Canadiens' Elimination Marks the End of an Era

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Canadiens' Elimination Marks the End of an Era
(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

Without so much as a whimper the Montreal Canadiens bowed from this year’s National Hockey League playoffs.

Boston’s first round sweep of Les Habitants caused barely a blip on the radar screen of North American professional sports.  After all the Bruins advancing to the second round of the playoffs might beg the great philosophical question: if  a number one seed sweeps an eight, does anyone notice?

But with the Habs went one of the greatest, if not longest, streaks on the continent.

Since their first league championship in 1919, the Canadiens have hoisted the Cup at least once every ten years.  For nine decades the Habs earned the right to be called the league’s best - a streak unparalleled by any team in the NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL.

Those under the age of 30 might find it difficult to comprehend the one-time dominance of the Montreal Canadiens.

During the ‘76-77 campaign Montreal amassed a record of 60-8-12.  Yes, you read that right.  Only eight times did the Canadiens falter during that entire season.  And to think they accomplished that feat with such mortals as Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, and Guy Lafleur. Unlike the Chicago Bulls who needed the other-worldly escapades of Michael Jordan to finish with a mere 10 losses a decade later. One can only imagine how many losses the Bulls could have avoided by earning ties.

Montreal’s Cup victory that season would be their second of four consecutive - in a decade which they would win six overall.

Like their MLB counterpart, New York Yankees, the Canadiens produced a tradition of winning.  One generation passing on the habit to the next.

While the Yankees took five World Series from ‘49-’50, the Canadiens finished the decade winning the Cup from ‘56-60. Toe Blake deployed greats such as Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, and Jacques Plante. 

 

Cournoyer

Cournoyer

Those greats passed on the custom to Jean Beliveau, Dick Duff, Yvan Cournoyer, and Gump Worsley who led the Canadiens to four Cups in five years during the 60s. 

 

Cournoyer hung around long enough pass the winning attitude on in the 70s.

It was as if there was something in that sweater, that majestic C blazoned across the front, that deemed the wearer to be better than others.

By the end of the 1970’s four teams divided sports fans like no other: the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, Boston Celtics, and yes, the Montreal Canadiens.

When the Steelers hosted the ‘78 AFC Title, who did I root for?  Well of course, the Houston Oilers!  I cheered lustily when Vernon Perry returned a first-quarter interception for a touchdown.

‘77 & ‘78 World Series?  If the Sox couldn’t advance, you bet I was pulling for the Dodgers.

Remember game 5 of the 1975 NBA finals? The triple overtime epic in the in the Boston Garden?  I was on my knees clapping for the Phoenix Suns when Gar Heard dropped that 16 footer.

And when the Rangers knocked out my Islanders in ‘79 to face the Canadiens?  Yeah, you got it.  I pulled for the Broadway Blues.

Despite all my efforts the Canadiens dispatched the Rangers 4-1 to win a fourth consecutive Cup - their 21st all-time (Montreal’s first two championships pre-date the awarding of the Stanley Cup).

The Habs climbed the NHL ladder only twice more in the next fourteen years.  With their  last championship in ‘93 (23rd overall) Montreal stood above all other professional franchises in North America.

A couple of labor disputes later and a restructuring of the NHL’s finances have since relegated the once-dominant Montreal Canadiens to a place in history.

At one time the Canadiens greatness provided a gauge for other’s to compare themselves.  Now they have become a hurdle to pass on the way to greatness.

Pickin' Splinters

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