LaFleur and Bossy:
Offensive Superstars of the mid-1970s
by Dick Irvin
Dynasty. The dictionary defines the word as a “sequence of rulers from the same family or group.” Hockey fans define it as a team that has won the Stanley Cup more than three years in succession. Which means only two teams in the NHL’s modern era, the Montreal Canadiens who did it twice, and the New York Islanders who did it once.
Close calls don’t count. The Toronto Maple Leafs twice were Stanley Cup winners three straight years. A fourth straight eluded them, first in 1950 then again in 1965. Not good enough.
New York Islanders winger
Mike Bossy scores on the
Vancouver Canucks in the
1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs
In the 1980’s the Edmonton Oilers won two in a row, didn’t win the following year, then were champions again the two years after that. Still not good enough.
The Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950’s won a record five straight Stanley Cups, beginning in 1956. Indeed, they were only a few goals short of winning eight straight. Following their Cup win in 1953, the Canadiens lost in the finals to the Detroit Red Wings the next two years. In 1954 the series was decided in overtime in game seven. In 1955 the Red Wings also won in a seventh game, by a score of 3-1. The Canadiens didn’t lose another playoff series until 1961.
The second Montreal dynasty began with the first of four straight Stanley Cups in 1976. Between 1960 and 1976 the Canadiens had won the Cup six times but never more than twice in a row. Their Cup triumph in 1973 came after a season in which they had been beaten only ten times. But they had to watch the Philadelphia Flyers win the following two years before the second Montreal dynasty began.
When the Montreal Canadiens first dynasty was overpowering the rest of the six team NHL, I was a paying customer for their home games at the Forum.When the 1976 team was winning the Stanley Cup, I was broadcasting their games on radio and television for Hockey Night in Canada. I had a great view of what became a great team and it was something to behold.
Statistics can be overdone, but in this case they reveal a remarkable story. In the three seasons starting with 1975-76, the figures in the Canadiens loss column were eleven, eight, and ten. Twenty-nine defeats in 240 games! Add the playoffs and you come up with 213 wins, thirty-four ties, and just thirty-four losses in 281 games, a three year standard of excellence that likely will never be equaled.
The last season of the Canadiens second dynasty was 1979-80. The team lost seventeen regular season games and finished second to the fast improving New York Islanders in the overall standings. This prompted the question, “What’s wrong with the Canadiens?” on the streets of hockey-mad Montreal. But the team got its act together in the playoffs and won a fourth straight Stanley Cup.
Sam Pollock was the General Manager whose skillful handling of draft choices and trades put the team together. Scotty Bowman was the coach who orchestrated the players’ talents on the ice. Together they produced a true hockey dynasty.
As the Montreal Canadiens were losing only ten times during the 1972-73 season, the New York Islanders were losing sixty times.
The Islanders had joined the NHL that season along with the Atlanta Flames, raising the number of teams to sixteen. Nobody expected them to perform miracles, but nobody thought they would be so bad as to lose sixty games. And certainly nobody who watched them struggle pitifully through that first season would have dreamed that in eight short years the New York Islanders would be winning the first of four straight Stanley Cup championships.
The Islanders Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the NHL’s basement is another remarkable statistical story. The figures in their loss column went from sixty, to forty-one, to twenty-five in three seasons. Their victory totals climbed from twelve, to nineteen, to thirty-three. They made the playoffs in their third season. In their seventh season they won fifty-one games, finishing first overall.The Islanders entered the Stanley Cup Record Book in 1975, the first year they made the playoffs. In a series against the Pittsburgh Penguins they lost the first three games, then came back to win the next four and the series. That feat had been accomplished just once before, by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1942 Stanley Cup finals against Detroit.
The ‘75 Islanders then got everyone excited all over again when they almost did the same thing against the defending Cup champions from Philadelphia. The Flyers won the first three games, then the Islanders took the next three. A second miracle wasn’t to be however, and the Flyers escaped with a win in game seven.
While the Montreal dynasty of the late 70’s had been built and nurtured by Sam Pollock and Scotty Bowman, on Long Island the men doing that job were general manager Bill Torrey, and coach Al Arbour. Their team in 1978-79 had finished first, yet fell to the New York Rangers early in the playoffs. Perhaps a case of a rising club still not quite ready to win. The next year they were.
Not all Stanley Cup winning goals are indelibly etched in the minds of hockey fans, but a few do fall into that category. Bobby Orr’s famed flying leap when the Bruins beat the Blues in 1970 is one. And so is Bob Nystrom’s goal for the Islanders, at 7:11 of overtime in game six of the 1980 finals, against Philadelphia, to give them their first Stanley Cup championship. In the day and age of television, that dramatic goal has been and will continue to be replayed countless times.
The Islanders won the Stanley Cup three consecutive years after that. While the mighty Canadiens of the late ‘50’s won five straight Cups in ten playoff rounds, today’s teams have to work at it a lot longer. During the reign that stamped them as one of hockey’s true dynasties, the New York Islanders won sixteen straight series.
You have to wonder if that feat will ever be equaled, or surpassed.
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