltending that’s not surprising, but is even better than expected.”

Uniondale, N.Y. 11/29/14 Former Islander great Denis Potvin walks out to drop the puck
Islanders legend Denis Potvin
Paul J. Bereswill

When Lee went down with his season-ending knee injury on March 11, 29 games remained. But after acknowledging the severity of the blow, the Islanders never again cited his absence as an excuse for a late-season dip. Never once was there evidence of a woe-is-us attitude. Never did the Islanders talk about everything they were going through.

“I think if you consider yourself a good team, you’re never going to feel like the loss of one player is … Well, I can give you a good example … Even if it’s a Mike Bossy in Game 1 of the finals in Edmonton in 1983 and it’s essentially a 1-0 game [2-0 final score with an empty-netter],” Potvin said while a guy in a motorcycle drove up beside him. “We knew going into that game we were going to have to adjust accordingly because we wouldn’t have that dynamic goal-scorer and we did adjust. Boom!

“And that’s the mentality that the Islanders are showing me with [Barry] Trotz behind the bench after having won the Cup with a Washington team that had been incredibly frustrating for a number of years. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.

“That last game against Pittsburgh had to be one of the best games I’ve seen in a long time,” the three-time Norris winner said. “And that’s the way they play. They have a lot of heroes on that team. When I talk about the Islanders of our dynasty, you could count the heroes on both hands, whether it was [John] Tonelli, Kenny Morrow’s overtime goals, or Bobby Ny[strom], and on and on.

The New York Islanders celebrate a goal
The Islanders were built for the playoffs, something Denis Potvin loves to see.
Corey Sipkin

“And I think this is the way this team has been built.”

This represents the third-straight season the Islanders have won at least one playoff round. They, the Bruins and Avalanche are the only three teams to achieve that. The Islanders hadn’t done that since advancing seven straight years from 1979 through 1985.

“You take a look in your archives and you’ll find a quote from Bill Torrey saying that he builds a team for the regular season and he also builds a team for the playoffs,” Potvin said, referring to the Hall of Fame general manager. “Bill counted on being able to add certain components to the team going into the playoffs, and it wasn’t only the Butch Goring trade. If we don’t get Mike McEwen [in 1981 in the Chico Resch deal], we lose to Pittsburgh in the first-round the next year.

“And that’s exactly what Lou has done the last couple of deadlines, building a team for the playoffs. They’re talented and they’re physical. And they have courage.”

Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello of the New Your Islanders
Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello
Getty Images

Potvin retired following the 1987-88 season. He was affiliated for a time with the Senators as a broadcaster and spent two decades with the Panthers in that capacity. But he retired from that business a couple of years ago. Now an ardent fisherman, he again bleeds blue and orange.

“Jon Ledecky, who is the minority owner but the one who is there every day, has made a huge effort to reach out to the alumni. That has changed [180] degrees from before the team was sold,” Potvin said. “This ownership value the guys who played on the Island, and not only the dynasty years.

“This is the old team, the New York Islanders, and I am very much a fan. Absolutely. And depending on COVID quarantine rules in Canada that may be changing, if there is an opportunity for me to be at the Coliseum, I’ll be there for sure, cheering them on.”

New York Post

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