It was a year of change in the 1980 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty ended. The postseason expanded to 16 teams and allowed the Edmonton Oilers, with their 18-year-old star Wayne Gretzky to get in the playoffs. And the New York Islanders won their first Stanley Cup.
Gretzky broke into the league with 51 goals and 86 assists, as the Oilers scraped into the playoffs as the #16 seed. The bracket was not seeded with regard to conference, and though Edmonton was swept out by the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, Gretzky won the Hart Trophy and began the league’s greatest career.
Montreal dealt with coaching transition and wasn’t as loaded as in recent years. They still had Guy Lafleur scoring 50 goals, Steve Shutt adding 47 and center Pierre LaRouche scoring 50. The Canadiens were still the #3 seed. But their dynasty came to a shocking end in the quarterfinals.
The Minnesota North Stars, led by Al McFadden and Steve Payne on the wings, came to Montreal and won the first two games. Montreal won the next three, but the North Stars grabbed Game 6, and then with the seventh game tied 2-2, McFadden put in a rebound shot with 1:26 left that ended the dynasty.
The Islanders actually had better teams the previous two years. The offensive depth wasn’t as strong in 1980, but Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy could play with anybody, and the defense was fourth in the league.
New York reached the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals against Philadelphia. The Flyers got 50 goals from Reggie Leach, and good years from Bill Barber, Brian Propp, and great passing from Bobby Clarke. 22-year-old Pete Peeters was in goal.
New York took the opener in overtime, when Denis Potvin scored the game-winner. Philadelphia exploded for eight goals and a win in Game 2, but the Islanders followed with decisive wins in Games 3 & 4. Philadelphia won Game 5.
Then on Saturday afternoon in Nassau Coliseum, Game 6 went to overtime at 4-4. The Isles’ John Tonelli fired a shot, Bob Nystrom redirected it and the puck found the back of the net. The 1980 New York Islanders had the Stanley Cup and as it turned out, they were just getting started.