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Greatest NHL Teams

1984-85 Oilers voted No. 1 Greatest NHL Team

Overpowered League on way to repeating as Stanley Cup champions

by Stu Hackel / Special to NHL.com

The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers might have been even better than the previous season's edition, which won the Stanley Cup and set NHL scoring records, because their high-level skill was fortified by the confidence borne of success.

 

Video: 1984-85 Oilers dominate to claim second straight Cup

 

Yet, they also had to learn the same lesson as all previous champs: The rest of the League was now gunning for them.

Defenseman Kevin Lowe recounted in his book "Champions," co-written by Stan and Shirley Fischler, that when center and four-time Cup champ Billy Carroll was claimed off waivers from the New York Islanders by Oilers general manager/coach Glen Sather, he alerted his new teammates that that they'd best be prepared for 80 challenging regular-season games.

 

[1984-85 Edmonton Oilers roster]

 

"Carroll told me that we might have even had it a bit harder than the Islanders because of our glamorous image," Lowe wrote.

How did the Oilers respond? For starters, they won their fourth straight Smythe Division championship with the best record in the Campbell Conference. They led the NHL in goals (401), surpassing 400 for the fourth consecutive season.

 

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Individual Oilers continued to rewrite the record book. Wayne Gretzky won his sixth consecutive Hart Trophy and fifth straight Art Ross Trophy, breaking his own single-season record with 135 assists. Linemate Jari Kurri set a record for goals by a right wing with 71. Paul Coffey continued to put up offensive numbers not seen by a defenseman since Bobby Orr; he finished with more than 80 assists and 120 points for the second straight season and won his first Norris Trophy.

Gretzky, Kurri and Coffey enjoyed a magical partnership, seemingly creating offense through ESP and sparking Edmonton's mighty attack.

"We had a love for the game," Gretzky told NHL.com when asked about the secret to their chemistry. "The three of us loved being at the rink. We loved playing and we loved practicing. I think from [Mark] Messier, to [Glenn] Anderson, to [Coffey], to Kevin Lowe, to Kurri, we showed up for practice. We practiced hard."

Video: Wayne Gretzky quickest to 1000 points, in 424 games

Edmonton's run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs started with nine consecutive victories, extending its postseason winning streak to an NHL-record 12 games. Their three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings and four-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets didn't come easily, however, and forced the Oilers to refocus on defensive discipline. Through these first seven games, they sliced their goals-against from a regular-season average of 3.72 to 2.57, a very un-Edmonton-like stat.

Offensive records began crumbling again in the Campbell Conference Final. The Oilers won the first two games against the Chicago Blackhawks by a combined score of 18-5, but perhaps those numbers dulled their edge in the next two games.

"Maybe we let our guard down a hair," Gretzky recalls when asked about the Blackhawks unexpectedly tying the series, "but, in fairness, the Hawks really took it to another level in Games 3 and 4, and we didn't."

A players-only meeting straightened things out, and they defeated Chicago 10-5 in Game 5 and finished things in Game 6. Edmonton scored 44 goals in the conference final and Kurri had 12 of them, each setting an NHL single-series record.

Next up: The surprising Presidents' Trophy-winning Philadelphia Flyers, rebuilt with young talent and guided by first-year coach Mike Keenan. They dominated the Oilers 4-1 at the Spectrum to open the Final.

"After that loss," Gretzky recalled, "Glen really laid into Paul and I. He really felt we were two of the big reasons we lost that night."

Gretzky admitted he and Coffey got "a little hot under the collar," but Garnet "Ace" Bailey, the Oilers' head scout, took them to dinner the next night and calmed them down.

Early in Game 2, Coffey's rink-length dash ended with a cross-crease feed to Gretzky, whose first shot was stopped by sprawling Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh. But Gretzky circled and backhanded the rebound into the empty net, keying a 3-1 win.

After the game, Bailey told Gretzky, "I don't think any team ever in history could have beaten you guys tonight. You guys were so fired up to play, you and [Messier] and [Coffey]."

Gretzky's first-period hat trick, including two goals on one shift, jump-started Edmonton in Game 3. Coffey assisted on all three, then each assisted on Mike Krushelnyski's eventual game-winner. Gretzky's two power-play goals were the difference in a 5-3 Oilers win in Game 4 that broke the Flyers' spirit. In Game 5, Edmonton jumped to a 7-1 lead after two periods and the Cup was theirs again.

Gretzky set NHL playoff records for most assists (30) and points (47) in a single postseason. Coffey's 12 goals, 25 assists and 37 points all were NHL records for a defenseman. Kurri scored 19 goals, tying the NHL mark for most in one playoff year.

The Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP went to Gretzky, but many, Gretzky included, believed Coffey was just as valuable.

"You should have won the Conn Smythe, or at least we should have shared it," Gretzky told Coffey afterward.

Today Gretzky admits, "We really didn't care. We won the Stanley Cup."

That's what great teams do.

 

[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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