The real core is Smith, the No. 1 draft pick in 1978; he scored 74 points in 1978-79 and was voted Rookie of the Year. Steve Payne, Smith's left wing, was a second-round choice that year, as were Forward Steve Christoff, late of the U.S. Olympic team, and Defenseman Curt Giles. Payne scored 42 goals this season, while Christoff had 15 points in the 20 games he played for Minnesota after Lake Placid. Wing Tom McCarthy and Defenseman Craig Hartsburg were the top picks in 1979; both play regularly.
The North Stars acquired added stock when the NHL merged the folding Cleveland Barons with Minnesota before the 1978-79 season. The principal additions: MacAdam, Defenseman Paul Shmyr and Goalies Gilles Meloche and Gary Edwards. MacAdam led Minnesota in scoring this year with 93 points while playing on a line with Smith and Payne. He is one of few Stars who has been the Stanley Cup route before. He played one game in Philadelphia's 1974 Cup win and thereby has a Stanley Cup ring. But he refuses to wear it, saying, "It doesn't mean anything. I haven't earned it."
Meloche not only doesn't own a ring, but he also never had been in the playoffs until this spring. A first-rate goalie for 10 NHL seasons, most of them with the likes of Cleveland and California, both now defunct, Meloche responded by shutting out Montreal in Game 1, in his hometown. In Game 7, Meloche wandered out of the crease regularly, at times playing backup defenseman, while blocking 22 of 24 shots. Even under the severe pressure, Meloche seemed to be enjoying himself.
For his counterpart, Herron, however, it was nightmare city. Herron looked like an out-of-whack windmill, nervously flailing at North Star shots and one-handing one too many. After Montreal's Mark Napier scored the game's first goal, Herron inadvertently let Minnesota back in the game. While McCarthy sat out an interference penalty, Minnesota sent the puck into the Canadiens' end and Herron eagerly came out of his cage to sweep it to a teammate. But his pass bounced off one of his own goalposts, and Minnesota's Tom Younghans backhanded it into the empty net. "It was an unfortunate play for Herron, but it definitely turned things around for us," said Smith. "You hate to see one guy accept responsibility for such a play."
Herron knew, though. He sagged to the ice, struck his stick against the surface and scarcely roamed from his doorstep again. Hartsburg put Minnesota ahead 2-1 in the second period, but even after Montreal's Rod Langway scored a third-period goal to tie the game, the North Stars kept skating.
"When I said I was anxious to play Montreal, I was laughed at," says Nanne. "But they're such a good skating club, and we're such a good skating club, I wanted to prove we could keep up with them. Even if we hadn't beaten them, just playing Montreal's game would have given us credibility."
Before Sunday's game there was speculation that Lafleur would suit up and, if nothing else, sit on the bench as an inspiration to his teammates. But he did not. "If I were 35 and in the last year of my contract," Lafleur said, "maybe I'd go out and skate on one leg. But I'm only 28. I don't want to end up like Bobby Orr. It's more important for me to play for this team another five years than for us to win another Cup."
Another Cup. Some teams—Minnesota included—have never seen one, yet Montreal refers to another one. Of course, the trophy has been housed at the Forum so often—22 times in all—that the Canadiens feel proprietary. What other arena sells miniature, silvery replicas of "our Stanley Cup"?
After Sunday's game, a man tried to buy one at a Forum souvenir stand. "Too late," he was told by a somber vendor. "Maybe next year."