This year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins marks the first time two Original Six teams are facing off against each other in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1979. That year saw the defending cup champs Montreal Canadiens defeat the New York Rangers in five games for their fourth Stanley Cup in a row.
Pretty much everyone across the hockey world thought it would be a slam dunk for the powerful Canadiens; and though the Habs would eventually dispose of the Blueshirts in five, it wasn’t that straight-forward.
Here’s Tremblay, hitting the Boston line. Tremblay cutting, centrering… they score!!! Lamberrrrrt!!!!
The Canadiens win the Stanley Cup!!! No wait! It’s just the semis…
Yes it’s that “too many men on the ice” game 7 again from 1979 where the Canadiens took advantage of a sloppy line change by the Bruins to tie the game late in the third and then win in OT.
Looking back, many still think that actually won the Canadiens the Stanley Cup but that’s not the case. It was just the semi-finals — as it was called back then. But the game was such an emotional battle it was if the cup was won — kind of like the “Miracle on Ice” from the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. That’s when the upstart United States beat the heavily-favoured Soviets.
Yet people forget that wasn’t the gold medal game. It just felt like it. The Americans still had to go on and beat Finland for the gold. And so the Canadiens still had to go on and face the New York Rangers — who were waiting to see who they’d face after already defeating the top team in the NHL that season, the New York Islanders, in six games.
It was supposed to be a formality. But nothing is a given in sports and especially in hockey. The effort still has to be there otherwise the puck can bounce the other way. Take this year’s choke-tastic game 7 between the Maple Leafs and Bruins. The Leafs were up 4-1 with eleven minutes left in the game. Suddenly they stopped playing and went on to lose in OT. But that’s the Leafs: they have an extraordinary ability for finding record-breaking ways to lose.
Now the Bruins are in the finals and I hate to say it but they deserve to be there, especially after the way they so methodically dismantled the talent-ladened Pittsburgh Penguins.
Back in 1979 everyone pretty much agreed whoever won the Boston-Montreal series would steamroll over the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup. Actually a Bruins-Rangers cup finals would’ve made for some interesting storylines. The Rangers hadn’t been to the finals since 1972 when they were defeated by the Bobby Orr-fueled Bruins. Phil Esposito could have had the chance to face his old team, and the same goes for Hall of Fame defenseman Brad Park who was a star on that earlier Rangers team.
But fate intervened and shucks, that would be as close as Brad Park would come to getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Instead, the Canadiens went on to win their fourth in a row. But it didn’t start off that great.
A Typical Emotional Let-Down
After the emotional high of defeating the Bruins in that topsy-turvy game 7, it was completely natural for the Canadiens to have an emotional dip coming into the Finals. And no doubt, it didn’t help that it seemed like all Montreal had to do was show up to the rink and they would win. But that’s not what happened.
The Rangers had a talented group of forwards lead by the aging but still potent Phil Esposito, along with Ron Duguay, Ron Greschner, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. The veteran blueliner Carol Vadnais added experience to a young group of d-men like rookie Mario Marois.
They also had an experienced coach in Fred Shero and a young and eager goaltender in John Davidson. Yes, that John Davidson. Davidson grabbed the crease for the Rangers in the playoffs and in Steve Penney fashion stood on his head helping the Blueshirts upset the Islanders in the previous round.
Here’s game 1 of the finals in its entirety with surprisingly good visual quality. No Danny Gallivan though, apparently he was off sick:
A couple of interesting stats displayed during this game:
1) The Rangers won 3 of 4 games in Montreal that season;
2) The Canadiens made the finals 11 of 15 years!!
And so, the Rangers surprised the heavily-favoured Canadiens beating them 4-1 to take game 1 at the Forum in Montreal.
Bunny Gets Bonked and the Rest is History
The Canadiens came out flat in game 1 and the Rangers took full advantage. Scotty Bowman even went so far to pull Dryden, replacing him with Bunny Larocque, to shake up his team. Obviously Bowman was not pleased and as good coaches do, he reacted right away. Whether or not he actually blamed goaltender Ken Dryden for the loss, the message was definitely made loud and clear when the legendary head coach decided to start his backup for game 2, also in Montreal.
The Rangers must have been thanking their lucky stars. Here they were, up one game to none and facing the Habs rarely-played backup. Maybe it was a classic Bowman psychological ploy? Maybe he never intended to play Larocque in the first place? But as fate would have it, in the warm-up Bunny took one off his noggin and suffered a mild concussion. So Dryden ended up playing anyways and the Habs cruised to a 6-2 win.
One interesting fact stemming from Bunny’s concussion was that Richard Sevigny was called up to dress as Dryden’s backup for the rest of the series. So Sevigny lucked into having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for the Canadiens’ 1978-79 triumph. It would be his only time.
And the rest as they say, is history. That is what they say, right!? The Canadiens won the next two in New York after the series switched to Madison Square Garden for games 3 and 4; then returned home to defeat the Rangers 4-1 for the Canadiens first Stanley Cup win on Forum ice since 1968. Bob Gainey won the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff MVP.
Find Ari Grief on Facebook and Twitter @HabsFanLeafLand where he’ll gladly gloat to you that as a goaltender, he’s never been pulled. Then again, there’s no backups in recreational hockey.