Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Finest Season in NHL HIstory

On this date in 1977 the Montreal Canadiens successfully completed the finest season in NHL history when Jacques Lemaire scored his second goal of the game at 4:32 of overtime to give the Canadiens a 2-1 win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, sweeping the Boston Bruins to capture their 20th Stanley Cup championship.

The Canadiens season began on October 7, 1976 with a 10-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, setting the tone for what would become the most dominant season in NHL history. Another win was followed by their first loss at Buffalo. Three more wins and a loss at Boston were followed by four wins and a tie to put Montreal at 9-2-1 after 12 games. A loss to Boston, their only home loss of the season, was followed by a seven game unbeaten streak, putting the Canadiens at 14-3-3 at the quarter mark of the season.

A 1-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was followed by five wins as part of a ten game unbeaten streak. After losing to the New York Rangers they went on a new 11 game unbeaten streak to reach 32-5-6.

A loss to the St. Louis Blues, a win at the Los Angeles Kings and another loss to Boston on January 17th, their third loss of the season to the Bruins, sent Montreal on an amazing run to finish out the regular season.

Over the next 34 games, from January 18th to April 3rd, Montreal would lose just once more. A 21 game unbeaten streak (17 wins, including a season high eight game winning streak, and four ties) was stopped by a loss at Buffalo. A tie with Toronto preceeded another eight game winning streak as part of a 12 game unbeaten streak to close out the season and finish at 60-8-12, setting an NHL record with 132 points which still stands today.

During the regular season, Montreal scored 387 goals while allowing just 171, outscoring their opponents by 216 goals, an average margin of victory of 2.7 goals per game. They shutout their opponents 14 times and scored seven or more goals 18 times, including a high of 11 twice, with a 11-0 win over the Capitals providing their largest margin of victory.

Steve Shutt led the team, and the league, in goals with 60, while Guy Lafleur was second on the team and in the league with 56. Additionally, Lafleur led the league in assists with 80 and points with 136 to win the scoring title by 14 points over Marcel Dionne. Shutt came in third with 105 points, the only other player to top 100.

In all, eight Canadiens scored more than 20 goals each and another six had more than a dozen.

In goal, Ken Dryden went 41-6-8 and Michel Larocque posted a 19-2-4 mark.

Once in the playoffs, Montreal swept St. Louis in four, outscoring the Blues 19-4, beat the up and coming New York Islanders four games to two and then beat Boston in the finals 7-3 and 3-0 at Montreal before winning in Boston 4-2 and 2-1 in overtime to complete their finest season in the history of the franchise, dating back to 1909. The Stanley Cup was not only the 20th for the franchise, but the second of four consecutive from 1976 to 1979.

Serge Savard 1977 Cup

The club also dominated the post-season awards, with Dryden and Larocque sharing the Vezina TrophyLarry Robinson taking the Norris Trophy and Lafleur having a season for the ages, as he took home the Art Ross Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Hart Trophy, the Pearson Award and even the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's Top Athlete, with coach Scotty Bowman the recipient of the Jack Adams Award.

1976-77 Montreal Canadiens

Dryden, Lafleur, Robinson and Shutt were all named to four of the six spots on the NHL First All-Star Team while Guy Lapointe was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team.

To date, nine members of the 1977 Stanley Cup champions have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Lafleur, Shutt, Robinson, Lapointe, Lemaire, Yvan CournoyerSerge SavardBob Gainey and Dryden.

Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens Jacques Lemaire jersey as worn during the Canadiens record setting season in which Lemaire scored both Canadiens goals in a 2-1 overtime win to capture the Stanley Cup and complete the most dominant season in NHL history.

Lemaire would play his entire 12 year NHL career with Montreal, winning eight Stanley Cups, including scoring the cup winning goal in 1977 and 1979, one of only six players to have done so twice. He scored at least 20 goals in every one of his NHL seasons.

Following his playing career he began a coaching career, including being head coach of the Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild, which included a Stanley Cup championship with the Devils in 1995, being named the winner of the Jack Adams award in 1994 and 2003 as well as being on the staff of the gold medal winning Canadian team at the 2010 Olympic Games.

Montreal Canadiens 1976-77 Jacques Lemaire jersey

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden jersey as worn during the Canadiens record setting season in which Dryden earned the third Vezina Trophy of his career with Larocque following his 41 win season. Dryden would go on to win five Vezina trophies, six Stanley Cups and pulled off the unusual feat of winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP before winning the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year the following season!

Montreal Canadiens 76-77 #29 jersey photo MontrealCanadiens76-7729jersey.jpg

Here are brief highlights of Game 4 of the 1977 Stanley Cup Finals, followed by an extended version which shows much of the overtime as well as the presentation of the Stanley Cup to Canadiens Captain Serge Savard.

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