The New York Times
Sunday, May 3, 1981
Potvin Has An Issue To Settle In The Garden
By Parton Keese
The first boos expected to be heard last night in Madison Square
Garden would probably be directed at Denis Potvin, the Islanders' all-
star defenseman and captain. The Garden has been enemy country for
Potvin, dating to several seasons ago when his hip checks began
leveling unsuspecting ranger forwards, with one in particular leading
to Ulf Nilsson's breaking an ankle in Feburary 1979. Whenever Potvin
skates at the Garden, ranger fans aim not only taunts at him, but
solid objects, too, like dead chickens, fish and cups of beer.
"May the Garden welcome me with open arms," Potvin said when he first
learned the rangers would be the Islanders' opponent in the NHL
"I love playing there."
That's hardly the case, however, as the record book can attest. Going
into last night's game, Potvin has not scored a point in a playoff
game at the Garden since April 1975. After their confrontation in the
1979 Semifinals, when the rangers upset the Islanders in six games,
the rangers admitted they had devised a special strategy aimed at
tiring Potvin out and making him less effective. "Sure I remember
that," Potvin said, hours before last night's third game of the
current series. "We all do. there's no question that 1979 has been
and will remain on our minds until we wipe it out the way we wiped
out the memory of Toronto beating us in the 1978 quarterfinals.
That's the legacy of a good hockey team: You learn a lesson by
losing, and you don't let it happen to you again."
But Potvin, who is 27 years old, also said there were differences
between the situation now and the one two years ago. For one, he
said, he is wiser, more experienced. For another, the clubs are not
the same. However, the attitude of the Garden fans seemed to have
remained constant. "I guess I'll have to view their reaction to me as
a compliment," Potvin said. "I mean just to preserve my own sanity,
I'll have to say to myself that, whatever they do, it's because I
must be the most important person in their eyes.
"What I can't let happen, though, is for the fans to destroy my
concentration so that I don't play my game."
His game, Potvin said, is to get as many shots on net as he can
get. "Not just long shots, for that can only ive a rookie goalie like
Steve Baker confidence," Potvin said. "We don't want to do that." As
for defense, Potvin said that he expected the rangers to be able to
forecheck a lot better in their own rink than at Nassau Coliseum,
where hostile fans and unfamiliar surroundings make it more
difficult. "It's a different situation," he said. "Maybe they'll
start using a physical guy like Nick fotiu so they can pt more muscle
in the lineup. Well, we still have a Bob Bourne to use for extra
speed. the key is, if we play our game, it won't matter if it's the
Garden or anywhere."
Potvin has been having the best playoff season of his career, with 11
assists and six goals. Fove of the goals were on the power play and
one short-handed, all against the Edmonton Oilers. "What has helped,"
he said, "has been the way my teammates have been supporting me. They
kid me about the Garden fans, and that helps me relax as well as
prepare me for the onslaught. Someone once asked what I thought about
when ranger fans were jeering and yelling crazy thing my way. I
said: 'I don't think; I react.'"
When Potvin first learned the rangers were going to be the Islanders'
opponent in the semifinals, he said his initial thought was just to
win the series and keep momentum going until the Islanders won the
"There was nothing personal about the rangers being the foe," he said.
"So, if you see me smiling down on the ice, you'll know it's because
we're winning, not necessarily because it's against the rangers. Come
to think of it, though, that might not be such a bad feeling, either."