Thursday, April 12, 2012
From the time the WHA's New England Whalers entered the NHL, only now known as the Hartford Whalers they had only qualified for the postseason one time, that in their first season of NHL play in 1979-80. Their reward for making the playoffs was a matchup with the powerful Montreal Canadiens, who finished 34 points ahead of them in the standing and then delivered a sound thrashing to the NHL newcomers in Montreal by scores of 6-1 and 8-4 before eliminating the Whalers on their home ice 4-3 at 29 seconds of overtime.
The Whalers point totals dropped from 73 in 1979-80 down to 60 for two seasons before dropping down to 45, which tied them for the fewest points and earned them the second overall pick in the 1983 NHL Draft, where the Whalers selected Sylvain Turgeon ahead of future Hall of Famers Pat Lafontaine, Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely. and 1984 Calder Cup and Vezina Trophy winner goaltender Tom Barrasso.
The Whalers did rise in points from 66 and then to 69, but continued their streak of missing the playoffs, which now extended to five consecutive seasons.
In 1985-86, the Whalers were showing signs of continued competitiveness thanks to additions of additions to the roster such as Ray Ferraro and Kevin Dineen to compliment Turgeon and now veteran Ron Francis, who all finished in the top four in team scoring at season's end, with Turgeon leading the way with 45 goals and 70 points, followed by Ferraro and Francis at 77 each and the hard-nosed Dineen's 68.
The goaltending was anchored by Mike Liut while the defense boasted Ulf Samuelsson, Joel Quenneville, rookie Dana Murzyn and midseason additions Dave Babych, his brother and winger Wayne Babych and veteran center Doug Jarvis.
The Whalers played respectable hockey through the last three months of 1985, avoiding any long losing streaks, but unable to string together an extended winning streak either. As the calendar changed to 1986 the Whalers won five consecutive games, kicked off by an 11-6 defeat of the Quebec Nordiques, only to give it all back and more with seven losses in a row during a ten game winless streak.
They finished strong however, going 8-1-2 over their final 11 games to finish the season with their first winning record as a member of the NHL at 40-36-4 for 84 points, 4 better than the Buffalo Sabres and good for fourth place in the Adams Division and their first spot in the playoffs since 1980.
The 1985-86 Hartford Whalers
The format of the day called for the first four teams in each division to qualify for the postseason, with the first two rounds of the playoffs coming within their own division. By virtue of their fourth place finish, the Whalers drew the division winners, the Quebec Nordiques, whose 43-31-6 mark earned them 92 points, ahead of Montreal's 87 and the Bruins' 86 in a tight race.
The Nordiques were not the doormats they would become in the early 1990's, having made it to the semifinals the year before and had now posted three consecutive 90 point seasons thanks to a roster which featured the high scoring Peter Stastny (122 points, good for 6th in the league), Michel Goulet, Anton Stastny and the tough Dale Hunter.
The opening round was a Best of Five format and opened in Quebec City on April 9th. Anton Stastny of the Nordiques drew first blood with a power play goal at 2:44, but the Whalers evened the score within the final minute of the first period. The teams traded goals in the third period before Turgeon won it for Hartford 2:36 into overtime, sending 14,500 Nordiques fans home disappointed.
Game 2 was the next night and Hartford scored first at 3:53 and added a second goal at 8:51 of the first. Their lead was extended to three at 8:22 of the second before the Nordiques, who were badly outshot in the first two periods 26-14, showed some signs of life with a goal at 1:39 of the third, only to have the Whalers squash any hope of a comeback with a fourth goal at 16:32 to take a 2-0 lead in games heading back home to Hartford.
That third game at the Hartford Civic Center took place on this date in 1986 and was a wild affair on several levels, as 21 penalties and six goals occurred in just the first period alone!
Dineen got his first goal of the series at 2:29 on a power play and Dave Tippett's shorthanded goal at 5:22 made it 2-0 for the Whalers. Quebec responded at 8:40 on a power play before the teams traded goals in the 16th minute just 46 seconds apart, first by Francis of the Whalers at 15:06 which was followed by a shorthanded goal for Quebec at 15:52. Ferraro extended the Hartford lead to 4-2 with another power play goal, this one coming late at 19:20.
The second period was more of the same, with nine more penalties and four more goals, the first by Samuelsson at 2:07 followed by a string of power play goals, the first by Hunter of the Nordiques at 11:06. Ferraro and John Anderson of Hartford then extended the Whalers lead with goals at 13:08 and 13:34, both with the man advantage to make the score 7-3 in favor of the home team after two periods of play.
That lead was added to when Anderson got his second at exactly 7:00. Although Quebec scored at 13:08, it was too little too late, a point driven home by Dineen with his second of the game at 18:23 to make the final score 9-4 in favor of Hartford and giving them a three game upset sweep of the Nordiques, which would turn out to be not only the first playoff series victory in the history of the Hartford Whalers, but their only series win in their history, as they were defeated in the next round by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 at 5:55 of overtime.
The following season the Whalers would win the Adams Division title with a franchise best 93 point season, only to have the Nordiques return the favor and upset the Whalers 4 games to 2.
Over the course of the next five seasons the Whalers would qualify for the playoffs each time, thanks in part to the now dreadful Nordiques, who assured the Whalers would qualify for the playoffs each season, only to see Hartford eliminated immediately in the first round every time.
The Nordiques finally improved thanks to their annual first overall draft picks and it was now the Whalers on the outside looking in, as they failed to qualify for the playoffs in 1993, the final year of the Adams Division. The realignment of the NHL, which placed Hartford in the new Northeast Division with not only old rivals Montreal, Boston, Buffalo and Quebec, but the addition of 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins, did the Whalers postseason chances no favors, and they failed to make the playoffs for their final four seasons in Hartford before relocating to North Carolina, leaving their victory over the Nordiques on this date in 1986 as their one and only playoff series victory.
The Hartford Whalers banners
Today's featured jersey is a 1985-86 Hartford Whalers Kevin Dineen jersey. Upon entering the NHL, the Whalers debuted their new "Whale Tail" logo, which obviously featured a "W" for Whalers, but also contained an "H" hidden in the negative space of the logo to represent their change in name to Hartford.
This new style would be worn from 1979-80 until 1991-92, with only minor changes to the sleeve striping angles, the removal of the Pucky the Whale shoulder patches in 1985-86 and the removal of the green waist stripe. The team would then switch from green to blue jerseys in 1992-93, a jersey set which would never see action in the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
Today's video section kicks off with the Whalers goal song, Brass Bonanza, also known as the "Whalers Victory March" which was adopted by the Whalers as their theme song during their days in the WHA, and remained so through their years in the NHL.
Gordie Howe was once quoted as saying that he loved to hear it as a visiting player for the Houston Aeros, but hearing it every night with the Whalers "began to drive me nuts."
Finally, the last goal in Whalers history, scored by then team captain Dineen.