Penguins: Echoes of '71 Habs?

When the Pittsburgh Penguins drew the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final for a second consecutive year, it was irresistible for some hockey pundits to think of 1984.
The Pittsburgh Penguins could become the first team since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to win Game 7 of Stanley Cup final as a road team. ((Keith Srakocic/Associated Press))

When the Pittsburgh Penguins drew the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final for a second consecutive year, it was irresistible for some hockey pundits to think of 1984.

No, nothing to do with George Orwell's classic novel published 60 years ago this week, but rather the Edmonton Oilers-New York Islanders championship series of 25 years ago.

After all, Detroit-Pittsburgh was the first repeat Stanley Cup pairing since the Oilers-Isles, and the general framework was similar — grizzled veteran champions with talent and depth looking to set aside for a second consecutive year a club with precocious superstars looking to take the next step.

The fact that it was a nice, round quarter-century ago helps, making the comparison a little less arbitrary.

Should Pittsburgh prevail in Game 7 on Friday night, some will take the comparison the full mile. The Penguins, like the Oilers, will have exacted revenge on their nemesis for the first Stanley Cup championship for most players on the team.

But another series might be more fitting should the Penguins win: the 1971 Stanley Cup final.

It's certainly not something the players remember first hand. Only forward Bill Guerin and coach Dan Bylsma were even alive at the time, each born earlier that season.

Pens mirroring Hab's run

The Penguins are looking to become the first team since the '71 Montreal Canadiens to win Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final as a road team. Since that time, six other road teams have failed to accomplish the feat.

Head coach Dan Bylsma has been an unlikely spark for the Penguins this season. ((Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press))
Like the Penguins, those Canadiens trailed 3-2 in the series. The Canadiens found themselves in that position after a Game 5 in which they were shut out, just like Pittsburgh this year.

Both clubs were not the consensus favourite to emerge from the East and challenge for the championship in the first place. Each finished in the middle of the teams that qualified for the playoffs, with the Boston Bruins finishing first in the East in both cases.

Bylsma has been an unlikely spark for this year's Penguins. He replaced Michel Therrien in February and since that time has posted a gaudy 33-11-4 mark.

By now you might know where this is headed. Bylsma has a chance to become only the second coach to hop on an eventual champion midstream, the first since Al MacNeil of the 1971 Montreal Canadiens.

Sure, there are dissimilarities between this year's Penguins and the last championship club in the remarkable career of Montreal captain Jean Beliveau. The Blackhawks, though mighty impressive like the Red Wings, were not the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Dryden driving force

As well, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is not a rookie sensation like Ken Dryden. It should be noted however that Fleury is a "Flower", just like a certain future superstar Montreal took with the No. 1 overall draft pick just a few weeks later during that wonderful spring of 1971.

As a rookie goaltending sensation, Ken Dryden, right, guided the Canadiens through some final tense moments of the '71 Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks. ((Associated Press))
Bylsma also didn't have to endure anything like what MacNeil went through.

Forgotten in the afterglow of the Habs' victory was the fact Henri Richard — he of the record 11 career Cup wins — called MacNeil "incompetent" after he was benched by the coach earlier in the series following a costly penalty.

Bylsma was no doubt criticized by some fans in Pittsburgh after a Game 5 drubbing, but MacNeil needed extra security for Game 6 in the Forum after someone phoned in an anonymous death threat. Kind of makes the rough ride Habs goalie Carey Price got earlier this spring from the home fans look tame.

Of course, you could probably find as many points of difference with the Oilers-Islanders series if you looked hard enough.

Is there anything the Penguins can learn specifically about Game 7 from their possible historic forbearers?

For starters, don't despair if trailing 2-0, as the game could very well be tied up by the end of the second period.

The potential Cup winning goal could come from an unlikely source (in Montreal's case, Richard fully emerged from the doghouse). Should the Penguins find themselves with the lead in the third they may not want to emulate the Canadiens in one regard, as Montreal relied heavily on Dryden in some tense final minutes.

Or Pittsburgh could just put its own unique spin on things altogether.

Orwell's book, of course, dealt with doublespeak. 1971, 1984 … as long as it's not a double letdown, the Penguins will no doubt care less.