The Greatest Ice Hockey Dynasty Ever Explained
NHL fans could spend hours ferociously debating which team represents the greatest hockey dynasty of all time. Some might opt for the New York Islanders team that won four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, or Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers team that seized its mantle. Others would look back wistfully to the Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1940s and the Detroit Red Wings around the turn of the century. Yet it is ultimately hard to argue against the Montreal Canadiens team that enjoyed an unprecedented decade of dominance throughout the 1970s. It won the Stanley Cup in 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979. Montreal’s points percentage was greater than .600 for nine straight seasons and the Habs secured seven first-place finishes in that time. The cast changed a little over the course of the decade, but there were enough mainstays to ensure that the team will always enjoy dynastic status.
Dryden Kickstarts a Dynasty
The arrival of rookie goaltender Ken Dryden in 1971 proved to be the catalyst that sparked this dynasty into life. He enjoyed a remarkable run to the Conn Smythe as the Habs won their 17th Stanley Cup championship. Captain Beliveau led the way with 76 points and became just the fourth NHL player to score 500 career goals midway through the season. Yet the dynasty really kicked into life when Scotty Bowman took the reins at the start of the following season. The Canadiens failed to defend their crown, losing to the New York Rangers in six games during the first round of the playoffs, but Bowman laid the foundations for a remarkable period of dominance.
The Richard Era Comes to an End
Habs fans were celebrating once again in 1973 after their team defeated the Blackhawks in six games to clinch the Stanley Cup. Yvan Cournoyer won the Conn Smythe, while the indomitable Jacques Lemaire also had 12 points in the finals, and captain Henri Richard led with aplomb throughout. The following season was a transitional year, with Wayne Thomas replacing Dryden as the starting goaltender, but the Habs still finished second in the east before losing to the Rangers again in the playoffs. Richard finally started to wane in 1974-75, while Jacques Laperriere retired, but Dryden returned to prominence and Guy Lafleur had a breakout season as the Canadiens went to the semi-finals, where they lost to the Sabres.
Lafleur Leads the Habs to Greatness
The 1975-76 season marked Montreal’s return to the summit of the sport. Dryden was on fire, Lafleur was a whirlwind of offensive destruction, Cournoyer flourished as captain and Pete Mahlovich enjoyed another magnificent year. They led the Canadiens to the club’s 19th Stanley Cup. The Habs were unstoppable for the next few years. The standout season was 1976-77, when they set records that have never been broken. They finished the regular season with a record of 60-8-12 and 132 points and then swept aside their opponents in the playoffs. The Canadiens obliterated their opponents again in 1977-78. Lafleur won a second consecutive Hart Memorial Trophy and a third consecutive Art Ross. The dynasty was sealed in 1978-79, Bowman’s last season at the helm, when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1968.
A Gathering of Legends
The Habs’ final Stanley Cup team featured 10 Hall of Famers, including Dryden, Lafleur, Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Rod Langway. The first Stanley Cup winning team of the decade in 1971 had 11, including Richard and Mahlovic. The Canadiens have had other dynasties during their illustrious history – they won four Stanley Cups between 1965 and 1969, and five in a row in the 1950s – but the 1970s team dominated in a post-expansion NHL era, creating arguably the greatest dynasty in North American sporting history.