Well, that got ugly at the United Center on Thursday night, didn’t it?
In what many expected to be the game of the night, a matchup between the always competitive Blackhawks and the defending Stanley Cup-champion Penguins just two days into the new campaign, Chicago ran roughshod over Pittsburgh in what can only be described as complete and utter domination. It wouldn’t be fair to say things went awry for the Penguins right from the opening faceoff, but it certainly didn’t take long for the proceedings to get out of hand.
Let’s recap the Blackhawks’ goals, shall we? Less than six-and-a-half minutes into the contest, Ryan Hartman scored on a deft no-look pass from Patrick Kane. Brandon Saad scored his first in his return to Chicago 45 seconds later. Nick Schmaltz was the recipient of a Kane spin-o-rama feed 28 seconds after Saad’s goal, which was then followed up by Saad’s second of the night less than two minutes later. All told, in a three-minute span, the game went from scoreless to a four-zilch Blackhawks lead. And before the period was up, Patrick Sharp stretched the lead to five.
Pittsburgh did temporarily stop the bleeding early in the second period, mind you, when Phil Kessel notched his first of the season on a power play, but things continued to spiral out of control from there. Kane put Chicago back up by five, Richard Panik scored the Blackhawks’ seventh of the night and then Schmaltz, who had a dynamite outing, went ahead and potted his second to make the score 8-1. Before the night was through, the scoreline read 10-1 in what was a game the Penguins will be eager to forget.
The Blackhawks’ 10-goal opening night was a record-setting performance for the franchise. Chicago had never scored more than eight goals in a season-opening contest, which, incredibly, didn’t happen during the Original Six era. Rather, the Blackhawks’ previous best came in October 2006 when Chicago and the Nashville Predators battled to an 8-6 final, with the Blackhawks emerging the victors.
Doubly surprising about Chicago’s victory, though, is that it marks back-to-back nights in the NHL in which a five-goal (or more) blowout has happened to start the season. On Wednesday night, in the game that kicked off the 2017-18 season, the Winnipeg crowd was silenced as the hometown Jets were shellacked 7-2 by the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. And, if not for a late goal by Mathieu Perreault, that contest would have been a six-goal spread.
The two opening-night blowouts got us wondering: what are the biggest blowouts in opening-night history? Here are the 10 games that got the most out of hand to kick off a new campaign in the post-expansion era:
Oct. 11, 1978
Vancouver Canucks 8, Colorado Rockies 2
When a score gets out of hand, it’s easy to think it must have started early and rolled downhill. That was far from the case for the Rockies in their opener against the Canucks in 1978-79. Through the first period, Colorado was down, but the 2-0 score didn’t really give much cause for concern heading into the first intermission. The second frame got out of hand in a hurry, though. Vancouver scored five unanswered goals in the second to bolt out to a 7-0 lead. Colorado got a pair back by late in the third, but, almost as if to rub some salt in the wound, the Canucks managed to stretch their lead back to six goals when Dennis Ververgaert notched Vancouver’s eighth goal of the night with 1:31 left in the contest.
For Vancouver, the blowout wasn’t a sign of things to come. The team finished 17 games below .500 and bowed out of the post-season in the preliminary round. As for the Rockies, the score was a harbinger of things to come. Colorado finished with just 42 points and 15 wins, which is tied for the 14th-fewest in league history.
Oct. 12, 1978
Boston Bruins 8, Pittsburgh Penguins 2
Yes, that’s right, the night after the Canucks dismantled the Rockies, the Bruins took the ice and did almost the exact same thing to the Penguins. However, unlike the Vancouver-Colorado contest, this game remained much closer than the score suggests much deeper into the game. After the first period, Stan Jonathan’s goal to put Boston ahead was all that separated the teams. In the second, markers by Brad Park and Jean Ratelle were split up by a power play tally by Pittsburgh’s Peter Lee and the Penguins headed to the dressing room down two. And then the wheels fell off. And then the wheels rolled off a cliff. And then the wheels exploded in a fiery blaze as the Bruins outscored the Penguins 6-1 in the final period.
The 8-2 final was a statement for Boston, who were led by coach Don Cherry. The Bruins ran away with first place in the Adams Division before meeting up with, you guessed it, the Penguins in the second round of the post-season. The series, like the season opener, was lopsided as Boston swept Pittsburgh, outscoring the Penguins 14-7 across the four-game set. The Bruins’ run ended in the conference final, however, due to the now-infamous too-many-men penalty. Leading the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7, the Bruins were penalized for an extra skater. Guy Lafleur scored the tying goal on the ensuing power play and Yvon Lambert won the series for Montreal in overtime.
Oct. 8, 1987
Vancouver Canucks 8, St. Louis Blues 2
Nine years after opening the season with a thumping of the Rockies, the Canucks took the ice for the first time in the 1987-88 campaign and delivered a thrashing to the St. Louis Blues. And, in a way, the former Colorado franchise, which had since packed up and moved to become the New Jersey Devils, actually had a hand in the victory. The month before the season, both Kirk McLean and Greg Adams were shipped to Vancouver from New Jersey in a trade, and both would play their part in the win, the latter more than the former.
For McLean, it was a relatively slow night. He faced 16 shots, stopped 14 and made the saves he needed to early on. As for Adams, well, he had a much more significant impact. In the first frame, he scored twice. Two minutes into the second period, he completed the hat trick. And midway through the third, Adams netted his fourth of the night. It was the start of a 36-goal, 76-point season, arguably the best campaign of Adams’ career.
Don’t let the blowout fool you, though, because the two teams couldn’t have had more opposite seasons. In the Norris Division, St. Louis finished second to the Detroit Red Wings, while the Canucks managed only 25 wins all year and finished third-last in the league.
Oct. 6, 1988
Los Angeles Kings 8, Detroit Red Wings 2
The 1988-89 season opener is almost inarguably the most significant in the history of the Los Angeles Kings, but not exactly because of the final score. Sure, the Kings walloped the Detroit Red Wings by a final score of 8-2, and, yes, it wasn’t exactly a season in which the Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup. You know what did happen on opening night that campaign, though? Wayne Gretzky played his first game as a King.
As one would expect, too, he was all over the ice. With seven minutes left in the first, he scored his first goal for Los Angeles, he finished the period by assisting on Luc Robitaille’s first of the season and, by the time the game was over, ‘The Great One’ had added another two assists to his total. If there weren’t enough reasons to be excited about Gretzky’s addition to the Kings, he gave another with his four-point performance.
The Kings built off the blowout win to piece together their first 90-point campaign since 1980-81, while the Red Wings picked themselves back up and went on to lead the Norris Division before bowing out of the post-season in the first round.
Oct. 11, 1980
Minnesota North Stars 9, Hartford Whalers 3
The since-relocated North Stars and Whalers battled to one of the more lopsided season-opening tilts in league history. The worst part of it all, though, was that Hartford fell victim to a red-hot offense and their own defensive mistakes for the second time in three nights.
To open the season, the Whalers dropped an old-fashioned shootout of a contest, 8-6, to the St. Louis Blues, but headed to Minnesota with hope they could shore up their defense and maintain the same offensive punch to pick up their first win of the campaign. Instead, the offense dried up and the North Stars found hole after hole in the Whalers' defense. Most impressive about Minnesota’s victory is that there were eight different goal-scorers, as Ron Zanussi, who scored just 52 goals in his entire career, was the only skater to find twine twice in the contest.
The two consecutive beat-downs marked the start of a miserable season for the Whalers, who had entered the league one year prior. Hartford finished third-last with 60 points and managed only 21 wins all year. As for Minnesota, the victory kicked off an eventual run to the Stanley Cup final, the first in franchise history, but the North Stars came up short, losing in five games to the dynastic New York Islanders.
Oct. 6, 1983
Boston Bruins 9, Quebec Nordiques 3
Talk about a swing in emotion for fans of the Nordiques to start the season. On opening night in Quebec, the Nordiques welcomed in the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders and turned the game into a laugher by scoring four unanswered goals after the midway mark of the contest and skating away with a 7-3 victory. It allowed Quebec to ride high heading into Boston for the Bruins’ home opener. Any positivity about the contest was washed away quickly once the puck dropped, though.
Within 13 minutes of the opening faceoff, Ray Bourque had scored twice, which was followed by two early second-period goals by Steve Kasper and Craig MacTavish. Quebec would get one back thanks to Marian Stastny — one of two he scored on the night — but Boston didn’t slow down a bit, hammering home four goals in the third to take a 9-3 win.
Boston’s victory was the first in what would become a league-best campaign. The Bruins’ 110 points were four more than any other squad. Meanwhile, the Nordiques finished the season with a .500 record, which led to a first-round playoff meeting with the Bruins – which Boston won in four games.
Oct. 11, 1980
Los Angeles Kings 8, Detroit Red Wings 1
The first of two seven-goal victories on the list also happens to be the first of two times the Kings have dominated the Red Wings to open the season. This contest had no Gretzky and no Robitaille, though. Instead, Los Angeles’ apparently unstoppable offense came courtesy of Dave Taylor, Larry Murphy and Marcel Dionne.
Truthfully, though, the game wasn’t all that out of hand early on, which seems to be a common thread in these outings. Taylor scored twice in the first, as did Dean Hopkins, but a goal by Detroit’s Dale McCourt kept things somehwat close. Over the next two frames, though, Los Angeles poured it on, scoring five unanswered goals. Looking back, it’s hard not to feel for Red Wings goaltender Gilles Gilbert in the contest. While Los Angeles’ Mario Lessard was tasked with 19 shots against all night, Gilbert faced 31 blasts and let eight of them by without any relief. Oof.
Los Angeles’ win was a sign of their ability, though, as the Kings went on to earn 99 points, the second-most in franchise history at that point. Unfortunately, the loss was equally indicative of how poor the Red Wings were. Detroit finished last in their conference and second-last in the league with 56 points.
Oct. 4, 1991
Calgary Flames 9, Edmonton Oilers 2
There are few rivalries in the league that are quite as fun as the Battle of Alberta when both teams are at the top of their game and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the two franchises weren't far removed from recent Stanley Cup championships. So, when the season started with Edmonton visiting Calgary, there was reason to expect a hard-fought game.
As it turns out what fans got instead was a lopsided affair almost from the outset of the contest.
It took 16 seconds for Theo Fleury to score the game’s first goal, and though Edmonton tied it up minutes later, the six-goal first frame saw Calgary ahead 4-2 at intermission. And after play started up again, the Oilers didn’t come all that close to even challenging the Flames. Fleury scored a second goal early in the second, followed 31 seconds later by a Stephane Matteau tally to kick off a run of five unanswered goals in the final 40 minutes.
But while the Flames won the battle, the Oilers won the war. By season’s end, Calgary was on the outside of the playoff picture looking in after finishing six games below .500 while their provincial rivals snuck into the post-season with an 82-point performance.
Oct. 8, 1975
Montreal Canadiens 9, Los Angeles Kings 0
There’s no point in even addressing the score when instead we can simply take a look at the Canadiens' roster for the 1975-76 season. Altogether, the roster included nine players who would end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Let’s start at the top, where the offense was led by Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire and Bob Gainey. On the back end, Montreal had Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Larry Robinson. And in goal stood Ken Dryden.
OK, now considering that roster, is it really any surprise that Montreal was able to open the season with a 9-0 victory? Only four players in the lineup that night failed to register a point — somewhat amazingly, three of the four were Lapointe, Savard and Robinson — and the Canadiens outshot the Kings 48-28. Montreal didn’t let their foot off the gas, either. Ahead 3-0 heading into the third, the Habs added six goals, including two from Gainey and two from Jimmy Roberts.
It should come as little surprise that this Canadiens team went on to win the Stanley Cup and lost only 12 games all season, including the playoffs. Los Angeles, also in the Norris Division, finished second by 42 points. That isn’t a typo.
Oct. 7, 1976
Montreal Canadiens 10, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Only twice in league history has a team lost 10-1 to a team playing in its home opener. It was the Pittsburgh Penguins both times. Oddly, this contest was also eerily reminiscent of the Penguins’ loss on Thursday. A quick succession of goals in the first? Check, as Montreal scored three goals in less than two minutes before the six-minute mark of the opening frame. An early second period goal by the Penguins? Check, as Jean Pronovost scored two minutes into the second. Domination in the third? Check, as Montreal added another six goals to close out the night.
Besides this being another Penguins 10-1 defeat, you’ll likely note this marked the second straight season Montreal came out on opening night and destroyed their opponent by nine goals. And that’s because this Canadiens roster was head-and-shoulders better than any other team in the league. It might be the most lopsided season in NHL history. All year long, the Canadiens lost 10 games, two of which came in the playoffs. Montreal racked up 132 points, had a plus-217 goal differential (!!!) and swept the Stanley Cup final for the second straight season.
Honorable Mention: Panthers 7, Flyers 1 (Oct. 10, 2015); Canadiens 7, Rangers 1 (Oct. 10, 1998); Flyers 7, Canadiens 1 (Oct. 7, 1995); Jets 7, Maple Leafs 1 (Oct. 4, 1990); Blues 6, Red Wings 0 (Jan. 19, 2013); Canucks 6, Flames 0 (Oct. 9, 2008); Maple Leafs 6, Penguins 0 (Oct. 10, 2002).
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