(Montreal) Within a month, at most, we will know if the surprising performances of the Boston Bruins in 2022-23 will allow them to relegate to oblivion the records of the Montreal Canadiens established in 1976-77 and which seemed untouchable. If they ever accomplish such a feat, the Bruins players will have all the admiration of some of the pillars of the Habs of the time. In fact, they already have it.
“I think the Bruins are having a phenomenal season. Credit must be given to General Manager Don Sweeney. I think [goalkeeper Linus] Ullmark really makes a big difference with that team,” said Mario Tremblay, a Canadiens color holder in 1976-77, now an analyst at Réseau des Sports.
“It’s a club that doesn’t have many weaknesses. [The Bruins] are successful because they are good, because they have a good team spirit, like we had, and because the guys have fun playing together, ”adds Tremblay.
Since the expansion of 1967-68, the benchmark season in the NHL is the one the Canadiens had in 1976-77. This extraordinary team is once again in the news courtesy of the Bruins, the same organization that delivered so many epic duels to the Habs during the 1970s.
Lafleur, defenseman Larry Robinson, goaltender Ken Dryden and left winger Steve Shutt were all first-team all-stars.
In addition to a host of individual honours, the Canadiens had won the Stanley Cup, of course, in 14 games (12-2).
“Our successes went beyond individual [player] talent. It was the chemistry, “said Robinson, one of the famous “Big Three” members on the Canadiens blue line with Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe.
“From 1976 to 1979, these teams were as close as family. Not just the players; wives, children, everyone. We liked being together. We used to have parties on Halloween or Christmas. Everyone was always there, and everyone enjoyed each other’s company,” Robinson said.
Despite three losses in their last four outings, the Bruins (50-11-5 – 105 points) held a comfortable lead atop the NHL standings on Wednesday morning and posted a .796 save percentage.
In that 64th game, they became the first NHL team to secure a playoff berth.
Mathematically, the Bruins could end the season with 66 wins, four more than the mark held by the Detroit Red Wings (1995-96) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (2018-19) – both in 82 games –, and 137 points, for an efficiency rating of .835.
“No one would have predicted at the start of the year that the Boston Bruins would lead the National League, that they could tie or break our team’s record from 1976,” notes Savard.
“I don’t follow [the league] closely enough to be able to assess the teams at the start of the year and then know the weaknesses and the strengths as well as in the time when I was well involved. But I think the Bruins are showing that they probably have the best working method. It is the greatest achievement of the National League. […] To win, you have to play as a team, because it is not an individual sport, it is a team sport. Boston is perhaps the team that does best what we did, ”adds the man who was general manager of the Canadiens from 1983 to 1995.
In addition to talent and chemistry, the Canadiens of 1976-77 – like the edition of the previous season and the one to follow – had this ability to direct all their energies towards the only target that really mattered: the ultimate victory. .
“Before the start of the season, our goal was not to make the playoffs, but to win the Stanley Cup. And if we had a result lower than that, it was not a good season,” said Robinson.
Captain of the sensational 1976-77 edition, Yvan Cournoyer saw in each victory a source of motivation and energy.
“Every game was important, and it was a challenge for us to go for the win, because it’s an encouragement. The more we win, the more we want to win. And that’s why, I think we only lost eight games.
“It’s demanding, but you don’t notice it. When we win, we are not tired. When we lose, we are very tired, “illustrates Cournoyer.
When he looks back on this glorious era, Ken Dryden dwells in particular on a feeling of emulation that was attached to the rich past of the team and which pushed the players to always want to be better.
“When you were playing in Montreal at that particular time, you had the pressure of playing in Montreal and the successes and accomplishments of the Montreal Canadiens since the mid-1950s. We were part of a history that spanned over two decades. So it was part of our hope and expectation, [of] the fans, the media, the coaches, the managers and the owners, that this is what we had to achieve. And so, in reality, we were always playing against ourselves in addition to playing against the rest of the league. I think that helped us a lot. »
“I think what we’re most proud of is how we’ve done what we’ve done as a team over these years,” said Dryden, who considers himself absolutely privileged to have is part of such training.
“It’s in the hands of the Bruins,” adds the former number 29 of the Habs. If they end up achieving those goals, good for them. Just as we were happy to do what we did. It will be an extraordinary success. It’s in their hands, as it is in the hands of any team, and as it was in our hands. We just have to watch and enjoy. »
Savard is of the same opinion.
“If Boston breaks [Canadian records], you shake hands and say, ‘That’s a feat.’ »
“A record is not yours for life. It’s yours until someone comes and beats it. And that won’t take away the credit for four [consecutive] Stanley Cups and losing only eight games. »