Monday, June 20, 2022

A brief history of teams getting blown out in the Stanley Cup final

So that was, uh, interesting.

Coming off a thrilling Game 1 battle that felt like a borderline classic, the Lightning and Avalanche served up a plot twist in Game 2, with Colorado caving in the defending champs to the tune of 7-0. It was a stunning spectacle, as a Tampa team that’s seemed almost invincible over the years got lit up like they were an undermanned beer league squad.

So now what?

It goes without saying that nobody is counting the Lightning out. They just came back from a 2-0 series deficit against New York in the last round, and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. After the way the last three seasons have played out, plenty of us won’t be ready to close the door on Tampa until the final buzzer sounds on their fourth loss. Maybe not even then.

But still… Game 2 wasn’t just another loss. It was an all-time butt-kicking, one of the most lopsided results in Stanley Cup final history. And that had me wondering: Can we learn anything from similar games, and how the rest of the series played out after a major blowout?

Let’s find out. Before Saturday night, there had been 14 games in Stanley Cup final history in which one teams scored at least seven goals while winning by at least five. Four of those were from the olden days, and we probably can’t learn much from them. That leaves us with a nice even ten games from the post-expansion era to look at.

Maybe we’ll find a pattern. Or maybe we’ll just remember some blowouts.

1973, Game 1: Canadiens 8, Blackhawks 3

The series: The 1973 final was a rematch of the deeply weird 1971 edition, which had seen the Habs win the Cup in seven games and then immediately fire their coach for it. This time, Montreal came in as overwhelming favorites, having posted 120 points in just 70 games during the season. The Hawks were good, having won the West division, but they had their work cut out for them.

The game: This one actually looked like it was going to be a blowout in the other direction, as the Hawks scored twice in the game’s first minute to take a 2-0 lead. It was all Montreal after that, though, with two goals from Jacques Lemaire and multi-point games from names like Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich and Yvon Cournoyer chasing Tony Esposito from the Chicago net.

The rest of the way: Things settled down in Game 2, with Montreal winning 4-1. The Hawks got some revenge with a 7-4 win in Game 3, lost Game 4, and then won a truly wacky 8-7 classic at the Forum to stay alive in Game 5 before Montreal finished the series in six.

The lesson: I’m not sure there is one, as this series had plenty of twists and turns still waiting in the wings. If you’re a Tampa fan, that’s probably what you want to hear.

1980, Game 2: Flyers 8, Islanders 3

The series: The 1980 final was a good one, and the Flyers were the favorites. This was the year that they’d had that ridiculous 35-game undefeated streak, helping them to first-place overall in the standings. The Islanders had finished well back, and were laboring under the reputation of a regular-season powerhouse that could never win the big one.

The game: Game 1 was a 4-3 overtime classic – wait, that sounds familiar – that the Islanders won on a Denis Potvin goal. Needing a strong performance to even the series, the Flyers got four points from Bobby Clarke and a hat trick from Paul Holmgren, and probably also some stuff from guys who didn’t go on to become their GM.

The rest of the way: The Islanders essentially shrugged off the loss, heading home to win both Games 3 and 4 by comfortable margins. The Flyers extended the series in Game 5, but the Islanders captured their first Cup on Bob Nystrom’s overtime game winner in Game 6.

(And since Flyers fans will set my house on fire if I don’t mention it – yes, Game 6 is also the Leon Stickle game.)

At the time, it felt like an upset. In hindsight, not so much, as this was the start of the Islanders dynasty that featured four straight Cup wins.

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