After the Edmonton Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in the spring of 1984, NHL fans had one question for Wayne Gretzky and his high-scoring teammates entering the 1984-85 season: Can you do it again?
The Oilers seemed well on their way after rolling to a 6-3 win over the visiting Minnesota North Stars on Dec. 7. It was the club’s eighth straight victory and upped its record to a super impressive 20-3-3.
Gretzky and Co. reeled off another eight-game winning streak in late January/early February. At that point, the Oilers were full-steam ahead at a sensational 38-9-6.
Down the stretch, however, Edmonton stumbled a bit, finishing the regular season with a mediocre 6-7-4 mark in its last 17 games.
Once the Stanley Cup Playoffs started, however, the Oilers got their championship act together, losing three games en route to their second championship.
The '84-85 season also marked the arrival of a potential scoring rival for Gretzky. Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Mario Lemieux seemed to have the rare combination of super size and sensational skill to someday challenge the Great One’s lock on the Art Ross Trophy.
In our sixth installment of the NHL in the 1980s, I’ll examine the stories and topics that dominated the headlines during the '84-85 campaign.
1. BACK TO BACK
After surprising 4-1 Game 1 Final loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the defending champion Oilers reeled off four straight wins to capture their second straight Stanley Cup.
Gretzky was the no-brainer Conn Smythe Trophy selection after putting up a postseason record 47 points. Nearly 27 years later, that mark is among the many, many Gretzky records that still stand. Oh, by the way, he was a plus-28 in 18 playoff games.
The Oilers opened their playoff run with nine straight victories, sweeping the Los Angeles Kings (3-0) and Winnipeg Jets (4-0) in the first two rounds before taking the first two games of a wild Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. When that series shifted to Chicago, the Blackhawks were able to win twice to even things at 2-2. The Oilers regained control in Game 5 and advanced to the Cup Final for the third straight season with a Game 6 win in Chicago.
The Oilers-Blackhawks series is still remembered for its high-scoring ways. The teams combined for 69 goals, the most in a single Stanley Cup Playoff series. And the Oilers’ 44 goals are the most by one team in any playoff series.
2. THE BEAT GOES ON
Gretzky continued his historic individual dominance by winning his sixth consecutive Hart Trophy and fifth straight Art Ross Trophy.
The Great One led the League in all the key offensive categories with 73 goals, 135 assists and 208 points. It was the third time he cracked the 200-point mark. Gretzky also piled up 11 short-handed goals and finished with a mind-boggling plus-98 rating.
3. SUPER SNIPER
Gretzky’s running mate, Jari Kurri, enjoyed the best season of his Hall of Fame career, scoring 71 goals and 135 points (finishing second to Gretzky in both categories).
In the playoffs, Kurri scored a League-best 19 goals, tying a single-season playoff record set by the Flyers’ Reggie Leach in 1976 (Leach did it in 16 games; Kurri needed 18).
Kurri posted a single postseason record with four hat tricks. The Finnish goal-scorer recorded three of those in the Conference Finals against the Blackhawks. No other player has matched that playoff-series feat.
4. MR. COFFEY
Smooth-skating Oilers defenseman Paul Coffey also enjoyed a banner year, earning the first of his three career Norris trophies.
Coffey finished the season with 37 goals, 84 assists and 121 points, as well as a plus-55 rating. On Oct. 26, 1984, Coffey became the seventh (and so far last) NHL defenseman to score four goals in a game, during a 6-5 win at the Calgary Flames. (Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Ian Turnbull is the only defender to score five goals in a game.)
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Coffey turned things up a notch or three. In the team’s 18 postseason games, he established records for goals (12), assists (25) and points (37) by a defenseman in a playoff campaign.
In Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Blackhawks, Coffey set a record for assists (5) and points (6) by a defenseman in a postseason game. The Oilers won that game, 10-5.
5. NEW KID IN TOWN
After amassing a Canadian junior single-season record 282 points during the 1983-84 QMJHL campaign, lanky teenage sensation Mario Lemieux was selected with the first pick at the 1984 NHL Draft. Clearly, that worked out pretty well. Kirk Muller (New Jersey Devils), Eddie Olcyzk (Chicago Blackhawks), Al Iafrate (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Petr Svoboda (Montreal Canadiens) rounded out the top five.
The draft class of '84 also included some late-bloomers -- Patrick Roy (No. 51, Montreal Canadiens), Brett Hull (No. 117, Calgary Flames) and Luc Robitaille (No. 171, Los Angeles Kings) -- who would go on to have Hall of Fame careers.
Interestingly, in the fourth round, 102 picks before the Kings tabbed Robitaille, they took a chance on a Massachusetts high school player by the name of Tom Glavine. Though Glavine was a talented forward, he proved to be an even better pitcher, posting 305 wins during a long Major League Baseball career.
6. DYNAMIC DEBUT
It didn’t take very long for Lemieux to make his mark on the NHL. On the first shift of his first game, the Magnificent One stole the puck from Boston Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque, swooped down the left wing and beat goalie Pete Peeters, scoring on his first goal on his very first shot.
Not bad, eh?
The Penguins couldn’t hold the lead in that opener, falling 4-3 in Boston. The Penguins did better in their home opener six days later, defeating the Vancouver Canucks, 4-3.
Pittsburgh didn’t fare so well in Lemieux’s first season, going 24-51-5, but they couldn’t blame their freshman superstar. In 73 games, Lemieux scored 43 goals and 100 points en route to Calder Trophy honors.
7. STAR AMONG STARS
Just 19 years old, Lemieux certainly wasn’t intimidated taking the ice for the Wales Conference at the league’s 37th annual All-Star Game, held at Calgary’s Saddledome.
He scored a pair of goals and added an assist in the Wales' 6-4 win over the Campbell Conference. For his stellar work, Lemieux became the first -- and still only -- rookie in League history to skate away with All-Star MVP honors.
Bourque, whom Lemieux victimized on opening night, had four assists for the winning Wales team.
Hartford’s Ron Francis, Philadelphia’s Tim Kerr, Washington’s Mike Gartner and the Rangers’ Anders Hedberg scored the other goals for the Wales Conference. Los Angeles’ Marcel Dionne, Toronto’s Miroslav Frycer, Vancouver’s Thomas Gradin and Gretzky scored for the Campbell.
8. FRESH FACES IN PHILADELPHIA
In Mike Keenan's first season behind an NHL bench, the Flyers coach directed the NHL’s youngest team to a league-high 113 points and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
Keenan’s Flyers were led by 90-point scorers Kerr and Brian Propp. Captain Dave Poulin, a second-year player, put up 30 goals and 74 points, and young veterans Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon provided stability on defense (they were a combined plus-103).
In goal, young Swedish-born stopper Pelle Lindberg, in his third full NHL season, emerged as an elite netminder. In 65 regular-season games, Lindberg went 40-17-7 with a 3.02 goals-against average (an impressive number in that high-scoring era).
In the aftermath of a superb season, Keenan was given the Jack Adams Award, and Lindberg received the Vezina Trophy.
9. SO-LONG TO THE '60s
At season’s end, Butch Goring and Brad Park were among those who decided to hang up his skates. Goring and Park had been the final two active players who started their NHL career during the 1960s.
Park, a five-time NHL first-team all-star, began his career with the New York Rangers during the 1968-69 season, putting up 26 points in 54 games. In an 18-year career, he’d finish with 896 points in 1,113 games. Park was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 1988.
Goring began his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1969-70, totaling 36 points in 59 games.
The crafty two-way pivot was a consistent scorer during the '70s in Los Angeles, but his career took a turn for the better when he was traded to the New York Islanders in March 1980. The final piece in a championship puzzle on Long Island, Goring helped the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981.
He finished his career with 888 points in 1,107 regular-season games. He had 88 points in 134 playoff games.
10. CANADA’S CUP
Prior to the start of the '84-85 season, Canada earned top honors at the third Canada Cup tournament, an elite international competition that was a forerunner to the World Cup of Hockey. Canada swept Sweden in the best-of-3 final.
The Canadians were eager to regain the Cup after watching the Soviet Union take the title in the 1981 tournament. They gained a measure of revenge on the Soviets with a 3-2 overtime semifinal win.
Follow E.J. Hradek on Twitter: @EJHradek_NHL
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