The Montreal Canadiens completed a 14-game run to the Stanley Cup on this day 40 years ago, but what have been the most dominant runs under the modern format?
The past two days has seen the start of both conference finals, with the Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators picking up road wins to jump out to 1-0 series leads. However, in a different era, one with fewer teams and a different post-season format, the past weekend would have been the beginning of crucial games in the Stanley Cup final.
Such was the case in 1977, when the Montreal Canadiens were in the midst of a season like no other. In the regular season, the Canadiens, guided by coach Scotty Bowman, were as close to perfect as it could possibly get. Led by Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson and Guy Lapointe, as well as the always-spectacular goaltending of Ken Dryden, Montreal won 60 of their 70 games and dropped only eight games all year, with the remaining 12 outings ending in a draw.
To win at such a rate in the regular season is one thing, though. To do so in the playoffs would be seemingly impossible. But no one told the 1976-77 Canadiens. At the time, the post-season was only three rounds long, but Montreal made it through the entire run in a mere 14 games. The Canadiens swept the St. Louis Blues first round, needed six games to get by the New York Islanders and then bludgeoned the rival Boston Bruins in the final. On May 14, 1977 — 40 years ago today — Montreal completed the final sweep with a 2-1 victory in Game 4, taking home a 20th Stanley Cup in the process.
By 1987-88, the NHL changed the playoff format to the current four-round, 16-win system that we use today. So, the opportunity for another team to win the Stanley Cup in 14 games, as the Canadiens did back in 1976-77, has since disappeared. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been similarly unbeatable runs in the playoffs. Here are the five teams who’ve made the shortest work of the four-round, best-of-seven playoff format:
Los Angeles Kings, 2011-12 — 20 games
In their first year under coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings were the ultimate dark horse contender. A dominant possession team that was backstopped by an up-and-coming Jonathan Quick and had a few smooth-skating, sharpshooting pieces, Los Angeles entered the post-season as the eighth seed and proceeded to go on one of the best playoff runs in recent memory. It started with a shocking defeat of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in just five games, and Los Angeles was like a runaway train from that point onward.
In the second round, the Kings waltzed by the St. Louis Blues in four games, dropped only one game to the Phoenix Coyotes and stormed through the New Jersey Devils in six games to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
The hero of the run was Quick, who was superb en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy. Having just set career bests in every conceivable category in the regular season, Quick posted an amazing .946 save percentage and 1.41 goals-against average in 20 games.
Detroit Red Wings, 1996-97 — 20 games
Bowman is almost undoubtedly the greatest coach to ever step foot behind an NHL bench, so it’s fitting his teams show up here twice. The first, of course, was the excellent 1976-77 Canadiens club, but exactly 20 years later, Bowman was again celebrating a Stanley Cup victory after his team ran through the competition. Unlike the Kings, who only swept one series, the Red Wings dotted their post-season with sweeps.
In the first round, it took the Red Wings six games to get by the St. Louis Blues and the conference final against the rival Colorado Avalanche also took six games. But the second round was a sweep over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, as was the Stanley Cup final, which Detroit won handily over the Philadelphia Flyers. The only one goal game of the entire final was Game 4, and that followed a 6-1 Red Wings victory in Game 3.
The Red Wings going on that kind of run isn’t so shocking in hindsight. The roster included Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan, Nick Lidstrom, Larry Murphy and was backstopped by Mike Vernon.
New Jersey Devils, 1994-95 — 20 games
Many of the same Red Wings that swept that 1996-97 final were all too familiar with the opposite feeling, watching the Stanley Cup get away in four games, after meeting with the Devils in 1994-95. On a spectacular 20-game Cup run of their own, New Jersey ran roughshod over Detroit, taking four-straight games in the final and winning six-straight games to close out the post-season.
The Devils’ Cup victory, which included five-game wins over the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins and a six-game series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, was the start of New Jersey’s most successful period. And it also signalled the start of the Martin Brodeur era.
Brodeur, only 22 at the time, went 16-4 in the playoffs while posting a .927 SP and sound 1.67 GAA in only the third post-season of his career. Brodeur would go on to capture two more Stanley Cups with Devils, putting up remarkable performances along the way. He never captured the Conn Smythe, however.
Montreal Canadiens, 1992-93 — 20 games
It’s been a long time since the Stanley Cup came to the Great White North, but the last time it did, the Canadiens brought it back across the 49th parallel in swift fashion. First it was the provincial rival Quebec Nordiques that fell in six games, followed by a sweep of the Buffalo Sabres and five-game series wins over the New York Islanders and Los Angeles Kings.
Montreal’s roster at the time boasted plenty of talent, both veteran and otherwise, including Guy Carbonneau, Denis Savard, Vincent Damphousse and Kirk Muller, but the undeniable star of the bunch was Patrick Roy. Despite what records Brodeur holds, Roy is considered by some the greatest goaltender of all-time, and it’s hard to argue that he was the ultimate playoff performer. When he got hot, there was almost no beating him. Such was the case in 1992-93.
In what would end up being his penultimate post-season run with the Canadiens, Roy was at his best. Across the 20 games it took for Montreal to capture the Stanley Cup, he managed a .929 SP and 2.13 GAA. As Montreal celebrated its victory, Roy hoisted his second Conn Smythe. By the time his career was through, he added a third.
Edmonton Oilers, 1987-88 — 18 games
Is it any surprise — and we mean any at all — to see the Oilers on this list? The dynastic Oilers were arguably the greatest team ever assembled and no team since the expansion to seven game series in all four rounds has ever battered opponents quite like Edmonton in 1987-88. All told, the Oilers lost two games. The first loss came in Game 3 of the opening round against the Winnipeg Jets and it took until Game 3 of the conference final against the Detroit Red Wings for Edmonton to lose another.
It should also come as no surprise that a post-season in which the Oilers were so dominant that Wayne Gretzky was leading the charge. He scored 12 goals and 43 points (!) as Edmonton skated to their fourth Stanley Cup in five years. At the time, it was good enough for Gretzky to take second place all-time in single season playoff scoring. The record, of course, was his own to break. He had notched 17 goals and 47 points in 1984-85.
Add Gretzky’s scoring to the mix of Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson, all Hall of Famers, and you get an idea why the Oilers were impossible to stop. This isn’t to mention that they had Hall of Fame netminder Grant Fuhr backing them up, too.
Here’s where things get tricky with this, though: the 18 games could be disputed. Technically, it took 19 games for the Stanley Cup to be handed out. However, Game 4 of the final was never an official outing. Tied 3-3 in the second frame, a power outage caused the game to be cancelled and a replayed Game 4 took place in Edmonton two days after the power outage. No matter if you choose to call it 18 or 19 games, though, it’s the most dominant Stanley Cup victory in history.
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