It was a series of spittle and spite. As the NHL playoffs got under way last week amid upsets and near upsets, the most upsetting performance of all was turned in by the Chicago Black Hawks, a team that was as pleasant to watch as a street fight. You want to see high sticking? The Goon Hawks are your team. You want stitches? Go, Chi-town. How about a nice brawl in the stands, the orange-clad security police versus West Club Circle? Chicago Stadium is the place for you. And the fine art of goobering at the opposing coach has been perfected there. So has the littering of the ice with bottles, paper cups and lighters—a delightful practice that on Saturday night led to Hawk Darryl Sutter separating a shoulder. Needless to say, NHL hockey took a giant step backward last week as the Black Hawks defeated the Minnesota North Stars, losing Stanley Cup finalist in 1981, three games to one.
There were all sorts of odd occurrences in the eight best-of-five series that opened the playoffs. By week's end Edmonton and Montreal, which finished second and third, respectively, in the overall standings, were just one game away from elimination, as were the defending champion New York Islanders. The Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings demonstrated their version of tight-checking playoff hockey by scoring 18 goals in their opener, a 10-8 win for the Kings, three more than had ever been scored in a postseason game. In Game 3 of that series Edmonton blew a 5-0 third-period lead, losing 6-5. But the most bizarre—and laudable—playoff performance was put on by Edward DeBartolo Sr., owner of the Penguins, who was so disgusted by Pittsburgh's losses in its first two games, 8-1 and 7-2 on the home ice of the Islanders, that he offered to refund the price of admission to any Penguin ticketholder who didn't want to see Game 3, in Pittsburgh. How did the Penguins react to this? They beat the Islanders 2-1 in overtime and then evened the series 2-2 with a 5-2 win Sunday night.
The Black Hawks didn't figure to stand much of a chance against the North Stars, having finished with a 30-38-12 regular-season record, 15th overall in the NHL. The North Stars, 37-23-20, had the fifth-best record in the league. Worse, the Hawks' performance on the road had been pitiful—10-25-5. But in February, Chicago General Manager Bob Pulford had stepped behind the Hawk bench, replacing Keith Magnuson. Pulford stresses disciplined, checking hockey, and the Hawks, who have exceptionally big players, are well suited for that style.
To conclude the regular season, the Hawks faced the North Stars in a seemingly unimportant game. Psychologically, however, it proved crucial. Not only did Chicago rally from a three-goal deficit to win 4-3, but afterward Minnesota Coach Glen Sonmor was so upset with the intimidating tactics of Al Secord, Chicago's 44-goal scorer who also set a club record with 303 penalty minutes this season, that Sonmor called Secord an "idiot" and promised to retaliate: "In the playoffs we won't go after Secord, we'll go right up to [Denis] Savard and wring his neck." Savard is the Hawks' leading scorer (119 points on the regular season) and, not coincidentally, at 5'10", 167 pounds, their smallest player. Thus were the battle lines drawn. The opening game, played last Wednesday night in Bloomington, Minn., provided the battle. In the first period, 125 minutes in penalties were called. Dave Hutchison, a talentless Black Hawk defenseman, got things rolling at the 6:32 mark by butt-ending Minnesota's leading scorer, Dino Ciccarelli, in the face. Ciccarelli took four stitches and Hutchison took a five-minute major penalty. A minute after Hutchison got out of the penalty box, he was fighting with Jack Carlson, the North Stars' strong-armed winger. Hutchison defended himself with his face and was none the prettier for it. But the fight doubly helped the Chicago cause. First, Hutchison was unable to return for the remainder of that game and the next, which considerably improved the Hawks' defense. Second, Carlson mangled his knuckles on Hutchison's teeth and was lost for three games. So it is that battles are won and wars are lost.
The teams eventually began to play hockey, and at the end of regulation time the score was tied at 2-2, although the North Stars had outshot the Hawks 47-22. The Chicago goalie was Murray Bannerman. No goaltender besides Tony Esposito had won a playoff game for the Black Hawks since 1972. Esposito himself hadn't won many in that time. Coming into the Minnesota series, the Hawks had lost 27 of their last 30 postseason outings and were riding a seven-game losing streak that they had accumulated over the past two years. But Bannerman performed heroically, and a spectacular play by Savard won the game for Chicago. Three and a half minutes into OT, Minnesota's onrushing Steve Payne collided with Bannerman, who was coming out to stop him, and as the puck was rolling into the open cage, Savard swept in to knock it away. He then picked up the loose puck and took it the length of the ice, feeding it to Defenseman Greg Fox, who slapped it past Minnesota's Gilles Meloche to end the game. Admitted Pulford, "We were lucky to win."
North Star General Manager Lou Nanne credited the Chicago win to Bannerman. "He was unbelievable, just sensational," Nanne said. Sweet Lou from the Soo had taken all the North Stars to see Chariots of Fire the day before the first game (the matinee, of course, so tickets were only a buck and a half), but if that move was supposed to heat up his legions, it failed miserably. Minnesota's power play, third with 89 goals in the regular season, went 0-8 in the opener and allowed the Hawks to score shorthanded.
The North Stars had not lost two games in a row at home all year, and the Black Hawks had not won two back to back on the road. On Thursday Chicago ended both those strings by winning 5-3 and taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. The star that night was Center Tom Lysiak, who had two goals and two assists and 12 stitches—courtesy of the stick of Curt Giles. Minnesota outshot the Hawks in every period for the second straight night, but Bannerman was again outstanding.
Back home, The Chicago Sun-Times expressed the city's surprise with the headline: NO LIE; HAWKS AGAIN TOP NORTH STARS.
The third game, played before the largest hockey crowd ever at Chicago Stadium, 20,960, was a sight for gore eyes. The North Stars' power play became untracked and scored four times in six tries—including a hat trick by Ciccarelli. Down 6-1 after two periods, the Black Hawks played the third with an eye toward Game 4 on Sunday: They began trying to intimidate the speedier Stars. "It was a spoken thing among the players," said Lysiak. "We had embarrassed ourselves the first two periods and had to establish something in the third. We thought we had it won and we came out a little filthy rich. We're a club that can't stand prosperity."
In the third period, already beaten, the Hawks came out filthy—period. Elbows and high sticks flew, two more fights erupted, and the ubiquitous Hutchison managed to get his swollen, purple face whacked a few more times. Savard, neck unwrung, was drawn into a shouting match with Sonmor during an interruption in the brawling and, apparently at a loss for words, spat at him—receiving a gross misconduct, the most aptly named penalty in sport. The fans, inspired by their heroes, began littering the ice. When someone threw a bottle that shattered near Minnesota's Meloche, security guards moved in and a scene right out of the Democratic National Convention of 1968 took place. To add injury to insult, the Hawks' Sutter tripped over some debris and slid into the boards, separating his left shoulder, in the final minutes of the 7-1 game.