Saturday, April 17, 2010

30 Years Ago 13: Playoffs

What I've been calling the greatest hockey season in history, that of 1979-80, did not end with the American victory at the Winter Olympics, which I described here. The professional season continued, and culminated in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Montreal Canadiens have historically been the most dominant franchise in the National Hockey League (NHL). And the late 1970s constituted one of their most dominant periods. At the end of the 1978-9 season the Habs (Les Habitants is a rough translation of their name into the official language of their province) won the Stanley Cup (the NHL's championship trophy) for the fourth consecutive year. Their won-loss record was 16-3 in those four best-of-seven final series.

20 years earlier, Montreal had won the cup five years in a row. Would they repeat that feat, by winning it in 1980?

In order to accomplish that, they would need to win four rounds of playoffs. The Habs took the first step on April 11, 1980, when they completed a three-game sweep of the Hartford Whalers. Their next opponent: the Minnesota North Stars.

The North Stars had already established themselves as giant-killers, as I described here. But now they had to travel to the most storied venue in their sport, the Montreal Forum, to take on the defending champions.

Undaunted, the Minnesota team won game one of the best-of-seven series, by a score of 3-0, on April 16. Then, 30 years ago today, the North Stars continued their stunning road success, by winning game two with four goals to one for the Canadiens.

Home ice advantage was now with the North Stars, as the teams prepared for games three and four at Met Center, in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington. A comeback after losing the first two games of a playoff series at home is one of the most difficult feats in sports. Could even the legendary Montreal club perform such a miracle?

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