The 1977 Montreal Canadiens were the best of the four consecutive Stanley Cup winners that the franchise produced from 1976-79. In fact, the ’77 Canadiens were the best team in the modern era of the NHL and quite possibly the best hockey team of all time.
Montreal led the NHL in both scoring and defense, both by a wide margin. They had four first-team All-Stars, including the league MVP (Guy Lafleur), the top goalie (Ken Dryden) and the NHL’s leading goal-scorer (Steve Shutt). Defenseman Larry Robinson, a future Hall of Famer himself, was the fourth and the other defenseman, Guy Lapointe was a 2nd-team All-Star.
The only frontline player not to be a 1st or 2nd-team All-Star was center Jacques Lemaire, and he merely stepped in the Stanley Cup Finals to score three game-winning goals, including an overtime goal that won the Cup. Every last aspect of the Montreal team operated at the highest level.
Head coach Scotty Bowman led this team to a 60-8-1 regular season record and the 132 points were a new record.
The structure of the NHL playoffs at the time allowed 12 of the league’s 18 teams into the postseason, which was then seeded without regard to conference affiliation. Montreal was, quite naturally, the #1 seed, got a bye in the preliminary round and then drew the St. Louis Blues in the quarterfinals.
Montreal easily overmatched St. Louis, whose best scorer, Garry Unger, would have been about the seventh-best player on the Canadiens. The Blues were a sub-.500 team and Montreal quickly set the tone of the series with a 7-2 win. They cruised home with three more easy wins.
The semifinals were a rematch with the New York Islanders. One year earlier, the Canadiens had faced the Isles in this round and the five-game series marked the only time Montreal lost a game in the postseason.
New York was an up-and-coming force, with 22-year-old defenseman Denis Potvin joining Robinson as the All-Star defensemen. Potvin, along with Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies, would be key parts of a team that would eventually become a dynasty of their own.
Goaltender Glenn Resch, with his 2.28 goals-against-average (GAA) was one of the few netminders in the league who could hold a candle to the great Dryden. The Islanders finished the regular season at 47-21-2 and had swept their way into this battle with Montreal.
The Canadiens defended home ice, with wins over 4-3 and 3-0 before they again had their postseason winning streak ended by the Islanders in Game 3. Dryden delivered a 4-0 shutout in Game 4, but New York came back to win Game 5 in overtime. Montreal closed it out in Game 6, but it was fair to wonder if the Islanders had exposed any cracks that might open in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Montreal would face rival Boston, with two decent scorers in Jean Ratelle and Peter McNabb, along with a top defenseman in Brad Parks. But Gerry Cheevers was nowhere close to Dryden as a goaltender and the Bruins would not challenge the Canadiens in the same way the Islanders had.
A seven-goal outburst gave Montreal a 7-3 win to start the Finals and then it was Dryden time. He held Boston to three goals in the next three games. Cheevers hung in as best he could, but the talent disparity was too much. The Canadiens won 3-0 and 4-2, before going to overtime in Game 4 tied at 1-1. Lemaire then scored the goal that won Montreal’s second straight Stanley Cup.
Lafleur scored nine goals and dished seventeen assists over the three playoff rounds and won the Conn Smythe Award, given to the MVP of the entire postseason. Lemaire had seven goals and 12 assists, while Shutt lit the lamp eight times. Dryden, whose regular season GAA had been a sterling 2.14, was even better in the playoffs. The postseason GAA was 1.55, and he should have won the Conn Smythe.
No matter who won the awards, the 1977 Montreal Canadiens were an all-time great team and with their second straight Stanley Cup, they were only halfway done on the developing dynasty.