By Peter Schwartz
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I remember it like it was yesterday, although it was 23 years ago.
It was May 14, 1993, the day the Islanders beat the Penguins 4-3 in overtime in Game 7 of the Patrick Division finals in Pittsburgh. After a six-game victory over the Capitals in the opening round, the Islanders found a way to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"It was a series they weren't given much of a chance in, especially after losing Pierre (Turgeon) in that finale against the Caps," said longtime Islanders television voice Jiggs McDonald, who called that game on SportsChannel. "But that group of players was special."
To this day, that group holds a noteworthy place in franchise history because they were the last Islanders team to win a playoff series. That Game 7 was a spectrum of emotions for a team that surprised a lot of people that spring.
I was watching the game on television in the basement of my parents' house when David Volek and Benoit Hogue scored third-period goals to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. My mom came downstairs and said something to the effect of "hey, it looks like they're going to win!"
Suddenly, I felt like something bad was about to happen ... and I was right.
Ron Francis scored at 16:13 to make it 3-2 and then Rick Tocchet tied the game with one minute to go. I ran up the stairs and delivered some really harsh words towards my mother. I can only think of one thing that I said that I can print in this story.
"Don't you ever do that to me again!" is what I closed with.
While my blood was boiling, things were actually a bit calmer on the Islanders bench.
"When Pittsburgh tied it 3-3, I was sitting on the bench next to Derek King," recalled Ray Ferraro, now an analyst for TSN. "He looked at me and said that's just a shame. We had it and it was gone."
In the broadcast booth, McDonald, working with Eddie Westfall, had experienced overtime in a Game 7 before. Six years earlier, he called the Islanders' 3-2 win over the Capitals, a victory secured when Pat LaFontaine scored in the fourth overtime early Easter Sunday morning.
As the drama of Game 7 in Pittsburgh was unfolding, Jiggs was feeling a little nostalgic.
"Game 7 in 1993 ranks right behind the Easter Epic," McDonald said. "I remember just hoping it would be a good clean goal that won the game for either team."
And that's exactly what happened at 5:16 of overtime.
Ferraro and Volek crossed the Penguins blue line on a two on one. Ferraro slid the puck over to Volek who fired it past goalie Tom Barrasso to give the Islanders the upset win.
"I can see that winning goal in my sleep," Ferraro said. "When Ulf Samuelson pinched up and the puck turned over, I knew that I was going to pass it if I could. David actually took the puck out of his feet and he made a heck of a shot off the pass."
The ironic thing about the series-winning goal is that both Ferraro and Volek had experienced a rough season.
Volek had a hard time staying healthy and was in and out of the lineup and Ferraro missed almost 40 games with a broken leg.
"And we were the two clowns that hooked up for the game-winning goal," Ferraro said.
Ferraro was in the middle of a postseason to remember. In 18 games, he had 20 points, including 13 goals. Ferraro had two assists in that Game 7, but the fact that Volek was the hero with two goals, including the overtime winner, was stunning.
"There couldn't have been a bigger reward for a guy who'd be in Al (Arbour)'s doghouse most of the season," McDonald said. "I was thrilled for him."
For the Islanders, the magic ran out in the Wales Conference finals as they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
It wasn't supposed to be the end, but the start of something special. It didn't turn out that way. Over the next 21 seasons (the 2004-05 season was canceled because of the lockout), the Islanders failed to make the playoffs 14 times and were eliminated in the first round seven times.
Add it all up and it's been 23 years since the Islanders have won a playoff series.
"I just can't believe it," Ferraro said. "You just think that somewhere along the line you're going to win somewhere. I think the last time something happened and I was involved with it playing-wise, then that's too long."
After that unlikely playoff run came to an end, McDonald would spend two more seasons in the Islanders' television booth. He would go on to do telecasts for the Toronto Maple Leafs and then in 1999 was named the radio play-by-play voice for the Florida Panthers.
Jiggs would spend five seasons with the Panthers before retiring at the end of the 2003-04 campaign. Today, he comes out of retirement from time to time to fill in for Howie Rose on Islanders telecasts on MSG. So, as the Islanders get set to face the Panthers in the playoffs, he has feelings for both teams.
"Yes, I'm torn," McDonald admitted. "I've always wanted the Panthers to have a great run. From the Islanders standpoint, it has been way too long without getting out of the first round. This is a special group of guys again, a lot like 1993 and it would be so nice to see them rewarded and move on."
It is an intriguing matchup between the Islanders and Panthers. Florida was one of the surprise teams in the NHL as it captured the Atlantic Division while New York notched its second straight 100-point campaign.
"This is one of the series that has wild card component written all over it," Ferraro said. "The teams play very similar styles. Will the Islanders get goaltending? I'm pretty sure Florida is going to get it. That very easily could come down to be the deciding factor."
The popular website nyislesblog.com is selling a t-shirt with the phrase "ADVANCE LIKE IT'S 1993." While it was a memorable season in Islanders history, 1993 is also is a reminder of just how long it has been since the Islanders have been on the winning side of the post-series handshakes.
As Volek's series-winning shot against the Penguins hit the back of the net at the Igloo, Islanders fan and booster club vice president Gary Harding was watching the game with a friend at a bar in the Resorts Casino in Atlantic City.
After dealing with the highs and lows of the epic contest, he said there was a sense of relief after the game.
"When Volek scored, the life was just sucked out of us," said Harding, who would eventually become booster club president. "I think we were more exhausted than the players were."
Harding was in Atlantic City to try out for the television show "Jeopardy." With that in mind, if the Islanders can beat the Panthers, here's a possibility for a future episode.
"I'll take long playoff droughts for $200, Alex."
"In 2016, this hockey team ended a 23-year run without winning a playoff series."
"Who are the New York Islanders?"
It has been a long time. Sometimes I think my son, Bradley, doesn't believe that the Islanders won four straight Stanley Cup titles. I show him videos all the time, but he just looks away. He wants to see it for real.
Maybe this is the year. Just maybe.
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