'Choking?' Sometimes there's a happy ending

Howdy, Sharks fans. I was doing some archive reading, and I know you guys tackled this in a different way a few weeks ago, but I thought this was worth sharing...

Like oniongrass, preferred lies, potholes and silvery sun reflectors, the Stanley Cup collapse of the New York Islanders has long been one of the annual signs of spring on Long Island. When the going got tough, the Islanders always got going. Going home, that is, to places like Umea, Sweden; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; and Emily, Minn.

Two years ago the Islanders, easy winners of the Patrick Division, were routed by the nondescript Toronto Maple Leafs in the quarterfinals. Last spring the Islanders, the team with the best record in the NHL during the 80-game regular season, the team with a record better even than Montreal's, were bounced from the semifinals by the hated New York Rangers. And for most of the 1979-80 season it appeared that the Islanders would be going home to the Umeas and the Moose Jaws of this world earlier than ever.

>>Larry Brooks, Sports Illustrated, May 12, 1980

So I know it was (yikes!) 29 years ago, in a different era, with a different game, under different roster rules. And I know you guys don't necessarily need a "pick-me up" from a fan of the NHL's 30th-place team. And you might argue that, "Butch Goring is not walking through that door..." at next season's trade deadline.

But still. When I hear talk of the perennially "choking" Sharks -- and in weak moments I even start to believe it myself -- I can't help thinking that the NHL's last true dynasty (sorry about that 1986 dynasty interruptus, Oilers) was also once labeled annual playoff" chokers."

Until late one spring when they weren't, and they didn't lose another series for nearly five years.

Hall of Famers like Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin -- whose names are now inseparable from four consecutive Stanley Cups -- were once associated with playoff failure and depressing underachievement. Then, in the second halves of their careers, they became legends. Funny, that.

They may have arrived too early by upending the Penguins as a still-young franchise in 1975 (after being down 3-0 in the series), as Stan Fischler -- who used to make a little more sense -- even penned a 1976 book about the Islanders, subtitled: "Hockey's New Dynasty." Maddeningly, though, the Islanders spent the last four years of the '70s scaring teams in the regular season and then losing in unimaginable ways in the postseason.

Then in 1980, after treading water through most of the regular season, they began a string of 19 playoff series victories in a row -- a record that is hard to imagine ever being broken. What chokers, these guys.

I don't know what the answers are in San Jose, and I don't know who should survive or who should go as part of a tweaking in this salary cap era where time windows are even shorter. But I do know the playoffs are to some degree a crapshoot (give me health and give me goaltending), "experience" comes from a variety of sources, and elite players can evolve and put it all together over time. Everyone's a playoff failure until they get over the hump and magically transform into "proven champion."

Just saying. Maybe next season, history repeats itself.

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