The Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers will start their best-of-five Qualifying Round series on Saturday. This marks the fifth time these two franchises have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the first time since 1992. All four of the previous playoff meetings came in a conference final.
Even though the playoff history between these two teams is not as storied as the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, they still built up quite a rivalry during this time period. There was no shortage of star power in these four series as a total of 13 Future Hockey Hall of Famers took the ice in at least one game.
1983 Campbell Conference Final
Both the Blackhawks and Oilers entered the 1983 Stanley Cup playoffs as division winners. Chicago won the Norris Division with 104 points while the Oilers’ 106 points were the most in the conference and earned them the Smythe Division crown.
The Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota North Stars in the Norris Division bracket. The Oilers reached the conference final with victories over the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames. They two teams combined for just three losses during the first two rounds of the postseason.
The Edmonton offense was just too much the Blackhawks during the first two games at the old Northlands Coliseum. The Oilers outscored the Blackhawks 16-6 to storm out to a 2-0 series lead. Hall of Fame goaltender Tony Esposito gave up eight goals in Game 1 as he and Murray Bannerman alternated games.
It was more of the same back in Chicago as the Oilers finished off the four-game sweep with a 3-2 win in Game 3 and a 6-3 victory in the fourth and final game. Esposito was in net for Game 3 and it turned out to be the final playoff game of his career.
Wayne Gretzky scored only two goals in the series, but he led all players with 12 points.
Al Secord was the leading scorer for the Blackhawks with two goals and seven points in the losing effort. The Oilers advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history and were swept by the New York Islanders, who won their fourth straight championship.
1985 Campbell Conference Final
Two years later, the Blackhawks and Oilers were back in the Campbell Conference Final. This time around, the Oilers won another Smythe Division with 109 points while the Blackhawks finished second in the Norris Division with 83 points during the regular season. The Oilers beat the Flames and Jets to get to this series. The Blackhawks knocked out two rivals, the Detroit Red Wings and North Stars, to get the rematch with Edmonton.
Just like in 1983, the Oilers dominated the first two games on home ice. They rolled to an 11-2 win in Game 1 and a 7-3 Game 2 victory. The Blackhawks came back to the old Chicago Stadium down 2-0, but a new tradition was about to begin. When the teams took the ice for the national anthem, the fans started to loudly cheer and continued throughout the duration of the Star-Spangled Banner.
Urban legend says the Blackhawks faithful started cheering in response to the American national being booed in Edmonton, but there is no hard evidence that actually occurred. A 2008 article from NHL.com gives this origin explanation:
Chicago’s anthem tradition began during the 1985 conference finals against Edmonton. After dropping the first two games of the series on the road, Hawks fans entered Chicago Stadium on May 9 fully energized and ready to help their team get back into the series. The crowd was so excited they cheered all the way through the National Anthem — and the tradition stuck.
“When I introduced the anthem, fans just started clapping and cheering,” said Harvey Wittenberg, the Blackhawks’ public-address announcer from 1961-2001. “That was the start of the phenomenon.”
The extra enthusiasm made a difference as the Blackhawks earned a 5-2 win in Game 3. They evened up the series with an 8-6 victory in Game 4. However, they failed the pack their momentum for the trip back to Alberta. The Oilers won 10-5 in Game 5 and finished off the series, back in Chicago, with an 8-2 blowout in Game 6.
Gretzky led all players with 14 assists and 18 points. Jari Kurri scored 12 goals in the series and set a record with three hat tricks. He is still the only player in NHL history to score three hat tricks in a single playoff series.
Steve Larmer led the Blackhawks with four goals, while Denis Savard had seven assists and 10 points.
The Oilers went on to face the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1985 Stanley Cup Final. After losing the first game of the series, they won the next four games to win their second straight championship.
1990 Campbell Conference Final
These two teams were back in the Conference Final in 1990. The Blackhawks won the Norris Division with 88 points during the 1989-90 season. The Oilers had more points, 90, but finished in second place of the Smythe Division.
The Blackhawks had a tough road to this series as they needed seven games to beat both the North Stars and the Blues in the first two rounds. The Oilers needed a seventh game to eliminate the Jets in the opening round before sweeping Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.
The Oilers scored a 5-2 victory in Game 1, but the Blackhawks came back to win Game 2, 4-3, for their first-ever postseason win in Edmonton. They grabbed a 2-1 series lead with a 5-1 win in Game 3. This would be the final win of the series for Chicago as the Oilers won the next three games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Mark Messier scored four goals and a series-high 12 points. Glenn Anderson also chipped in with three goals and seven points. Savard led the way for the Blackhawks, once again, with three goals and 10 points.
The Oilers beat the Boston Bruins in five games to capture their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years, and their only one without Gretzky.
1992 Campbell Conference Final
The fourth and final playoff meeting between these two clubs came two years later with another conference final matchup. The Blackhawks finished the 1991-92 regular season in second place of the Norris Division with 87 points. The Oilers had 82 points, which was good enough for third place in the Smythe Division.
The Blackhawks beat the Blues in six games, in the opening round, before sweeping the Red Wings, who were the regular-season division champions. The Oilers beat Gretzky and the Kings again in the first round and then took out the Vancouver Canucks in their next round. Both series ended in six games.
For the first time ever, the Blackhawks had home-ice advantage in the series. They flexed their muscle in an 8-2 Game 1 victory and came back two nights later to beat the Oilers 4-2, taking a 2-0 series lead to Edmonton.
Game 3 was the one and only overtime game in the playoff history between these two teams. Jeremy Roenick scored 2:45 into the extra session to give the Blackhawks a 3-0 stranglehold on the series. They finished off the four-game sweep with a 5-1 win in Game 4 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1973.
Roenick and Steve Larmer led the way for Chicago by each having four goals and eight points. Defenseman Chris Chelios picked up six assists in the four games. Craig MacTavish and future Blackhawk Bernie Nichols each scored a pair of goals to lead the Oilers.
The Blackhawks run came to a disappointing end when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. Meanwhile, the Oilers did not return to the postseason until 1997.
This year’s meeting does not have a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, but it will not lack intensity, especially since it is a best-of-five series. Eventually we will add to the list of Hall of Famers to have played in the all-time series with guys like Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews. Edmonton stars Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are definitely on Hall of Fame trajectories in their young careers.
This series will also include some exciting young players like Andreas Anthansiou, Adam Boqvist, Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat, Darnell Nurse and Kailer Yamamoto. The puck will drop for Game 1 on Saturday in what should be a competitive series.