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On This Date in Sports May 21, 1979: La Magnifique

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4-1 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Montreal Forum to wrap up their fourth straight Stanley Cup Championship. Bob Gainey wins the Conn Smythe as Playoff MVP. For the Canadiens it is the sixth Stanley Cup of the 1970s and 22nd overall, tying the New York Yankees for most championships in the four major sports.

The Montreal Canadiens have been a team marked by dynasties. The Canadiens have a dynasty where they won five straight Stanley Cup Championship from 1955-1960. They won four cups in six years from 1968-1973 and had three straight Stanley Cups from 1976-1978 as they entered the 1978/79 season under coach Scotty Bowman.

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The New York Rangers had a history marked by frustration, entering the 1978/79 season the Rangers had not won the Stanley Cup in nearly 40 years, the longest drought of the Original Six teams. The Rangers made a big change behind the bench luring Fred Shero away from the Philadelphia Flyers. After finishing in last place in 1978, the Rangers finished third in the Patrick Division with a record of 40-29-11. In the preliminary round, the Rangers knocked down the Los Angeles Kings in two straight games. They moved on to beat the Flyers in five games to reach the semifinals. In the semifinals, the Rangers upset the New York Islanders, who finished with the best record in the NHL in six games.

The Canadiens again were among the top teams in the NHL, winning the Norris Division with a record of 52-17-11. After a first-round bye, the Canadiens swept the Toronto Maple Leafs in four straight to reach the semifinals where they would face the archrival Boston Bruins. The Canadiens had beaten the Bruins in the previous two Stanley Cup Finals. This time around they won Game 7 in overtime 5-4, tying the game late after the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice, a penalty that would cost Boston coach Don Cherry his job.

In the opener of the Stanley Cup Finals, the upset-minded Rangers took the opener at the Montreal Forum 4-1 with goals by Steve Vickers, Ron Grechner, Phil Esposito, and Dave Maloney, as John Davidson stopped 31 of 32 shots, with Guy Lafleur providing the lone tally for Montreal. Meanwhile, Bunny Laroque was sent in the game in the second period In Game 2, the Rangers again were strong early taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Anders Hedberg and Ron Duguay. However, Montreal roared back with three goals in eight minutes by Yvon Lambert, Lafleur and Bob Gainey to take a 3-2 lead at the end of the first period. The Canadiens would get goals by Steve Shutt, Jacques Lemaire, and Mark Napier to win the game 6-2 to even the series.

As the series shifted to Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were the talk of the town. However, Montreal dominated Game 3, winning 4-1 as they got goals by Shutt, Doug Risebrough, Mario Tremblay and Lemaire, while Ron Duguay provided the lone score for the Blueshirts. In Game 4, the Rangers looked to even the series as they got an early goal from Pat Hickey. However, the Habs scored 70 seconds later to tie the game on a goal by Rejan Houle. Don Murdock scored late in the first to put New York up 2-1, while the Canadiens again tied the game with a goal by Yvon Lambert. Every time the Rangers scored, the Canadiens answered as Gainey and Esposito each scored in the third period with the game tied at the end of regulation 3-3. In overtime, it would take Montreal 7:25 to win game 4-3 on a goal by Serge Savard.

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In Game 5 back in Montreal it was all Canadiens, as Jacques Lemaire scored twice, while Rick Chawtraw and Conn Smythe winner Bob Gainey added goals of their own for a 4-1 final score. Carol Vadnais scored New York’s lone goal as the Canadiens limited the Rangers to 15 shots.

The Canadiens dynasty would come to an end after the game as Yvon Cournier, Jacques Lemaire and Ken Dryden al retired, while Scotty Bowman left to become General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers, meanwhile, would not return to the Stanley Cup Finals for another 15 years, but their newfound popularity did give them a chance to make some of the most laughable cringe-worthy commercials ever made.