LaFleur and Bossy:
Offensive Superstars of the mid-1970s (p. 2)
by Dick Irvin
During their four straight Stanley Cup winning years the New York Islanders played seventy-four playoff games, winning fifty -seven, losing seventeen. In the four years before that the Montreal Canadiens played fifty-eight playoff games, losing only ten.
Teams with records like that have much in common. Montreal’s Ken Dryden and New York’s Billy Smith provided the caliber of goaltending needed to win Stanley Cups. Both clubs had the dominant defensemen of the era. Montreal had Larry Robinson, the Islanders Denis Potvin. The Canadiens’ Jacques Lemaire and New York’s Bryan Trottier were all around productive leaders at center ice. And both teams had the right amount of hard working, hard checking members of the supporting cast, the “grinders” as the current phrase has it. Names like Risebrough, Lambert, Gainey, Nystrom, Gillies and a couple of Sutters.
Hockey Hall of Fame
There was another area of great similarity. Both the Canadiens of the late 1970’s and the Islanders of the early 80’s had a high scoring, game breaking right wing player whose mighty talents gave their teams the decisive edge over all the others. In Montreal it was Guy Lafleur. In New York it was Michael Bossy.
There was much that was similar in the careers of these two dominant goal scorers of their eras. Both played Junior hockey in Quebec. In his final two years with the Quebec Remparts Lafleur scored 103 and 130 goals. Bossy played four years with the Laval Nationals, starting at the age of 16, and never scored fewer than 70 times.
Lafleur became eligible for the NHL Draft in 1971.The Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup that season after finishing fourth in the overall standings. But thanks to a series of trading machinations orchestrated by the team’s shrewd General Manager Sam Pollock, Montreal owned the Number One pick on drafting day. Pollock, normally a dour type, drew a laugh by requesting “Time” when NHL President Clarence Campbell asked him for the name of his team’s first choice.
Jean Beliveau had retired that same week. Now a new French Canadian hero had arrived to replace a legend, and all was right again in the pressure packed hockey world in and around Montreal.
Six years later Pollock, and a few other NHL General Managers, didn’t appear very shrewd when Mike Bossy became eligible. Despite his remarkable goal scoring record as a junior, Bossy wasn’t at the top of anyone's list of draft prospects. Scouts questioned his ability to withstand the rigors of rough play in the NHL. Dale McCourt, Mike Crombeen, Brad Maxwell and Scott Campbell were among the players chosen in the top ten. The Canadiens drafted next and Pollock selected another right winger, Mark Napier.
Three picks later Bossy was still not chosen. The New York Islanders had the 15th choice and it was then that the name “Mike Bossy” was heard. The Islanders arch rival, the Rangers, had owned two choices in the first fourteen and had selected Lucien DeBlois and Ron Duguay.
By the time Mike Bossy became a New York Islander, Guy Lafleur was being called the best player in all of hockey. In 1977 Lafleur had won his second straight scoring championship and the Canadiens, following a remarkable season with only eight losses, had just won their second straight Stanley Cup.
Prior to the start of the following season Bossy struggled through an uninspired performance at the Islanders training camp but still managed to make the team. Had he been drafted by Montreal he likely would have begun his professional career in the American Hockey League. Ahead of him at right wing would have been established stars such as Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer, and Mario Tremblay.
Mike Bossy’s first year with the Islanders was the team’s seventh in the NHL. There was little in the way of tradition for him to follow. It had been a far different story for Lafleur in Montreal. He was expected to carry on in the skate marks of previous high scoring Canadiens right wingers such as Maurice Richard and Bernie Geoffrion.
During his first three seasons “The Flower” wilted badly and was a major disappointment. He scored 29 times as a rookie, 28 in his second season, and only 21 in his third. Sam Pollock and coach Scotty Bowman felt they had a decision to make. Should they keep Lafleur and hope he improved, or should they try to trade him? Fortunately for the Canadiens, they decided to keep him.Mike Bossy’s start with the Islanders was a far different story. After his shaky training camp he became an almost instant scoring sensation in the NHL. He set a rookie record by scoring 53 times in his first season. While Lafleur managed just 78 goals in his first three years with Montreal, Bossy scored 173 goals in his first three in New York.
Regular season statistics are remembered more from individual standpoints, while team performances stand out at playoff time. But a look at how Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy performed during the playoffs when their teams were winning four straight Stanley Cups provides another interesting comparison of their great careers.
During the Canadiens four straight Cup winning years, beginning in 1976, the team played 58 playoff games. Lafleur scored 36 goals and added 51 assists for 87 points, an average of a point and a half per game.
During their four straight Cup winning years, beginning in 1980,the Islanders played 72 playoff games. Bossy scored 61 goals and added 50 assists for 111 points. On a per game basis Bossy had the edge in goals, Lafleur in assists, and they were almost dead even in points.
From 1976 through 1979 Lafleur led the playoffs in goals once, assists twice, and points twice. In the following four years Bossy led in playoff goals three times, assists once, and points once.
In 1979, when the Canadiens finished their four straight Stanley Cup run, Lafleur’s post season record was 10 goals and 13 assists. When the Islanders won their first of four straight the following year, Bossy’s playoff record was an identical 10 goals and 13 assists.
Lafleur was chosen winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ MVP once, in 1977. Bossy won it once, in 1982.
The two men were remarkable performers to watch and, for me, to describe in action from the broadcast booth. I was present for all of the Canadiens playoff games during their four-straight Stanley Cup run, and for many of the Islanders games the following four years. Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy were the type of players who gave everyone a lot to remember.
Lafleur’s greatest goal came in the semi-finals in 1979, against Boston, when he tied the game on a Montreal power-play with just a few minutes remaining in regulation time. The Bruins had iced the puck killing the penalty. Lafleur picked it up deep in his own zone and quickly moved up ice. When he crossed the blue line he passed the puck ahead to Jacques Lemaire, who had just jumped onto the ice on a line change.
Lemaire was barely onside when he took the pass right at the Boston blue line. Lemaire carried the puck into Boston territory, taking four quick strides, then dropped it back to a flying Flower who by then was streaking into the Bruins’ zone.
When you study the TV replay, Lafleur is lost from camera range for a few seconds after he passes the puck to Lemaire. It is amazing how quickly he catches up to the play.
Lemaire’s pass reached Lafleur two feet outside the face off circle, on the right wing. Lafleur didn’t handle the puck at all. He had his stick drawn back in a shooting position before the puck reached him. When it did, he fired it home immediately, “one-timed it” as announcers say, low to the far side. Boston goaltender Gilles Gilbert didn’t have a chance.
The Canadiens went on to win the game and, eventually, their fourth straight Stanley Cup. Night after night, game after game, Lafleur performed in a manner which earned him, at the time, the unofficial title as the world’s best player.
Two of Mike Bossy’s most remembered goals came in the 1982 Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks. One was at 19:58 of the first overtime period when an errant Canuck pass in Vancouver territory was quickly intercepted by Bossy and just as quickly turned into the game-winning goal. Bossy scored this goal because of something all great goal scorers possess – anticipation.
Vancouver defenseman Harold Snepsts had control of the puck along the back boards in his own zone. With time running out in the period, Snepsts didn’t play it safe. Instead, he elected to pass the puck ahead, toward the blue line. Bossy was cruising on right wing, inside the face-off circle. The instant Snepsts began to pass the puck, Bossy darted to his left. Snepsts followed through with the pass, and Bossy was in a perfect position to intercept it. He snared the puck on his backhand, swung to his forehand, and drilled it at the net from the near rim of the circle. Goaltender Richard Brodeur had no time to react. The puck was past him like a rocket, top corner, short side. It was pure Bossy.
A few nights later, in Vancouver, he scored a game winner while flying through the air, both skates off the ice. This was another case of typical Bossy anticipation. The puck seemed lost in a tangle of bodies in front of the Canucks’ goal crease. Suddenly, it popped loose, and so did Bossy, who left his feet to reach it. Both of his skates were off the ice when his stick made contact with the puck. Again the element of surprise worked for Mike Bossy, another example of why he was referred to as a “pure goal scorer.” This goal is Mike’s personal favorite among the 61 goals he scored during the Islanders’ reign of four straight Stanley Cup triumphs.
In 1987 Mike Bossy’s career was ended by a chronic back injury. It is ironic that a year after he was forced out of the game Guy Lafleur was making one of the most talked about comebacks in NHL history. Lafleur had been retired for almost four seasons and had been voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Then, at the age of 37, he came back to play for the New York Rangers and, later, for the Quebec Nordiques.
Memories. The stuff Stanley Cups are made of for fans as they look back on what used to be. From 1976 until 1983 there were two great Stanley Cup winning teams, the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Islanders. The man they called “The Flower” in Montreal, and the man they called “The Boss” on Long Island, provided us with many of the memories we have of two of the greatest teams in hockey history.
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Well known for his pioneering color commentary on Hockey Night In Canada broadcasts, Dick Irvin is also a past winner of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for his outstanding contributions to the radio and television industry. Article reprinted with permission from The Official National Hockey League 75th Anniversary Commemorative Book, Copyright 1991, The National Hockey League and Dan Diamond and Associates. Published by McClelland & Stewart.