It took all of 17 seconds for the Boston Bruins to be stunned by the Chicago Blackhawks in game six this year. It was an event mightily celebrated by the EOTP community, and one that surely gave all Habs fans some comfort after an early playoff exit. But this was not the first time the Bruins were stunned in the playoffs. My personal favourite (I'm sure it's not mine alone) came in 1979 at the hands of Les Glorieux. Most hardcore Montreal Canadiens fans are all too familiar with the 1979 series with the Bruins. It predates my birth by over a decade, and still, it was the first thing that came to mind while watching the end of the final game of this year's playoffs. I figure this is as good a time as any to recap the story of 1979 for anyone who isn't totally familiar with it.
It was an excellent season for both teams. The Bruins posted a record of 43-23-14, good for first in the Adams division. In the post-Bobby Orr era, the Bruins managed to remain a strong team. They had eight 20+ goal scorers led by Rick Middleton and Peter Mcnab with 38 and 35 respectively. Gerry Cheevers was their starting keeper and posted a respectable 23-9-10 record. This season would be Don Cherry's last as bench boss of the B's.
The 1978-79 season was arguably the last edition of "Les Glorieux," closing out the decade in style. With a record of 52-17-11, they were clearly the best team in the conference, finishing with only one point less than the Islanders. The Habs only had seven 20+ goal scorers to Boston's eight, but that list included Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, Bob Gainey, and of course Guy Lafleur with 52. Serge Savard and Larry Robinson anchored the defensive corps on a team that allowed the fewest goals in the league. When you consider that last part, it should come as no surprise that Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque shared the Vezina that year for the third time in a row. And the Habs' bench boss? Scotty Bowman. This was one hell of a team.
It didn't take much work for these two teams to ensure their meeting in the conference finals. After the preliminary round, from which both teams were exempt, the Habs beat the Leafs in a four game sweep while the Bruins did the same to the Penguins. And so the showdown was on. Montreal had home ice advantage for the semifinal, which would prove to be crucial.
The home team won all of the first six games. The first two games in Montreal yielded 4-2 and 5-2 Habs win, respectively. Then the series shifted to Boston, where the Bruins edged the Habs 2-1 and 4-3 (OT) to even-up the series. The Habs then took a 3-2 lead by stomping the Bruins 5-1, but failed to close the series in game six as they took a 5-2 stomping themselves. And so, game seven; the greatest show on ice. The Habs were a supremely confident team that year according to Ken Dryden's book. Now they were headed for a decisive game against an underdog team with a surprising amount of skill.
Fast forward to the third period of game seven. The Bruins had managed to work their way to a 3-1 lead over the powerhouse Habs much to the surprise of the crowd at the Forum. EOTP's own Andrew Berkshire managed to compile fancy stats by exhaustively reviewing the game film, and based on those you would also find the 3-1 deficit hard to believe. Between the second and third, the veteran Roadrunner Yvan Cournoyer had some words for his teammates, and it worked. Mark Napier and Guy Lapointe both lit the lamp to tie the game at three apiece. Then, enter the Bruins most prolific scorer on the year, Rick Middleton. He managed to bounce a shot from below the goal line off the arm of Ken Dryden and into the net with just under four minutes remaining. 4-3 Bruins.
With the Bruins up a goal, and little time remaining on the clock, it seemed as though the Bruins were about to stun the Habs and advance to the Stanley Cup, with the only road win by either side in the series. However, shortly after the goal, Boston was assessed a now infamous penalty for too many men on the ice. It's really not controversial though, Don Cherry has acknowledged it as valid, but I bet you could find Bruins fans who will debate its validity nonetheless. Regardless, the end result was a two-minute power play for the Habs and they sent out the big guns: Robinson and Savard on the back end with Shutt, Lafleur, and Lemaire up front. Lafleur took the puck in the defensive zone, doing a P.K. Subban-style spin to create space before taking the puck up ice and firing a pass to Lemaire as he crossed the blueline. Lafleur quickly made his way into the offensive zone, as Lemaire left the puck on a platter for him to one-time it. With a short wind up, Lafleur's clapper found the net, sending the game into overtime.
Rick Middleton was a thorn in the side of the Habs all night, and all series, but he made a critical mistake in overtime. The period was around nine minutes old and there had been a number of good chances for each team, including one for Middleton. Then he got greedy and tried to get past the veteran Serge Savard. Savard stole the puck, moved it to Rejean Houle who threw it to Mario Tremblay along the boards. Tremblay streaked into the offensive zone with great speed, and gained enough separation to throw a perfect back door pass to Yvon Lambert, and the game was over. If you haven't seen it before, please enjoy the short video below.
The Habs then moved on to the Final against the New York Rangers. They made quick work of the fifth-seed blueshirts, losing game one and then taking four straight, fittingly for a fourth straight Stanley Cup. It's quite bittersweet to look back on when you think about it. The playoffs were a breeze for the Habs other than the epic series with our most hated rivals that concluded in a way both hilarious and satisfying for die hard fans. On the other hand, it was the end of the purely dominant team that fans had come to expect. Since that year, there have only been two banners added to the rafters in Montreal, and while those were great teams, I don't feel that they can be put on the same level as those before and during the 70's. '78-'79 were the last years for Habs legends Yvan Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, Jacques Lemaire and for Scotty Bowman behind the bench. With other players on the team in decline, it was truly the last we've seen of Les Glorieux.
I don't know if those days are ever coming back, but this past season has surely given me some hope. I'd love to experience something like the '79 final in my lifetime.
More on this game: EOTP brings fancy stats to one of the greatest games ever played.