After sweeping the Kings, who had exhausted themselves against Calgary, for the Smythe Division crown, Edmonton fell behind 2-1 against the hard-fore-checking Chicago Blackhawks. But the Oilers were much the better team in the three straight victories that wrapped up the Campbell Conference title. Still, they entered the Stanley Cup finals only a slight favorite against the Bruins. Once more, as the series progressed, the gap between Edmonton and its opponent grew wider, in this case wider than the gap the Oilers consistently found between the legs of Boston goalie Andy Moog.
Edmonton proved to be faster, deeper, smarter and stronger than Boston, which simply could not get enough quality shots to have any hope of changing the outcome. Even when the Bruins got some good scoring chances in Game 1, they lost 3-2 in the third overtime on Petr Klima's goal at 1:23 a.m. An Oiler defensive unit that lacked an offensive threat and was a bit long in the tooth drew from a deep well of playoff experience and smothered Boston with simple, astute play. And Ranford, who might have suffered a crisis of confidence after allowing seven goals in the first game against Winnipeg, was as intimidating as Fuhr had ever been.
"Whenever I wasn't seeing the puck, it was finding a way to hit me," Ranford said after the Cup was won. Sometimes that's luck. More often it's technique and positioning. Always, goaltending is confidence. "You just have to get it and put a string together," he said. "That's just what this club did."
Ranford, a former Bruin deemed expendable by Boston president and general manager Harry Sinden, who traded him and Geoff Courtnall for the more experienced Moog in 1988, was a deserving winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the MVP of the playoffs. But a case could also have been made for Tikkanen, who, after effectively shadowing Gretzky and Denis Savard of Chicago in previous rounds, thoroughly spooked Boston's sterling young center, Craig Janney, in the finals. Most of the time, Tikkanen, a Finn, got up close and personal enough with the young Bruin playmaker to fog his visor. Turning whenever Janney turned, constantly shouldering him and sometimes tripping him, Tikkanen ventured away from Janney and into the Oiler offense only on the most obvious Edmonton scoring opportunities. He also amplified Janney's nightmare with a steady stream of trash talk and a maniacal grin.
The Oilers broke open Game 2, a 7-2 victory, late in the second period. In Game 3, their only loss, they played catchup from the start. Neither situation called for a shadow, so coach John Muckler freed Tikkanen to rejoin the offense. He responded with a goal in each game. Janney was so out of it by Game 4 that Muckler didn't bother with the shadow, and Tikkanen scored again. But in Game 5, Tikkanen reattached himself to Janney. He leaped over the boards after face-offs to thwart Boston coach Mike Milbury's home-ice right to the last change and climbed right back under Janney's skin.
Tikkanen, a nonstop yakker who was described by Jim Matheson of the
as "capable of giving Woody Woodpecker a headache," said that either the offensive or the defensive role was fine with him. Championship teams have interchangeable parts. Tikkanen, a productive scorer and deeply annoying human being, proved to be a unique double-edged sword.
"Tik is so smart we can use him in a defensive role and still not give up much offense," Muckler said. "At worst, we're playing four-on-four, and with our speed we'll take our chances that way. At best, the player Tik is checking usually isn't a player who thinks defense first, which means when the puck gets turned over, Tik will get scoring chances. He's the best I've ever seen doing this. He's so obnoxious, too. I love him."
Milbury tried to minimize what was virtually the elimination of Janney's game by playing him on the wing. But Janney's struggles and the loss of Dave Poulin to a sprained knee in Game 2 left Milbury, in effect, without his best two centers. No other Bruin could fill the void. Right wing Cam Neely, a 55-goal scorer, overcarried the puck in trying to do too much. Brian Propp, Dave Christian and Bobby Gould, veterans whose in-season acquisitions at minimal costs preserved Sinden's reputation as a master welder of scrap metal, played like rusted junk. Boston was clearly the best team in the Wales Conference, which tells you something about the weak state of the conference.
The strength of the Campbell Conference was evident in the fact that the Oilers didn't even finish first in the Smythe Division. To the end, it was experience that made the difference. Having proved to themselves in past years that they had an extra gear—and a deeper level of concentration—the Oiler veterans had no problem shifting into overdrive when three of their four series reached turning points. " Winnipeg hadn't been through this before," Muckler said. "We knew we could kick it up another notch, and the Jets didn't. Even when they came back to tie us in Game 6, we just took over the game from that point. Jari scored a great goal, and that was the end of Winnipeg."
The Blackhawks won two of the first three games of the Campbell Conference final but met their doom when Messier surfaced with a two-goal, two-assist, 46-elbow performance to give Edmonton a 4-2 victory in Game 4 at Chicago Stadium. And Boston, which had cashed two early goals and hung on by its fingernails for a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of the finals, was overwhelmed from start to finish in the ensuing 5-1 Edmonton victory in Northlands Coliseum.