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SI Flashback: Stanley Cup 1988

Edmonton over Boston in four games
Conn Smythe winner: Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton

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

By Austin Murphy

  May 30, 1988 May 30, 1988 Paul Bereswill
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-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 ...

Describing the blackout as "an act of God," NHL president John 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 ...

Not meant to be for the B's
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. 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.

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 ... Wayne 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, Grant 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."

They said it ...

After the game, talk of an Edmonton dynasty was in the air, but Edmonton GM and coach Glen 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."

Game "4a" earns Gretzky second Conn Smythe
The Oilers were keeping the puck in Boston's end for minutes on end. 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.

Issue date: June 6, 1988

Any way you like, Bruins
[Ed. Note: Excerpts follow from SI's coverage of the first three games, well before the lights went out went out in the Garden, but certainly in time to see that the plug had already been pulled on the Bruins.]

All else having failed, the Boston Bruins had hoped a change of rinks could save them from being blown out by the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals. That notion evanesced in Game 3 Sunday night as a surreal, Murders in the Rue Morgue mist, caused by 80 degrees temperatures in Boston Garden, swirled around the players' ankles, sometimes floating up to their waists. The Oilers dominated every aspect of play, winning 6-3 for an all-but-insurmountable 3-0 lead in the series.

"We have to play our hearts out," said Bruins coach Terry O'Reilly, anticipating Game 4 at the Garden Tuesday night. "But you have to be realistic. The Oilers haven't even been tested yet."

Edmonton had outskated the Bruins when they tried to skate, outmuscled them when they tried to grind out goals. The only remaining suspense for Wayne Gretzky and Friends was whether they would sweep the Bruins and end it all in Boston. Of the three Cups Edmonton has won in the last four seasons, none was clinched on the road.

Gretzky had helped break the monotony by showing up for practice one day in Edmonton with a Billy Idol - Brian Bosworth brush cut that left his not-so-small ears uncovered and conspicuous and his legion of followers asking, why?

"I heard it's hot in Boston Garden," answered the Great One, running a hand over the stubble on the back of his neck. "Hey, it's just a haircut." For most of 1987, Gretzky had worn a style -- short bangs, long in the back -- favored by indoor soccer players and early '80s garage bands.

Their captain's coiffure was only part of the new look the Oilers sported against the outmanned, outgunned and outclassed Bruins.
-- Austin Murphy

Issue date: May 30, 1988