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E.J. Hradek's Analysis

Canada Cup launched Lemieux, Gretzky into '87-88

Saturday, 12.22.2012 / 9:00 AM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

In the ninth installment of our series on the NHL in the 1980s, we focus on the 1987-88 season.

It was a year when fans were kick-started into playoff mode in the late summer with the Canada Cup tournament, an elite best-on-best international showdown.

That was quickly followed by an NHL season that featured a scoring race between Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as well as several history-making and totally unexpected moments.

Here’s a look back at some of the headlines and personalities that kept fans on the edge of their seats in ’87-88.

1. GREAT & MAGNIFICENT

The 1987 Canada Cup -- contested from Aug. 28 through Sept. 15 -- proved to be one of the most memorable international tournaments of all time.

It marked the only time Gretzky and Lemieux skated on the same side in a meaningful competition during their remarkable careers. And Canada’s megastar combo didn’t disappoint. Working on the same line, they combined for nearly 30 percent of the club’s offensive production.

After a five-game round-robin schedule, Canada, Sweden, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union advanced to a one-game-elimination semifinal round. The Canadians and Soviets moved on to the best-of-3 final with victories over the Czechs and Swedes, respectively.

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Oilers win, big debuts for Hextall, Robitaille in 1986-87

Wednesday, 12.12.2012 / 5:00 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

The 1986-87 NHL season featured the Edmonton Oilers' return to Stanley Cup form, the arrival of a different kind of goaltender, and a playoff game that didn't want to end.

In this eighth installment of our series on the NHL in the 1980s, we revisit a season that kept fans on their toes to the final minutes.

1. BACK ON TOP

After a shocking second-round exit ended the Oilers' two-year championship run in the spring of 1986, they rebounded to lift their third Stanley Cup in four seasons with a 3-1 Game 7 victory against the tenacious Philadelphia Flyers.

Edmonton rolled through the first three rounds of the postseason, going 12-2 en route to series victories against the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings.

In the Cup Final, the Oilers seemed poised for a repeat of the 1985 title series, a five-game triumph against the Flyers. Edmonton carried a 3-1 series lead onto home ice for Game 5, but unlike 1985, they couldn't seal the deal, falling 4-3.

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Habs-Flames Final capped tumultuous '85-86 season

Tuesday, 12.04.2012 / 9:30 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

The 1985-86 NHL 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.

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Oilers' repeat, Lemieux's debut marked '84-85 season

Saturday, 11.24.2012 / 7:00 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

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.

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Oilers ended Islanders' dynasty in '83-84 season

Tuesday, 11.13.2012 / 6:15 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

There were two races that fans were keeping an eye on in the final weeks of the 1983-84 regular season. First and foremost, the chase for playoff positioning kept everyone on edge; but fans in Pittsburgh and New Jersey were focused on a different competition.

During that season, the Penguins and Devils were the worst two teams in the League. The team that finished last would get the first pick and the right to select much-hyped junior star Mario Lemieux. (At that time, the League had yet to institute the draft lottery.)

The Devils finished the season with an eight-game losing streak, but that run of futility wasn't enough to sink below the Patrick Division rival Penguins in the standings. In the end, the Pens finished with just 38 points -- three fewer than the Devils. A few short months later, they changed the course of their franchise dramatically by selecting Lemieux.

At the other end of the League, the Oilers racked up 119 points during the regular season and they were primed to begin a Stanley Cup run that would keep them at or near the top of the hockey world for the rest of the decade.

In our fifth installment on the NHL in the 1980s, I'll look at the powerful Oilers as well as the many stories that kept fans attention during the '83-84 season.

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Islanders showed Oilers how titles are won in '82-83

Friday, 10.26.2012 / 9:00 AM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

In the early part of the 1980s, the New York Islanders were the team to beat and young Wayne Gretzky was the one-of-a-kind superstar re-writing the League's scoring history. Those two forces would finally collide by the end of the 1982-83 season.

It was a meeting that seemed inevitable. While the Islanders would hold off the Oilers in stunning fashion, the Oilers established their place among the League's elite.

In our fourth installment on the NHL in the 1980s, I'll focus on the Islanders-Oilers showdown as well as the stories the ruled the ice during the '82-83 campaign.

1. FOUR OF A KIND

After failing to win their division and falling to sixth place in the overall standings, the Islanders found their way in the postseason, going 15-5 en route to their fourth straight Stanley Cup triumph.

In the Cup Final, the Isles were matched against the young and powerful Oilers, who'd pushed the champs to six games during their second-round series in 1981. Two years later, there were many pundits who thought the Oilers would be too much for an Islanders team that was showing signs of wear and tear from having played so many games over the past three years.

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Gretzky, Islanders, NHL's new look dominated '81-82

Tuesday, 10.16.2012 / 9:45 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

Wayne Gretzky, in his third NHL season, took further aim at the record book during the 1981-82 campaign, putting up some eye-popping numbers, some of which still stand as records to this day. As well, the Great One's sensational play drove the Edmonton Oilers to the League's second-best mark.

Gretzky and his youthful posse would suffer some unexpected -- as well as historic -- growing pains early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Meanwhile, back East, the New York Islanders continued to be the dominant force on the circuit, completing the regular season with a League-best 118 points. Bryan Trottier's team finished 26 points ahead of its closest rival in the Patrick Division.

In our third installment on the wild and crazy '80s, I'll look back on some of the top memories, moments and stories that kept the hockey world on edge during the '81-82 season.

1. TIME FOR A MAKEOVER

There was a new look to the NHL standings for the '81-82 campaign. The teams were realigned within existing divisions with the new groupings based on geographic areas.

Most directly, that meant Calgary, after skating for one season in the Patrick Division alongside Northeast corridor stalwarts from New York, Long Island, Philadelphia and Washington, would move into the more Western-based Smythe Division.

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Bossy's 50 in 50, Islanders' repeat highlighted 1980-81

Tuesday, 10.09.2012 / 9:45 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

In some ways, the 1980-81 season was a continuation of the previous campaign. The New York Islanders built on their 1980 championship, while a baby-faced Wayne Gretzky, in his second NHL season, upped his scoring production to previously unseen levels.

Exciting newcomers Denis Savard, Dino Ciccarelli and 1980 U.S. Olympian Neal Broten flashed onto the scene in '80-81, while aging legends including Jean Ratelle took their final twirls around the League.

In our second installment on the high-scoring decade of the 1980s, I’ll look back on some of the top memories and moments from the '80-81 season.

1. CHANGING PLACES

After eight so-so seasons in Atlanta, where the Flames never won a playoff series despite qualifying for the Cup chase six times, the team was sold and relocated to Calgary, Alberta, prior to the '80-81 campaign.

The new owners kept the franchise nickname, which remains to this day.

In that first season in Calgary, despite moving from the Eastern to Mountain time zone, the Flames remained in the Patrick Division, alongside the Northeast corridor foursome of the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

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High-scoring '80s started with Gretzky's arrival

Tuesday, 10.02.2012 / 9:45 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

The 1980s were a time of transition for the NHL. They opened with legends Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita playing their final games against youthful stars Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Ray Bourque. By the end of the high-scoring decade, the League was on the cusp on a new expansion era that would take the game all over the United States.

Over the next 10 weeks, I'll take a look back at the seasons of the '80s, picking out 10 developments or memories from each of those campaigns. I'll start with the memorable 1979-80 season.

1. GREATNESS ARRIVES

The NHL-WHA merger brought 18-year-old wunderkind Wayne Gretzky into hockey's elite spotlight. A season earlier, skating for Indianapolis and Edmonton in the WHA, Gretzky scored 46 goals and 110 points in 80 games. Still, there were many who weren't certain how he'd fare in the NHL.

Gretzky answered the critics emphatically with a sensational 51-goal, 137-point season, tying him with Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead. Dionne earned the Art Ross Trophy via the goal-scoring tiebreaker (he had 53). Gretzky, however, skated away with the first of eight straight Hart Trophies.

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E.J.'s Mailbag: Stars rising; what about Wild?

Wednesday, 09.12.2012 / 7:25 PM / E.J. Hradek's Analysis

EJ Hradek - NHL.com Analyst

The ECHL's Bakersfield Condors (I still think it's odd to see a California-based team in something once called the East Coast Hockey League?) made a little news earlier in the week when they offered teen pop sensation Justin Bieber a tryout contract for the upcoming season.

Bieber, reportedly a close personal friend of NHL Network megastar Kevin "I Have No Five-Hole" Weekes, apparently played a little hockey growing up in Stratford, Ontario.

While I doubt Bieber will leave behind his multimillion dollar entertainment career to join the Condors, I give the club some credit for creativity. After all, why else would anyone spend any time talking about them? Let's face it, they just got me!

Either way, we wish young Mr. Bieber continued success. I have a feeling he'll be just fine.

Now, let's get to this week's mailbag. Remember, you can get your questions to me on Twitter (follow me @EJHradek_NHL).

Do you think Dallas will be Cup contender? -- @corydelisle & @Big_Jacob32

I don't think you can jump from missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for four straight seasons to "Cup contender," but the Dallas Stars will be a more interesting group to watch with the free-agent acquisitions of greybeards Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney.

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Quote of the Day

Right now I'm just happy to be back and get through this season and make sure I do my job. I've never had an issue with having to prove myself again and I'll try to do it again. We'll see where it takes me.

— Defenseman Torey Krug on signing with the Boston Bruins
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