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Golden Knights trail blazed by Bowman, Blues in 1967-68

Hall of Fame coach led St. Louis to victories in first two playoff rounds of inaugural season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

They selected a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in the NHL Expansion Draft, and he led them to victory in the first two rounds of the playoffs in their inaugural season. Their arena rocked with the fans getting caught up in the excitement, laying a foundation for the future.

Of course, we're talking about the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues, the last team to win two series in its first season before the 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights did it.

Their version of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was Glenn Hall, who had won the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1961 but had been left unprotected in the expansion draft. He turned 36 on Oct. 6 that season. The Black Hawks kept Denis DeJordy, who turned 29 on Nov. 12 that season.

Hall won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs even though the Blues were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Final.

"Glenn Hall was the franchise," said Scotty Bowman, who took over the Blues 19 games into that season, beginning his legendary NHL coaching career. "He was a great goalie. He was far and away the best goalie that season, including both divisions. I can't tell you how good he was."

Video: Ironman Glenn Hall started 502 straight games in goal

The Blues didn't have a new 17,500-seat rink like T-Mobile Arena, let alone an elaborate pregame show, cheerleaders, booming bass and Lil Jon wondering, "Turn down for what?" They had St. Louis Arena, already 38 years old, with 14,200 seats.

"We had an organ," Bowman said.

But it was cranked up for the time.

"St. Louis in our first year was very similar," Bowman said. "We had a big crowd that came through at the end. We weren't drawing all the time, but [the fans came in] the second half. It was tough to play for the visiting team, and this is about the same as Vegas.

"It was noisy. The fans took to the organist. The players took to it. When we scored goals, they played 'When the Blues Go Marching In.' Music had not hit the NHL at that time like it is now. It was a different feeling for everybody, including both teams that were on the ice."

It was a different era, obviously.

The NHL expanded from six teams to 12. The League put the new teams in the West Division -- the Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins -- and kept the Original Six in the East Division. The top four teams in each division made the playoffs and played each other in the first two rounds.

Video: NHL announces expansion for the 1967-68 season

Four points separated the top four teams in the West -- the Flyers (73), Kings (72), Blues (70) and North Stars (69) -- and the Penguins (67) weren't far behind. The Seals were the only laggard (47). The Blues won two seven-game series, against the Flyers and North Stars.

"We were all close," Bowman said. "We just made the playoffs the last weekend by winning a couple of games. … Most of the expansion teams didn't get offensive players. I think we had only three NHL players [on] each team, you know? At least with Vegas, they did get players that played. They weren't on the top lines, but they got NHL players."

This time, the NHL expanded from 30 teams to 31 and had a salary cap, and it gave Vegas expansion draft rules more favorable than to other new teams. So the Golden Knights didn't have to compete against another new team; they had a clean slate with the cap and a deeper pool of talent from which to pick.

The Golden Knights went 51-24-7 and won the Pacific Division with 109 points, shattering records for first-year NHL teams. They swept the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference First Round and defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in the second round.

But whatever the era, whatever the situation, what matters is how you work within those parameters.

"It was a good formula, but [the Golden Knights] had to take advantage of it," Bowman said.

The Blues made a key trade in their inaugural season, acquiring center Red Berenson and defenseman Barclay Plager from the New York Rangers on Nov. 29, 1967. The Golden Knights made a couple of key trades during the 2017 Expansion Draft, acquiring forward Alex Tuch and selecting forward Erik Haula from the Minnesota Wild; and acquiring forward Reilly Smith and selecting center Jonathan Marchessault from the Florida Panthers.

Video: SJS@VGK, Gm1: Golden Knights open Second Round

"I mean, you wonder if they didn't make those two trades …" Bowman said with a laugh. "Because they're four players who have had fantastic years, you know?"

Coach Gerard Gallant has made the best of the Golden Knights' talent, as Bowman made the best of the Blues'. 

"You still have to mold a team," Bowman said. "You have to put the lines together. They play a team game. If you watch them play, they're a good passing club, which is practice and coaching. The transition from forward and defense with the puck is top-notch. I think they got a team.

"They're winning as a team. … I still think when you think about it, it's the goalie, Fleury, and it was the two trades, and it was also Gerard Gallant."

Bowman also mentioned general manager George McPhee, assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon and special adviser to hockey operations David Conte.

"They've got pieces that have all just jelled together," Bowman said. "To me, they're not flukes."


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