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BLACKOUT TO SHUTOUT
Austin Murphy
June 06, 1988
Edmonton swept Boston to win its fourth Stanley Cup and close the book on a most bizarre playoff season
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June 06, 1988

Blackout To Shutout

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

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JOB INSECURITY
In the turbulent '80s, 302 coaches or managers have left jobs--fired, usually--in the major team sports. Each figure below represents one of the departed.

*1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

NHL
(21 teams)

14

14

12

10

11

9

8

13

TO DATE
7

NBA
(23 teams)

8

5

8

10

4

6

8

9

8

BASEBALL
(26 teams)

15

11

13

10

12

11

13

7

3

NFL
(28 teams)

4

2

11

4

7

7

6

2

?

TOTAL

41

32

44

34

34

33

35

31

18

* For NBA and NHL, year in which season ended, e.g., 1979-80

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-(and-??)-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.

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. Wayne 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.

After huddling with the owners and general managers of both teams, the NHL's elusive president, John Ziegler, who was at the game, issued a statement. Describing the blackout as "an act of God," 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, but not before Boston's grand old dame of Causeway Street came in for some heavy abuse. Oilers general manager and coach Glen Sather was foremost among the critics, which struck some as ungracious. The Garden was his home ice for two of his 10 seasons as a player. Further, the cancellation of Game 4 was a break for his team. Because of it 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. They did, however, momentarily deviate from what Edmonton defenseman Kevin Lowe described as the "cerebral" game the Oilers had been playing in the finals. Halfway through the first period Edmonton's Mark Messier slashed Boston's Craig Janney on the left elbow while the Bruins were on a power play. Ken Linseman scored easily for the Bruins on the ensuing five-on-three, and the Oilers trailed 2-1.

But Edmonton soon reestablished its dominance. With five minutes remaining in the first period, left wing Esa Tikkanen tied the score with a garbage goal. Then early in the second period, with the Bruin defensemen nowhere to be found, forward Mike Krushelnyski converted center Kevin McClelland's feed from behind the net to put Edmonton ahead 3-2.

The Oilers were keeping the puck in Boston's end for minutes on end. Edmonton goaltender Grant 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.

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