On This Date in Sports May 24, 1988: Blackout Wipeout
Looking for their fourth Stanley Cup in five years, the Edmonton Oilers have to battle rough playing conditions at the Boston Garden as they look to complete a four-game sweep of the Boston Bruins. Heat and humidity created foggy conditions on the ice; shortly after the game was tied by the Oilers 3-3 in the second period, a total power failure caused the rest of the game to be canceled.
It was the height of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty; except for a fluky loss in the 1986 Smythe Division Finals to the Calgary Flames, the Oilers were unstoppable in the postseason. After winning the Stanley Cup three times in four years, the Oilers, coached by Glenn Sather, had some difficulty in the regular season, as they failed to win the Division Title in the regular season while posting a record of 44-25-11, which had them finish six points behind the Flames. It was another great year for Wayne Gretzky, who finished with 40 goals and 109 assists but lost the scoring title to Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who also ended Gretzky’s streak of eight straight Hart Trophies as the NHL’s MVP.
The playoffs were when the season began for the defending champion Edmonton Oilers. In the first round, they made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets, winning in five games, losing just Game 4, while looking for the sweep. In the Smythe Division Finals, they made their biggest statement yet in the battle for Alberta, sweeping the Calgary Flames in four straight games as they scored 18 goals. In the Campbell Conference Finals, the Oilers dominated the Detroit Red Wings, winning the first three games, before suffering a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4. The Oilers would win the series in five with an 8-4 win at the Northlands Coliseum.
It had been a special year for the Boston Bruins coached by Terry O’Reilly as they finished second in the Norris Division with a record of 44-30-6. In the first round, they needed six games to beat the Buffalo Sabres to set up a matchup with the archrival Montreal Canadiens. It was the fifth straight season the teams met in the playoffs and the 23rd overall. The Canadiens had won 18 consecutive postseason series against the Bruins going back to 1943. This time, however, it was all Boston as they exorcised their big demon, beating the Habs in five games. The Bruins would go on to beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games in the Wales Conference Finals.
The Stanley Cup Finals saw the Edmonton Oilers fight through the Bruins' defense to win the opener 2-1 as they got goals from Wayne Gretzky and Keith Acton as Cam Neely scored for Boston. In Game 2, the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier. The Bruins fought back to tie the game in the third period on goals by Bob Joyce and Ken Linseman. However, the Great One answered to make it 3-2 as Jari Kurri added an empty-netter for a 4-2 winning score. As the series shifted to Boston, the Bruins faced the full force of the Oilers' attack, losing 6-3 as Esa Tikkanen had a Hat Trick while Wayne Gretzky had four assists.
The Oilers entered a Game 4 looking for a sweep as the Bruins hoped to avoid watching the celebration on their ice. It had been a hot and humid day in Boston, and the cooling systems at the Boston Garden were under duress. The ice was slushy from the start as steam from the melting ice left the playing surface in a fog. The Bruins were caught off guard early as Glenn Anderson scored the quickest goal in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals at ten seconds. Esa Tikkanen later gave the Oilers a 2-0 lead, but Boston managed to answer on a goal by Greg Hawgood.
The Bruins would grab their first lead on the series in the second period on a pair of goals by Glenn Wesley. The Oilers would answer with 3:23 left in the period as Craig Simpson scored to tie the score 3-3. As Simpson and his team celebrated, everything went dark. Outside the Boston Garden, a transformer blew, causing a complete power outage. With the ice surface continuing to melt and the fans evacuated, a decision was made to cancel the game. All the game statistics would count, but the tie would not. The series continued as scheduled, with Game 5 in Edmonton, Game 6 in Boston, and Game 7 in Edmonton. If the Bruins battled back to even the series, Game 4 would have been made up and been the series-deciding at the Boston Garden.
In Game 5 at the Northlands Coliseum two days later, Steve Kasper gave the Bruins a glimmer of hope scoring 43 seconds into the first period. After Normand Lacombe answered for Edmonton, Ken Linesman again gave the Bruins a lead, but Esa Tikkanen continued to pester the Bruins, tying the game 2-2 at the end of the first period. The second period was all Edmonton as the Oilers scored three times on scores from Mike Krushelnyski, Wayne Gretzky, and Craig Simpson. The Oilers added a goal from Tikkanen in the third as Kasper scored the second goal, with the Oilers winning 6-3 to clinch the Stanley Cup.
The Oilers' fourth Stanley Cup in five years would be the end of an era as Wayne Gretzky, the Conn Smythe winner as Playoff MVP, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in a shocking deal that would forever change the landscape of the NHL three months later.