See, there was this big celebration planned. Smiles all around, lots--14,995--of happy people, a group of 20 or so hockey players set to slap each other on the back and exchange congratulations for a job well done.
If it weren't for a few party-poopers named Middleton, Cheevers and O'Reilly, the New York Islanders and their fans would have had quite a bash at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., last night.
No such luck. The Islanders, playing at home and up 3-0 in their NHL quarterfinal series against Boston, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as the Bruins pulled out a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win.
Terry O'Reilly, who after five majors in two games shunned fisticuffs for the entire evening, (although he did square off with Garry Howatt at one point), rammed a Peter McNab set-up past Islander goalie Billy Smith from the bottom of the right face-off circle at 17:13 of overtime to return the series to Boston and change the night's theme song from "We Are the Champions" to "Stayin' Alive."
Facing elimination, the Bruins had sent the contest into overtime with but 20 seconds left in regulation. With Cheevers pulled, Brad Park dribbled a centering pass to Rick Middleton, who, much to the disgust of Islander fans already into their traditional series-ending standing ovation, stashed the puck in the twines to Smith's left.
Taking as their credo the saying "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," the Islanders stormed out of the locker room intent on quickly securing their third overtime win in four games. New York pressed for the coup de grace, but Cheevers denied numerous bids in the first few minutes of sudden death and gave his teammates a chance to gain equilibrium.
Earlier, it seemed that O'Reilly's nemesis, Clark Gillies, had certified Boston's death certificate when he rapped a shot between Cheevers' pads off an assist from linemate Butch Goring. That goal, which came with 6:40 left in the third period, broke a 2-2 tie which Boston had gained on a rebound by McNab ten minutes earlier.
New York entered the final--excuse me, third--period leading 2-1 on the power of two tallies by gunslinging right wing Mike Bossy, who had been out with a thumb injury.
He rifled a shot past Cheevers 12:03 into the game to negate Ray Borque's slapshot, then notched another on a short shot with his back to the Boston net to put New York on top 8:18 into period two.