MONTREAL -- It has often been said that the Montreal Canadiens were almost unbeatable during their dynasty of the mid-to-late 1970s. For a time, during the Stanley Cup Final in that era, that was an absolute.
From 1976 to 1978, the Canadiens, starting a run of four straight Stanley Cup titles, won 10 straight games in the Final, with the streak reaching double digits on May 16, 1978.
Montreal's run of dominance began on May 9, 1976 with a 4-3 home victory against the Philadelphia Flyers; it was the start of a four-game sweep of the "Broad Street Bullies," the two-time defending champions. The streak continued with 2-1, 3-2 and 5-3 wins against the Flyers, the last two at Philadelphia's often-intimidating Spectrum.
Consecutive victories 5 through 8 came the following season. Montreal defeated the Boston Bruins 7-3 at the Forum to open the 1977 Final, then won 3-0 and 4-2 before a 2-1 overtime victory at Boston Garden in Game 4 completed a second straight sweep.
The Bruins were the victim again the following season when the Canadiens tied the record of nine straight Final wins, set by the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1947-49.
Montreal defeated the Bruins 4-1 at home on May 13, 1978, to open the Final, then made it 10 in a row with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 2 on May 16. Boston finally put an end to the streak in Game 3 with a 4-0 win at the Garden, then defeated the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime in Game 4. But that was only a speed bump in the Canadiens' run to their third straight championship; they won the series in six games.
The New York Islanders won nine straight games in the Final from 1981-83, equaling the record held by the Maple Leafs, but it is highly unlikely that another team will, over three consecutive seasons, win 10 straight Final games. The Edmonton Oilers were the last team to advance to three straight Finals, from 1983-85; their longest Final winning streak during that span was four games.
The Canadiens actually won 11 straight games in the Final, the first a Game 6 victory against the Chicaco Black Hawks in 1973, but the official streak is 10 since it has to consist of consecutive finals.
Montreal's streak officially began on May 9, 1976, with a 4-3 home victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, beginning a convincing four-game sweep of the "Broad Street Bullies," the two-time defending champions.
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The Canadiens' record-breaking win in the 1978 Final was one of two games during the streak that went to overtime. Hall of Fame forward Guy Lafleur scored in OT in Game 2, having assisted on linemate Jacques Lemaire's Cup-winning goal in overtime a year earlier.
On Montreal's 15th shot of overtime, at 13:09, Lafleur beat Bruins goaltender Gerry Cheevers.
Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden saw just four shots in overtime and finished with 30 saves. Cheevers faced a blizzard, stopping the Montreal shooters who came at him in waves after they had taken just 20 shots through three periods.
"I was afraid for a while," said Canadiens captain Yvan Cournoyer, who took six of Montreal's 35 shots. "Cheevers was stopping everything in overtime. It only takes one, but I was worried we weren't going to get it."
Cournoyer had a chance to end it in the third period, but Cheevers robbed him on a breakaway. "The Roadrunner," as the speedy Cournoyer was known, then had three cracks at the game-winner during one furious five-shot overtime scramble.
The Bruins had effectively blanketed Lafleur for most of the game; he wasn't part of either Montreal goal during regulation. But Lafleur struck when it mattered most, beating Cheevers from a few strides over the blue line after taking a feed from defenseman Larry Robinson.
A celebration ensued at the Forum; the crowd included Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau.
"I was surprised when I didn't see Cheevers coming out of the net to cut down the angle," Lafleur said. "When he didn't come out, I just decided to shoot. I don't usually score from that position. …
"That overtime shot was my best of the game," he said, having been limited to three all night. "They checked me pretty good. Of course, any time a shot becomes a goal, it turns out to be your best."
It was a much tougher test than Canadiens had faced in Game 1, which they won 4-1.
However, the Bruins were a different team completely back home in Game 3, taking 36 shots at Dryden to stop Montreal's streak while Cheevers made 16 saves for the shutout.
But in winning their record 10th straight Stanley Cup Final game two nights earlier, the Canadiens were not going to be denied in overtime at home.
"We weren't really getting frustrated," said forward Steve Shutt, who had three shots and scored the Canadiens' first goal of the night. "When you get frustrated, you start losing. We just figured we'd better go like [heck]. It was going take one goal, and we felt we might as well be the ones to get it."