There have been an insane amount of talented teams that have come from the city of Montreal. In fact, some of the greatest players in the history of the NHL have worn the iconic red, white and blue from Maurice “Rocket” Richard to Guy Lafleur and many other legends in between. Though of all the dynasty teams they had, the 1976-77 version was probably the best, not only in Montreal Canadiens‘ history but the NHL’s itself.
Canadiens’ Roster Was Full of Generational Players
The Canadiens boasted an enviable roster during the 70s, but it arguably came to a head during the 1976-77 season. Led by nine, check that, nine future Hall of Famers, including some of the best goal scorers, defencemen, two-way forwards, and goaltenders of all-time, they were nearly unstoppable most of the time. In fact, their goaltender Ken Dryden sometimes relaxed on his stick in his crease just admiring the domination from afar. It was almost a given that they would win their second Stanley Cup in a row before the season even began.
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Legendary general manager Sam Pollock didn’t need to make any trades during the season to make this once-in-a-lifetime team better. He had more than enough pieces to contend for a championship, not only for that season but for many seasons to come. Heck, when you have players like Steve Shutt, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Lafleur, Dryden, and a Hall of Fame coach like Scotty Bowman on your payroll, why fix something that isn’t broken?
By the end of their careers, those players totaled 2,502 goals and 6,388 points which is literally off the charts. Bowman also finished with 1,248 regular season wins and nine Stanley Cups. They basically had an all-star team capable of blowing out any team on any given night. It shouldn’t take you long to realize that this team was one of, if not the best team of all time.
Regular Season Domination
If you need more evidence of this, just look at their record after the 1976-77 season. Finishing with an unprecedented 60 wins and only eight regulation losses, the Canadiens were just accustomed to winning every game. In a time where the loser point didn’t exist, they came away with 132 points in 80 games and led the NHL by a full 11 points. They also dominated offensively with 387 goals and were stingy defensively with only 171 goals against, finishing with a plus-216 goal differential.
During this unbelievable season, they never went on a single losing streak and had multiple winning and unbeaten streaks that went into the double digits. Like I said before, they just didn’t know the meaning of the word loss. No wonder their fans got up in arms when they actually lost a game, it was a foreign concept to them.
To win that many games, you have to have out-of-this-world performances from your top players. Led by Lafleur’s career-high (at the time) 56 goals and 136 points and Shutt’s all-time career-best 60 goals and 105 points, the Canadiens had that and more. In addition to that iconic duo, they also had six other players who buried at least 20 goals and eight who accumulated at least 50 points.
Forwards weren’t the only players that chipped in on offence either. They also had Robinson and Lapointe produce a combined 44 goals and 161 points between them and Savard come in with 9 goals and 42 points as well. In essence, the Canadiens came at you with threats from all sides. You never knew who was going to burn you.
If the Canadiens did allow the other team to get a chance on net, Dryden was there to stop them. The future Hall of Fame goaltender, who won a Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1971, was just as unbeatable as the team in front of him. He led the league with 41 wins and 10 shutouts that season and ended up winning his second straight and third overall Vezina Trophy as well.
Awards Were Dominated By the Canadiens
By the end of the season, you couldn’t find many awards that weren’t given to a member of the Canadiens. Lafleur won his second straight Art Ross and Lester B Pearson Trophies and his first of two Hart Trophies, Robinson won his first Norris Trophy and finally, Dryden shared the Vezina with his backup Michel Larocque.
The First All-Star Team was also full of Canadiens with Dryden, Robinson, Shutt, and Lafleur taking the goaltender, defence, and winger spots on the team. It was as close to a starting lineup as you could get with only Borje Salming from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Marcel Dionne from the Los Angeles Kings filling the remaining positions.
The 1977 All-Star Game also saw a plethora of Canadiens take to the ice with Dryden, Lapointe, Savard, Robinson, Lafleur, and Gainey taking up residence at the Pacific Coliseum for the Western Conference All-Star Team. They were also led by their head coach Scotty Bowman, who was coaching in his second straight all-star game.
The Domination Continued Into the Playoffs
The regular season wasn’t the end of the road for the Canadiens as they went on a historic Stanley Cup run where they only lost two games. All in all, they finished with a 12-2 record and swept two out of the three series they played in, including the Stanley Cup Final where they won four straight over the Boston Bruins.
Round One – St. Louis Blues (Swept 4-0)
The first round of the 1977 Stanley Cup Playoffs saw the Canadiens meet the St. Louis Blues, who were being led at the time by 30-goal scorer Gary Unger and 20-year-old future Hall-of-Famer Bernie Federko. The team that finished with a 32-39-9 record didn’t really stand a chance, as they were severely outplayed in almost every game. In total, they only scored four goals in the series, while the Canadiens shone with 19 goals scored almost exclusively by Lafleur and Shutt who had seven goals between them. They also got contributions from Lemaire, Savard, and Gainey, who had two goals each.
Round Two – New York Islanders (Defeated 4-2)
Of all the opponents the Canadiens had to face, the New York Islanders posed the most of a challenge. Half of the games were won by one goal with the Islanders winning Games 3 and 5 by scores of 5-3 and 4-3 respectively. The Canadiens did however prevail with a 2-1 win in Game 6, led by Gainey’s third and fourth goals of the playoffs.
They were mostly led again by Lafleur and Shutt who scored five goals and 11 points between them. 36-year-old Jimmy Roberts was also a factor as he was opportunistic with three goals on only six shots in the series.
Stanley Cup Final – Boston Bruins (Swept 4-0)
For a Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins were not much of a threat to the Canadiens. There were two relatively close games in Games 3 and 4 where they won 4-2 and 2-1 respectively, but Dryden was the difference in those games stopping 23 shots in Game 3 and 25 shots in Game 4. By the end of the series, Shutt and Lafleur were again a story with four goals and 14 points, but it was Lemaire who made the biggest difference. He scored three game-winning goals, including the overtime winner in Game 4 which enabled them to sweep the Bruins and capture their second-straight Stanley Cup.
Awards & Final Stats Again Dotted with Canadiens
As you probably could imagine, Lafleur won the Conn Smythe Trophy with a team-leading 9 goals and 26 points in 14 games. Surprisingly, it ended up being the first and only win of his storied career, in which he won five Stanley Cups and racked up 58 goals and 134 points in 128 playoff games.
Related: Four Straight Cups in the 70s
It wasn’t all Lafleur though, as the Canadiens also needed superb performances from two-way monster Jacques Lemaire and leading goal-scorer Steve Shutt who had 15 goals and 37 points between them. The two-headed snake of Robinson and Lapointe was also a threat with a combined five goals and 24 points.
Even though the Canadiens had a relatively easy road to their second straight Stanley Cup, they still needed Dryden to bail them out at times. Just like in the regular season, when teams did get control in the offensive zone, he was there to save the day. By the end of the playoffs, he had a 12-2 record with a minuscule 1.56 goals-against average and an equally impressive .932 save percentage (SV%) to go along with four shutouts.
1976-77 Habs Are the Greatest Team of All-Time
Basically, from the start of the regular season to the end of the playoffs, the Canadiens were hands down the best team in the league and will go down as the greatest, not only in the NHL but in the world at large. They housed nine future Hall of Famers, two of the greatest goal scorers of all time, and arguably one of the best goaltenders and defencemen in Dryden and Robinson respectively. They also led the league in almost every statistical category, cruised through the regular season and playoffs, and even had one of the greatest ever to stand behind the bench in Bowman. What more can I say to convince you to vote for them as the greatest of all time? I think the evidence speaks for itself, don’t you?
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.