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On This Date in Sports May 3, 1968: Expansion Champs

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The expansion St. Louis Blues advance to the Stanley Cup Finals with an overtime goal by Ron Schock to earn a 2-1 win in Game 7 against the Minnesota North Stars at the St. Louis Arena. The Montreal Canadiens would sweep the Blues in four straight games. The Blues were among six expansion teams in the Western Division as the NHL doubled from six to a dozen teams.

The big story for the 1967/68 season in hockey was expansion. After playing with just six teams from 1942 to 1967, the National Hockey League decided to expand, adding six new teams to bring the total to 12 teams. Instead of breaking up the expansion teams and the Original Six teams, the NHL decided to place all six expansion teams, the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and St. Louis Blues, in the Western Division. The Original Six, the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs were placed in the Eastern Division. Under the playoff format, one of the expansion teams would face one of the established teams in the Stanley Cup Finals.

The St. Louis Blues, coached by Scotty Bowman, finished their inaugural season in third place with a record of 27-32-26, as six points separated the top five teams in the Western Division. After beating the first-place Philadelphia Flyers, the Blues moved on to the Western Division Finals, where they would face the Minnesota North Stars, who finished fourth with a record of 27-32-15. The North Stars had needed seven games to beat the Los Angeles Kings in their first playoff matchup.

The Blues took Game 1 of the semifinals, 5-3, with the North Stars, winning Game 2 in overtime 3-2 on a goal by Parker MacDonald. As the series shifted to Minnesota, the North Stars exploded for five goals, taking the series lead with a 5-1 win. The North Stars continued their momentum in Game 4, taking a 3-0 lead into the third period. Facing the prospect of falling behind 3-1 in the series, the Blues scored three times in the final nine minutes, with Jimmy Roberts netting the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left. In overtime, St. Louis completed the comeback, winning 4-3 on a goal by Gary Sabourin. Game 5 in St. Louis would also go to overtime, with the Blues getting a 3-2 win on a goal by Bill McCreary Sr. Minnesota would respond with another 5-1 blowout win in Game 6, as the series went the distance. Game 7 would be a battle of the goalies as Minnesota’s Cesare Maniago and Glenn Hall of St. Louis did not allow a goal until late in the third period. First, it was Walt McKechnie giving the North Stars a 1-0 lead with 3:11 left in regulation. The Blues answered 91 seconds to time the game on a goal by Dickie Moore. The game would remain deadlocked 1-1 after on sudden death period before Ron Schock ended at 2:50 with a goal to give the Blues a 2-1 win and send them on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Blues would be swept in four straight games by the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite falling in the finals, Blue Goalie Glenn Hall won the Conn Smythe Award given to the MVP of the Postseason. The Blues would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first three seasons. Each time they were swept, twice by the Canadiens and once by the Boston Bruins, before the NHL realigned in 1970. Scotty Bowman, who got his first coaching job in St. Louis, would win the Stanley Cup nine times, as he became the NHL’s all-time winningest coach with 1,248 wins, as he coached with the Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Penguins, and Red Wings. Bowman’s Captain Al Arbour had his own successful tenure as coach, winning four straight cups with the New York Islanders.