In his recap of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, THN's Ken Campbell said it’s time to expect the unexpected from the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals, two teams who few — and that’s a high estimate — believed would be squaring off in the final post-season series. Of course, as much as anything, he was referring to the three goals from the Golden Knights’ fourth line of Tomas Nosek, Ryan Reaves and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, but the “expect the unexpected” tag line also fits the final score.
In the lead-up to Game 1, we used this space to run down some facts and figures from past Stanley Cup openers, and among those was the average score. Since 1939, when the series shifted to a best-of-seven, Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final has seen an average 5.64 goals per game, with the home team averaging 3.36 goals and the visitors scoring 2.28 goals per game across the 78 Stanley Cup final Game 1s prior to Monday night.
In a year where Vegas and Washington have done away with expectations, however, the Golden Knights and Capitals came out and put on a Game 1 offensive display the likes of which has rarely been seen in the past seven-plus decades. Vegas’ six goals put them into a tie for the fourth-most scored by a home team in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final since 1939. Washington’s four goals as the road team puts them into a tie for sixth over that same period. And the 10-goal outing, even if it did include an empty-netter, made Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup final just the eighth series opener in nearly 80 years to feature a goal total in the double digits.
So, which other contests stand alongside — or ahead — of the rapid-fire Game 1 tilt between the Golden Knights and Capitals? Here are the seven Game 1s that featured more lamp-lighting than the opener of this year’s final:
Montreal Canadiens 6, Detroit Red Wings 4 — March 31, 1956
Having appeared in and lost the past two Stanley Cup finals, it looked through the first 40 minutes as though the Canadiens were destined to drop Game 1 of the final for the third consecutive season, and it would have marked the third straight final in which it was the Red Wings handing the Habs such a loss. Two goals from Alex Delvecchio as well as tallies from Bill Dineen and Ted Lindsay had Detroit ahead 4-2 at the second intermission.
As the third frame got underway, though, the Canadiens came out flying and had a two-minute span in which they turned the game on its ear. Little more than five minutes into the third, Jack LeClair scored to bring Montreal within one and opened the door for Bernie Geoffrion to bring the Canadiens level exactly one minute later. And about a minute after Montreal tied the contest, Jean Beliveau scored his seventh of the post-season to put the Canadiens ahead for good. Claude Pronovost would also add a goal of his own, though, roughly three minutes after Beliveau’s go-ahead goal.
The comeback win would spark Montreal to not just a Game 1 victory, but a five-game Stanley Cup final victory. It would also signal the beginning of one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history, as the Canadiens went on to win five Cups in a row.
Montreal Canadiens 7, Boston Bruins 3 — May 7, 1977
The Canadiens neared on unstoppable throughout the 1976-77 campaign, so it’s no wonder they’re making their way onto this list. Montreal lost just eight games during the regular season and 10 in the entire campaign, playoffs included. And with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final going in Montreal, the Canadiens put on a show for the home crowd by scoring early and often en route to a blowout win over the rival Bruins.
The scoring kicked off less than two minutes into the contest when Doug Risebrough scored his first of the post-season. That was followed minutes later by a Yvon Lambert tally and Montreal took a commanding 3-1 lead into the intermission following a goal by Mario Tremblay. Not willing to go away quietly, however, Boston battled back through the second and clawed within one to send the game to its second break with Montreal leading 4-3, but the Canadiens buried the Bruins for good in the third.
Just 2:04 had passed in the third by the time the Canadiens extended their lead to 6-3 and Lambert scored his second of the game with six minutes remaining to ice the contest. The 7-3 victory was the start of a lopsided final that saw Montreal sweep Boston in a series that had a combined score of 16-6 in favor of the Canadiens. The Stanley Cup victory was Montreal’s second of four in a row.
New Jersey Devils 7, Dallas Stars 3 — May 30, 2000
Appearing in the Stanley Cup final for the second straight season, the Stars came in with the chance to start their own mini-dynasty as the class of the Western Conference. And through 20 minutes of Game 1, Dallas was playing an excellent road game, hanging in the contest right alongside New Jersey. It would be safe to say things got away from the Stars in the second frame, however, as the Devils pulled away in spectacular fashion.
Across the second frame and into the opening minutes of the third period, 25:12 in total game time, New Jersey turned Hall of Fame netminder Ed Belfour into excavator whose sole purpose was digging pucks out of nets. First it was Ken Daneyko beating Belfour, then came goals from Petr Sykora and Scott Stevens to put Dallas on their heels heading into the second intermission. Then right out of the gate in the third, Sergei Brylin found twine and Sykora scored his second of the game to send Belfour to the showers having allowed six goals on 18 shots. Suffice to say, he’s had better nights.
Dallas backup Manny Fernandez would have a similarly tough outing, allowing one goal against on eight shots over the final 17 minutes of the contest, but even after Stars goals from Jon Sim and Kirk Muller, Martin Brodeur and the Devils coasted to a 7-3 victory.
Boston Bruins 6, New York Rangers 5 — April 30, 1972
Game 1 of the 1972 series between the Bruins and Rangers featured 11 goals, a hat trick and was very nearly one of the most memorable single-game collapses in Stanley Cup final history.
New York scored first to open the series, with Dale Rolfe beating Gerry Cheevers less than four minutes into the opening frame in Game 1, but from there it appeared the game was going to be all Boston, all the time. Rolfe’s goal was followed by five unanswered Bruins tallies that carried Boston past the midway point of the outing. It began with Fred Stanfield’s goal and continued on as Ken Hodge registered three goals in less than 15 minutes of game time, including a goal on a penalty kill that had already seen Derek Sanderson score shorthanded.
But right when it looked as though the Bruins had Game 1 in the bag, the Rangers came charging back. Rod Gilbert scored before the second was through to trim the deficit to three before Vic Hadfield, Walt Tkaczuk and Bruce MacGregor scored in the front half of the third to complete the unthinkable comeback and draw New York even.
The score remained 5-5 for more than eight minutes, too, but with little more than two minutes remaining, Ace Bailey fired home the Bruins’ sixth goal and the eventual game-winner as Cheevers shut the door for the remainder of the outing. The victory would help propel Boston to its second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
New York Islanders 6, Vancouver Canucks 5 — May 8, 1982
The history books will show that the Islanders simply overpowered the Canucks in the 1982 final with New York winning its third consecutive Stanley Cup in a clean sweep of Vancouver. Much like the 1980 Stanley Cup final win over the Philadelphia Flyers, though, the entire series could have gone differently for the Islanders if it wasn’t for some overtime heroics.
In some ways, Game 1 of the 1982 final mirrored Monday’s game in that neither team could gain and hold the lead. In the first period alone, there were three separate one-goal leads. First, the Canucks jumped out to a 1-0 advantage when Thomas Gradin scored 1:29 into the frame. But after Clark Gillies tied it at one, Mike Bossy put the Islanders ahead with 4:08 remaining in the first period. Gradin scored again only minutes after Bossy, though, only to have Denis Potvin put the Islanders back ahead 3-2 with nine seconds left in the first.
By the time the second was through, the score was level with Potvin adding another before Stan Smyl and Ivan Boldirev answered for the Canucks. And late in the third, with roughly seven minutes left, Jim Nill gave Vancouver a 5-4 lead, it’s first lead since the first period, only for Bossy to tie it up with five minutes left. And that set the stage for overtime, during which Bossy completed the hat trick with a buzzer-beating overtime tally. His goal with two seconds left in overtime sent the Islanders on to a sweep for their third of four Stanley Cups in a row.
Chicago Blackhawks 6, Philadelphia Flyers 5 — May 29, 2010
As thrilling as Game 1 between the Capitals and Golden Knights was, the NHL hasn’t seen a Stanley Cup final as back-and-forth as the opening contest of the 2010 Stanley Cup final in the post-lockout era. It was two teams who were relatively unfamiliar with one another, and two teams who were almost entirely new to the bright lights of the final, going toe-to-toe in an outstanding last-goal-wins affair. Much like Monday’s Game 1, too, no one could hold a lead.
In the first period, the Flyers got goals from Ville Leino, Scott Hartnell and Daniel Briere, while the Blackhawks headed into intermission trailing by one thanks to goals by Troy Brouwer and Dave Bolland. The second frame saw much of the same, as well, as Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg and Brouwer scored for Chicago and Philadelphia’s Blair Betts and Arron Asham ensured the score was deadlocked at five heading into the third.
The final period was more even, though, and more akin to what most expected from a Stanley Cup final. Both teams traded chances with neither willing to break. But finally, around the middle of the frame, Tomas Kopecky found himself with the puck on his stick and a golden opportunity and he made no mistake, giving Chicago a 6-5 lead. The Blackhawks, backstopped by Antti Niemi, would cling to that lead for the remainder of the frame and skate away with a victory in the highest scoring Stanley Cup final Game 1 in 28 years.
Montreal Canadiens 8, Chicago Black Hawks 3 — April 29, 1973
The score alone doesn’t tell the story here, particularly because the feeling a Canadiens fan would have had through the early part of Game 1 of the 1973 final is doom and gloom. Reason being is it took Chicago, appearing in the final against Montreal for the second time in three seasons, all of 62 seconds to jump out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of tallies from Pit Martin and Ralph Backstrom. After the Black Hawks’ two quick goals, however, the Canadiens settled into the outing and took the game by storm. By the eight-minute mark, Montreal had tied up the contest, and though Chicago skated into the second with a one-goal lead thanks to another Martin goal, that was the last time the Black Hawks would so much as sniff an advantage in the outing.
Over the final 40 minutes, Montreal filled the net with ease, turning Tony Esposito inside out and ensured the Hall of Fame netminder got to watch some of the contest from the bench. The Canadiens got two goals from Chuck Lefley, two goals from Jacques Lemaire and one from both Peter and Frank Mahovlich in order to skate to the 8-3 thumping of Chicago.
Game 1 sure set the stage for the rest of the series, too. In a 4-2 series victory, Montreal won the three other outings by scores of 4-1, 4-0 and 6-4, while Chicago’s two wins came in 7-4 and 8-7 outings. The latter remains the highest scoring game in Stanley Cup final history.
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