For the third straight year, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, and there was no doubt they were the best team. Although unlike the previous two years, Montreal had to at least sweat out the Boston Bruins in the finals of the 1978 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Canadiens finished 16 points ahead of second-place Boston in the league’s overall standings. Guy Lafleur scored 60 goals and passed for 72 assists, winning the MVP for the second consecutive season. Defenseman Larry Robinson would join Lafleur as a first-team All-Star. Future Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden was again the best at his position. Montreal barreled through two playoff opponents with a combined record of 8-1 to get to the Finals.
It was not a foregone conclusion that Boston would be the opponent in a rematch of the 1977 Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins were only two points ahead of the New York Islanders, who had the core of talent just a couple years away from becoming a dynasty themselves.
Clark Gillies, with 35 goals and 50 assists was a first-team All-Star, and he was one of six players that scored 30-plus goals in an offensive attack second only to Montreal’s. Glenn Resch gave New York a great goaltender and they had the look of a team ready to be Montreal’s dance partner in the Finals.
In the quarterfinals, the Isles were paired up with Toronto, a pretty good team, but also well behind the pace set the league’s best five teams (also including the Buffalo Sabres and Philadelphia Flyers). The Leafs relied on an offense that was top-heavy, with 40-plus goal scorers in Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald, but little depth to the attack. When New York took the first two games at home, it seemed par for the course.
Toronto turned it around and won two games at home. The home teams traded wins in Games 5 & 6, but then in Game 7, home team magic finally ran out. It went to overtime and Toronto pulled out a 2-1 win. New York, with players like 21-year-old center Bryan Trottier and forward Mike Bossy, was on their way to greatness. But they would wait their turn.
The Smythe Division, filled with teams mostly from the Midwest, was awful. Its champion was not a serious title contender and the Chicago Blackhawks of 1978 were no exception. Their veteran goaltender, 34-year-old Tony Esposito could still get it done and was the reason the Blackhawks won the division, but the lack of offense kept them 8th-best in the league.
Just how far Chicago was removed from being a true contender was shown when Boston administered a four-game sweep in the quarterfinals, with only two of the games being close.
After Boston rolled Philadelphia in five games, they had their shot at the champs. The Bruins didn’t have a great offensive player, but the offense was balanced and defenseman Brad Park was a first-team All-Star. Still, when they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in Game 2, to make it six straight Finals losses to Montreal, it looked like another year to break out the brooms.
Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers delivered a shutout in Game 3 though, a 4-0 win. Then late in Game 4, trailing 3-2, Park stuck in the game-tying goal and Boston won in overtime. Montreal won Game 5, but Parks scored the opening goal in Game 6 back in the Garden to give hope.
Alas, the Canadiens did what great teams do and that’s snuff out hope. Dryden didn’t allow another goal and Montreal sealed a third straight Cup with a 4-1 win. Robinson took home the Conn Smythe Award as MVP of the 1978 Stanley Cup playoffs. The dynasty thundered on.