Habs-Flames Final capped tumultuous '85-86 season
Tuesday, 12.04.2012 / 9:30 PM
By EJ Hradek
The 1985-86 season was marked by unthinkable sadness and unexpected results. In this seventh installment of our series on the NHL in the 1980s, we look back at a year that touched our emotions in many different ways.
1. PHILLY TRAGEDY
The NHL was rocked by tragedy in the early morning hours of Nov. 10, when 26-year-old Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, returning home with friends after a night out, was fatally injured in a one-car accident in the Philadelphia suburbs. He officially was pronounced dead Nov. 11.
Lindbergh, who played for Team Sweden at the 1980 Winter Olympics, was coming into his own at the NHL level. He led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final less than six months earlier and earned the 1985 Vezina Trophy.
The night before the fatal accident, the Flyers had run their win streak to 10 straight with a 5-3 defeat of the Boston Bruins. The victory raised the team's record to 12-2. The Flyers seemed on the verge of something big. Then, the sad fate intervened.
To this day, the Flyers remember their fallen goaltender each year by awarding the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy to the most improved player.
2. OUT OF NOWHERE
Entering the 1985-86 season, most experts figured the defending champion Edmonton Oilers would roll to a third straight Stanley Cup. After all, Wayne Gretzky and Company seemed unstoppable.
Certainly, there weren't many -- if any -- who felt that first-year coach Jean Perron and the Canadiens would be part of the championship mix. Of course, nobody figured on a youngster named Patrick Roy and such a clever cast of young players, either.
During the regular season, the Habs didn't outdistance expectations, finishing second in the Adams Division (behind the rival Quebec Nordiques) and fifth in the Wales Conference with a 40-33-7 record.
In the postseason, however, the Canadiens were the beneficiary of a number of good matchup breaks.
After sweeping the Bruins in their best-of-five, first-round series, Montreal was faced with an Adams Final showdown against the fourth-place Hartford Whalers, which had swept Quebec. The Canadiens didn't have an easy time with the Whalers, who forced the Habs to overtime in Game 7 before succumbing on a goal by Claude Lemieux.
Montreal met another unexpected opponent in the Wales Conference Final. The New York Rangers, who barely qualified for the postseason, had toppled the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals on the road to hockey's final four. The Canadiens, backed by Roy's strong work, dispatched the Rangers in five games.
That set up a Cup showdown with the Calgary Flames, who stunned the Oilers in the Smythe Division Final.
The Montreal-Calgary series turned in Game 2 at the Saddledome when Canadiens center Brian Skrudland scored just nine seconds into OT (still the fastest playoff overtime goal) to knot the series, 1-1.
Perron's young team (there were nine players age 22 or younger that saw time during the postseason), aided by 1970s championship holdovers Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson, won the next three games to earn the 23rd Stanley Cup in the glorious history of the franchise.
Despite losing in the Cup Final, the Flames pulled off the shocker of the postseason when they ended the powerful Oilers' quest to three-peat with a seven-game, second-round series upset win.
To beat those Oilers, the Flames would need a little luck, and they got just that in the third period of the deciding game.
A little more than five minutes into the period, with the score tied, 2-2, Oilers rookie defenseman Steve Smith corralled the puck behind his net. As he moved to his left, Smith looked to make a pass across the middle to a teammate on the right side. Smith's pass, however, hit goalie Grant Fuhr in the back of his left leg and caromed backward into the Oilers' net.
Behind rookie goaltender Mike Vernon, the Flames were able to hold off the Oilers to secure the stunning series-clinching victory.
4. GREATEST YEAR
In 1985-86, playoff heartbreak aside, Gretzky outdid even himself. At age 25, the Great One piled up a single-season record 215 points in 80 games, bettering his own NHL mark by three points. He finished with 74 more points than his nearest rival in the season's scoring race (Mario Lemieux, 141).
Gretzky also obliterated his single-season assist record, dishing out a whopping 163 assists (28 more than the previous standard). He had 70 more assists than Lemieux (93), who finished second in that category.
It was the fourth and final time that Gretzky would crack the 200-point barrier. He remains the only player in league history to score 200 or more points in any season.
For his amazing work, Gretzky skated away with his seventh consecutive Hart Trophy and his sixth straight Art Ross Trophy.
5. BREAKING BOBBY
When hockey icon Bobby Orr shattered the single season record for goals by a defenseman, scoring 46 times for the Bruins in 1974-75, many experts figured no one would touch that mark.
Paul Coffey proved those experts wrong.
Fast and smooth, Coffey challenged Orr's total during the 1983-84 season, putting up 40 goals. In 1985-86, Coffey surpassed what the great Orr had done, netting 48 goals en route to his second straight Norris Trophy.
Coffey's record still stands today. In fact, the mark hasn't even been seriously challenged. Coffey and Orr are the only two members of a very exclusive club -- the only defensemen in League history to top the 40-goal mark in a season.
6. DEADLINE SURPRISE
Nearly three years removed from their 1983 Stanley Cup victory, the Islanders were a fading League power. Still, they surprised their fans when they decided to deal playoff hero and fan favorite John Tonelli to the Flames for forward Rich Kromm and defenseman Steve Konroyd at the trade deadline.
The move was made all the more strange by the timing, just hours before the Flames-Islanders game at the Nassau Coliseum.
Tonelli, a key contributor to four consecutive Cup victories on Long Island, merely went down the hall to the visitors' dressing room to join his new teammates. In an era where news didn't travel near as fast as it does today, there were many fans at the Coliseum who didn't learn of the deal until they saw Tonelli on the ice in a Flames uniform.
Despite the emotion of the move, the Isles scored an 8-4 victory against the Flames.
Tonelli's big-game experience would prove helpful in Calgary, which was poised to challenge the Oilers in the Campbell Conference.
7. MONDAY NIGHT MIRACLE
While not quite the "Miracle on Manchester" from the 1982 playoffs, the Blues' "Monday Night Miracle" was just as thrilling for the sellout crowd at the St. Louis Arena on May 12.
The scene was Game 6 of the best-of-seven Campbell Conference Final between the Flames and Blues. Facing elimination, St. Louis was down 5-2 with just over 12 minutes remaining in regulation time.
After captain Brian Sutter scored to cut the lead to 5-3, linemate Greg Paslawski scored a pair of goals, the last coming with less than 90 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
In extra time, after Calgary's Joe Mullen whistled a slap shot off the post behind goalie Rick Wamsley, Blues forward Doug Wickenheiser buried a rebound chance from the slot to set off a wild scene in St. Louis, which continued well into the night.
It was the biggest goal of Wickenheiser's star-crossed, injury-plagued career. The No. 1 pick (by the Canadiens) in the 1980 draft, the Western Canadian kid never found his way in Montreal, which traded him to St. Louis during the 1983-84 season.
In 1985-86, he was limited to just 36 regular season games, totaling eight goals and 19 points. In the playoffs, Wickenheiser's clutch OT goal was only his second of the postseason.
Despite the stunning come-from-behind win, St. Louis couldn't carry the momentum to Calgary. The Flames scored a 2-1 win in Game 7, advancing to the Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
8. GETTING STARTED
After forgoing his final year of NCAA eligibility, undrafted R.P.I. star center Adam Oates signed a four-year, $1.1 million free-agent deal with the Red Wings prior to the start of the 1985-86 campaign.
Oates had a goal and an assist in his NHL debut, a 6-6 tie against the visiting Minnesota North Stars on Oct. 10. After that, however, Oates struggled making the transition to the pro game. He eventually split the season between Detroit and its AHL affiliate in Adirondack, N.Y.
The future Hall of Famer finished his rookie season with nine goals, 11 assists and 20 points in 38 NHL games.
9. TORONTO GETS TOUGH
The NHL put a little different spin on the 1985 draft, moving the festivities from Montreal to Toronto and allowing some 7,000 fans to eyeball the process in person at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Conveniently, the down-trodden Leafs held the first pick after finishing at the bottom of the league standings in 1984-85.
Toronto GM Gerry McNamara used that pick to select talented and tough Western Hockey League star Wendel Clark, who split time between defense and wing during his junior career.
The Leafs felt Clark was best suited to left wing at the NHL level, installing the youngster into their lineup for the 1985-86 season. He responded with 34 goals and 227 penalty minutes in just 66 games.
In the second round of the draft, the Flames and Rangers nailed back-to-back star selections, taking Joe Nieuwendyk and Mike Richter with the 27th and 28th picks, respectively. Those two guys did pretty well for themselves, donít you think?
In the 11th round (there were 12 rounds in the draft that year), the Canucks took a flier on Soviet star Igor Larionov, who wasn't allowed to leave the former USSR to play in the NHL until 1989.
10. DYNAMIC DUO
At the 38th All-Star Game, held that season in Hartford, long-time Islanders linemates Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy combined to net the overtime goal that lifted the Wales Conference to a 4-3 defeat of the Campbell Conference on Feb. 4.
Historically, Bossy was the trigger man while Trottier was the playmaker. In this case, however, they reversed their normal roles with Bossy setting up Trotter for the winner.
Winnipeg's Dale Hawerchuk had forced overtime, scoring with just 43 seconds remaining in regulation. Trottier, however, sent everyone home with his goal at the 3:05 mark.