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1976-77 Canadiens voted No. 3 Greatest NHL Team

Repeated as Stanley Cup champions, finished with League-record 132 points

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Yvan Cournoyer says, with a little mischief in his voice, that when the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens hit a slump of, say, two losses in a row, he would call a team meeting to sort things out.

 

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Cournoyer, the Montreal captain, never called such a meeting, because over the 80-game regular season, the Canadiens never lost two straight.

Sixty wins. Eight losses. Twelve ties.

 

[1976-77 Montreal Canadiens roster]

 

And then they went 12-2 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, two losses to the New York Islanders, one of them in overtime, the only speed bumps on their expressway to the championship.

You read this record and you should shake your head, because many members of that team do just that four decades later, in more than a little disbelief of a season for the ages.

 

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A few of the numbers:

* Nine future Hockey Hall of Famers were part of that Canadiens team, 11 if you include general manager Sam Pollock and coach Scotty Bowman.

* The Canadiens' points percentage over 80 regular-season games was .825.

* The Canadiens lost only once in 40 home games (33-1-6), 4-3 to the Boston Bruins on Oct. 30 -- "the night before Halloween," Bowman said with a chuckle.

* They scored an NHL-high 387 goals and surrendered a League-low 171, their goal differential a goofy plus-216.

* The Canadiens' 132 points remain an NHL record 40 years later.

* Following a 7-3 road loss to the Bruins on Jan. 17, Montreal lost once the rest of the regular season, 4-1 at the Buffalo Sabres on March 6. That's one loss in 34 games.

The Canadiens began the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues, outscoring them 19-4. Montreal continued with a six-game win against the Islanders, never trailing in that series, before their four-game sweep of the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, when they outscored Boston 16-6.

"Any record can be broken, but to lose eight games in a full season with nine Hall of Fame players?" Bowman said. "When you're talking about the greatest NHL team of all time, this is one you have to keep looking at."

Cournoyer became an NHL regular in 1964-65 under coach Toe Blake on a team so stacked that, even with his offensive gifts, he was limited to mostly power plays in his first few seasons. It was under Bowman, who arrived with the Canadiens in 1971-72, that Cournoyer won five of his 10 Stanley Cup championships.

"Like Toe always said, 'If we win the Vezina Trophy, we've got a chance to finish first and win the Stanley Cup,'" Cournoyer said recently.

Indeed, Canadiens goalies Ken Dryden and Michel Larocque shared the Vezina Trophy, then awarded to the team that allowed the fewest goals.

Dryden was just getting warmed up; he had a 1.55 goals-against average in the postseason, playing all 14 games.

The 1977 championship was the Canadiens' second of four straight. The previous year, Montreal ended the Philadelphia Flyers' run of two straight titles, sweeping the Broad Street Bullies and taking the Cup out of the hands of a team that won as much with clenched-fist brawn as it did with skill.

"I'd absolutely guarantee you that our beating the Flyers, to set the stage for our 1976-77 season, was a popular win," Canadiens forward Steve Shutt said. "If the Flyers had won again, the NHL would have gone back into the 'Slap Shot' era. I think the League was very happy we won."

Shutt recalls defenseman Guy Lapointe calling Bowman "The Computer" for the coach's analytical mind that locked away more statistics than a hard drive.

Forty years later, from memory, having coached 2,494 regular-season and playoff games in the NHL, Bowman said, "Our defense in 1976-77 scored 63 goals," so you look it up and he's frighteningly accurate: Lapointe scored 25, Larry Robinson had 19, and Serge Savard had nine, with Pierre Bouchard, Bill Nyrop and Rick Chartraw combining for 10 more.

"Our offensive and defensive spread was 216 goals. Imagine that. We won a lot of games (22) by more than four goals," Bowman said, correct on all counts. "And we had Dryden in the net. There was nothing missing."

Indeed, the 1976-77 Canadiens truly had everything, most of all the Stanley Cup.

 

[MORE TO EXPLORE: All-Time Stanley Cup Winners | NHL 100 | READ: Greatest NHL Teams | WATCH: Greatest NHL Teams]

 

The Greatest NHL Teams were voted by fans during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as part of the NHL Centennial Celebration. Stanley Cup championship teams from 1918-2016 were eligible, and the top 10 were announced during the 2017 Final.

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