BLACKOUT TO SHUTOUT

Edmonton swept Boston to win its fourth Stanley Cup and close the book on a most bizarre playoff season
June 05, 1988

The Sporting Aphorism "I'd rather be lucky than good" implies that you can be only one or the other. Because they were both, the Edmonton Oilers found themselves drinking bubbly out of the Stanley Cup last week for the fourth time in five years. The Oilers' 6-3 win on Thursday night completed their four-(and-⅖?)-game sweep of the Boston Bruins and ended a bizarre NHL postseason that included unusually rancorous relations between coaches and officials, insubordinate clubs, striking zebras, an AWOL president, indoor fog banks and a blackout.

Ah, yes, the blackout. The teams were 37 minutes into Game 4 on May 24, the score was tied at 3-3, and on this night Boston looked capable of filching a game from Edmonton. Wayne Gretzky seemed merely human—he had turned the puck over for Boston's second goal—and the pea soup in the Boston Garden was proving to be a better equalizer than any meddlesome referee. Then suddenly, poof! A 4,000-volt switch overloaded, and the 59-year-old building went black.

After huddling with the owners and general managers of both teams, the NHL's elusive president, John Ziegler, who was at the game, issued a statement. Describing the blackout as "an act of God," Ziegler said he could do nothing "but follow our bylaws." By that he meant NHL bylaw 27-12, which stipulates that in such an emergency the game must be replayed in its entirety at the end of the series, if necessary.

So the weary caravans repaired to Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum, a clean, well-lighted place on top of the world, but not before Boston's grand old dame of Causeway Street came in for some heavy abuse. Oilers general manager and coach Glen Sather was foremost among the critics, which struck some as ungracious. The Garden was his home ice for two of his 10 seasons as a player. Further, the cancellation of Game 4 was a break for his team. Because of it the Oilers ended up playing three of the first four games at home, where, as Sather pointed out, the ice is hard, the electricity is reliable, and fog is seldom a problem.

Game 5—some called it Game 4a—was more coronation than competition as the Oilers resumed their clinic on methodical, disciplined hockey. They did, however, momentarily deviate from what Edmonton defenseman Kevin Lowe described as the "cerebral" game the Oilers had been playing in the finals. Halfway through the first period Edmonton's Mark Messier slashed Boston's Craig Janney on the left elbow while the Bruins were on a power play. Ken Linseman scored easily for the Bruins on the ensuing five-on-three, and the Oilers trailed 2-1.

But Edmonton soon reestablished its dominance. With five minutes remaining in the first period, left wing Esa Tikkanen tied the score with a garbage goal. Then early in the second period, with the Bruin defensemen nowhere to be found, forward Mike Krushelnyski converted center Kevin McClelland's feed from behind the net to put Edmonton ahead 3-2.

The Oilers were keeping the puck in Boston's end for minutes on end. Edmonton goaltender Grant Fuhr was getting less and less work, and Bruins goalie Andy Moog was suddenly very busy. At 9:44 of the period, Gretzky stopped a 50-foot bullet pass with his right skate and lifted the puck into a rather unguarded net. Score: 4-2 Oilers.

Then came the assist of the series.

With 10 seconds remaining in the period, Gretzky carried the puck out of the Bruins' zone. As he crossed the red line, he checked the clock. Eight seconds. "Shoot, shoot," the crowd screamed. He cut a hard right at the blue line, cocked the hammer—"Shoot, shoot," his teammates shouted—and put the puck on the stick of forward Craig Simpson, who had driven the slot. Simpson deftly deflected the puck under Moog. Score: 5-2. Time left in the period: 00:02. The Bruins' chances: 0.

"Gretzky's really going to be something when he matures," deadpanned Boston coach Terry O'Reilly.

After the game, talk of an Edmonton dynasty was in the air, but Sather would have none of it. "It makes it sound like you're bragging," he said. "When I think of dynasty, I think of Ming."

Sather doesn't want to say anything that will end up on an opponent's bulletin board next season. In truth, though, there's every reason to expect the Oilers to make it three straight Cups—and five in six seasons. Fuhr, the best net-minder in the world, is 25. The average age of the forwards on Edmonton's top two lines—which happen to be the two best lines in the NHL—is 25. None of those six forwards is older than 28. Should Dr. Randy Gregg, one of Sather's six defensemen, retire to take up medicine, the Oilers can call upon junior league star Chris Joseph. Joseph, 18, was one of four players Pittsburgh gave Edmonton in the Paul Coffey deal of last November. Another was Simpson, 21, who scored 56 goals this season. Like it or not, Sather will have to get over his distaste for dynasties as a topic of conversation, because he has been making all the moves needed to create one.

The Edmonton players glowed, but with a more understated joy than they had after their previous Cup victories. Lowe, the three cracked ribs he had played with the past six weeks still wrapped, stood in one corner, an arm around his mother. Jessie. "For us older dogs it's nice to always be winning," he said. "It's fun to see the smiles on some of these younger guys' faces, too." During the on-ice celebration, it was the 29-year-old Lowe who had skated the Cup over to the players who had not dressed for the game, to let them hoist it for a while.

Gretzky was on the sofa in the coach's office sipping a beer, reflecting on the events of a remarkable year—the win over the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1987 Stanley Cup finals and now this one over the Bruins, the victory over the Soviet Union in the Canada Cup, a knee injury, an eye injury, losing the regular-season scoring title for the first time in eight years, his engagement to actress Janet Jones, his second Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. How would he top this year? "Maybe I won't even try." he said, smiling.

Meanwhile, Fuhr sat in his long underwear in the weight room on the seat of the Nautilus double-shoulder machine, a kind of impromptu throne, and let the party play out around him. With a grin frozen on his face, he spoke the words the rest of the NHL probably didn't need to hear: "I could get used to this."

PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHOJones tipped the Cup toward Gretzky so that her betrothed could really taste victory. PHOTOBRUCE BENNETTBy Game 4a, Moe Lemay & Co. were all but down for the 10 count against Fuhr & Co. PHOTOPAUL BERESWILLFuhr says that he could "get used to" making saves that help to win Stanley Cups.

JOB INSECURITY
In the turbulent '80s, 302 coaches or managers have left jobs--fired, usually--in the major team sports. Each figure below represents one of the departed.

*1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

NHL
(21 teams)

14

14

12

10

11

9

8

13

TO DATE
7

NBA
(23 teams)

8

5

8

10

4

6

8

9

8

BASEBALL
(26 teams)

15

11

13

10

12

11

13

7

3

NFL
(28 teams)

4

2

11

4

7

7

6

2

?

TOTAL

41

32

44

34

34

33

35

31

18

* For NBA and NHL, year in which season ended, e.g., 1979-80

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)