The 1985 Edmonton Oilers Go Back-To-Back
Once Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers figured out how to finish the job and win a Stanley Cup in 1984, the building of a dynasty was a natural second step. The 1985 Edmonton Oilers rolled to the top record in the Campbell Conference (the West) and Gretzky won his seventh MVP award in his seventh season in the league. His 73 goals and 135 assists keyed the best offense in the NHL.
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Gretzky wasn’t without some talented assistance. Jari Kurri, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, scored 71 goals, second-best in the league behind Gretzky. Paul Coffey was a top defenseman and dished out 84 assists from the back line, again second only to Gretzky. Mark Messier was a contributor at center, and Glen Anderson was the same on the wing.
The defense wasn’t great, ranking eighth in a 21-team NHL, but with 22-year-old Grant Fuhr in net, it was good enough to win games backed by an attack like this.
Edmonton came roaring out of the gate and started the season 12-0-03. They were 25-7-4 by New Year’s, with the only fly in the ointment coming from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Oilers lost twice to the Flyers, who were en route to the best record in the NHL, and gave up 12 goals in the two games.
But an eight-game winning streak in January set Edmonton comfortably ahead its brethren in the Smythe Division (the Pacific) and the conference. They were 43-13-7 at the end of February before closing the season on a spotty note, going 6-7-4. The Oilers were still better than every team except the Flyers, whom they were now on a collision course with.
The playoffs opened against the Los Angeles Kings. A team that relied mostly on outscoring people, the Kings had one of the great centers of the era in Marcel Dionne. He was one of three 40-plus goal scorers, along with Bernie Nicholls and Dave Taylor. They had gone 34-32-14 during the season, held back by poor defense.
Edmonton had surprising trouble generating offense in this series, which could have spelled trouble. Fortunately, they got good play from Fuhr and kept winning close games. A 3-2 overtime win opened the postseason and it was followed by a 4-2 victory. Edmonton went to Los Angeles and closed out what was then a best-of-five round with an overtime win, this one 4-3.
Winnipeg, with a record of 43-27-10 was next in the Division Finals—the NHL simply took the top four teams from each division and seeded them 1 thru 4—and the Jets were a team similar in profile to the Kings. They had a great offense, third-best in the NHL, and a talented center. Dale Hawerchuk scored 53 goals and 77 assists, and was 2nd-team all NHL. Paul MacLean, a future Coach of the Year in Ottawa, scored 41 goals for Winnipeg in 1985.
The problem with being all about offense and relying on your center is when you go against another team that has even better offense and a better center. Gretzky led the way to another series sweep. Edmonton took the opening two games at home, 4-2 and 5-2. A 5-4 road win all but sealed the series and the offense finally really unloaded in Game 4, an 8-3 rout.
Edmonton faced Chicago in the conference finals. The Blackhawks had gone 38-35-7, were middle of the league both offensively and defensively and the product of a weak Norris (the Midwest) Division. Their best player was Steve Larmer, who scored 46 goals. And their only lasting legacy was 18-year-old Ed Olczyk, who is now the sport’s top TV analyst for NBC Sports Network.
The series appeared to be a complete mismatch and when Edmonton blasted Chicago 11-2 and 7-3 in the first two games, no one had reason to think otherwise. Then the Blackhawks turned the tables and took the middle games back at old Chicago Stadium, winning 5-2 and 8-6. Were Edmonton’s defensive deficiencies catching up with them?
Not when you can score ten goals in a game, as the Oilers did in a Game 5, winning 10-5. They then played a complete game in closing out the series in Game 6, 8-2.
Now it was time for the Finals showdown with Philadelphia. The Flyers had a good offense. Tim Kerr scored 54 goals, Brian Propp scored 43 and they were fourth-best in the NHL. Still not in Edmonton’s class, but this time the Oilers had an opponent that could play defense. Philly was third in the league in goal prevention, with Pelle Lindberg a superior netminder to Fuhr.
If you thought this was the series that Edmonton would finally come up short, there were plenty of facts to back you up. Particularly when Philadelphia controlled its home ice in Game 1 and won 4-1.
Then Edmonton showed it could win a low-scoring game, with a 3-1 win in Game 2. They took control of the series at home, winning 4-3 and 5-3. Gretzky couldn’t be stopped by anyone. For the postseason, he finished with 17 goals and 30 assists. And one more time, his team unloaded in a clinching situation, blasting the Flyers 8-3 to win Game 5 and a second straight Stanley Cup.
Gretzky was an easy choice for the Conn Smythe Award. And with back-to-back Stanley Cups, his team was now more than a champion—they were on their way to becoming a dynasty.