The 1979 Montreal Canadiens continued their dynastic run and won their fourth straight Stanley Cup. But unlike previous years, the regular season and playoffs weren’t one long ode to Canadien greatness. The New York Islanders had the look of a real Cup possibility, the Boston Bruins were a strong contender and the playoff semi-finals saw Montreal pushed to the very brink of elimination.
It was the Islanders who had the best record in the league, edging the Canadiens by a point for the #1 seed in a league where the postseason was still seeded without regard to conference or division. Bryan Trottier scored 47 goals, handed out 87 assists and won the MVP award. Mike Bossy scored 69 goals and defenseman Dennis Potvin had 70 assists. The Isles were the best offense in the league, and with goaltender Glenn Resch, they had the second-best defense.
Montreal was the mirror image, first in defense with Ken Dryden still locking opponents down in goal. They were second in goals scored. Guy Lafleur had 52 goals and 77 assists and while Steve Shutt wasn’t the offensive machine he’d been in his heyday, he was still a productive scorer. Holdovers like Jacques Lemaire at center and Larry Robinson at defenseman would make Montreal a tough out.
The dynasty and the rising contender filled all the spots on the first-team All-Star unit and would be paired in opposite semi-finals.
Montreal had beaten Boston to win the previous two Cups and the Bruins now awaited one round earlier. Home ice held serve through six games, with Boston’s 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 keeping it competitive.
When the series reached Game 7, Boston took a 4-3 lead on a goal by leading scorer Rick Middleton. With less than three minutes to play, the Bruins were inexplicably hit for too many men on the ice. Lafleuer scored on the ensuing power play and Montreal won in overtime.
Over a three-year period, the Canadiens had gone from sweeping Boston (1977 Stanley Cup Finals) to winning in six (1978 Stanley Cup Finals) to surviving in overtime of Game 7. The gap between Montreal and the rest of the league was clearly narrowing.
The Islanders had to win a city rivalry with the crosstown New York Rangers, who were an offense-oriented team that lacked top goaltending. It seemed tailor-made, as the Isles could match firepower with anyone. But they lost the opener 4-1, and were tied in the series after four games. Then the Rangers came into Long Island and won 4-3, and clinched in Game 6 back in Madison Square Garden.
Montreal-NY Rangers is a matchup rich in tradition, but in 1979 it was low in suspense. The Rangers kept their momentum going in the opener with a 4-1 win, but Montreal took over and won the next four games. Only a 4-3 overtime battle in Game 4 was really close.
A fourth straight Stanley Cup was going to the 1979 Montreal Canadiens. Bob Gainey, known for his defensive skills won the Conn Smythe Award. When the season ended, Lemaire and Dryden retired, while coach Scotty Bowman moved on. The 1979 run proved to be the last hurrah for what had been a great dynasty.