This edition of the #PensTimeCapusle takes us back to the 1976-77 Postseason.
The 4th place Penguins were battling the 5th place Toronto Maple Leafs in the preliminary round of the Playoffs.
The playoff structure was a little different back then. Take a look below.
(For the 1976-77 Stanley Cup play-off tournament, the top three teams in each division were awarded play-off berths. These twelve teams were then ranked 1 through 12 according to their regular season records, irrespective of divisional affiliation. The four division winners automatically qualified for the quarter-finals, while the remaining eight teams (2nd and 3rd place teams in each division) played a preliminary round. For the preliminary round, the top-ranked non-division winner played the twelfth-ranked team, the second top ranked non-division winner played the eleventh-ranked team, the third ranked non-division winner played the third-lowest ranked non-division winner. (This did not necessarily have to be the tenth-ranked team, as it was possible for a tenth-ranked team to win its division. In fact, St. Louis did win the Smythe Division as the tenth-ranked play-off team.) The remaining two non-division winners formed the fourth preliminary round pairing. The preliminary round consisted of a best-of-three series with the first game played on the home ice of the higher-ranked team, and the second game on the home ice of the lower-ranked team. If a third and deciding game was necessary, it was played on the home ice of the higher-ranked team.
For the quarter-final, semifinal and final rounds, each series was a best-of-seven, with home-ice advantage in games 1, 2, 5 and 7 going to the team with the better regular season record. The other team hosted games 3 and 4, and game 6 if it was necessary. The four preliminary round winners joined the four division winners for the quarter-finals. The match ups were determined according to regular season records without regard to divisional affiliations. Of the eight remaining teams, the top-ranked team played the lowest-ranked remaining team, the second-highest-ranked remaining team played the second-lowest-ranked remaining team, etc.. The four quarter-final winners advanced to the semifinals, with the match-ups again determined by regular season records. The highest-ranked remaining team played the lowest-ranked remaining team, and the other two teams formed the second match-up. The two semifinal winners played each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.)
Well, what is so interesting about that you ask?
Let's take a look.
Usually, when a team makes the play-offs they are excited about the opportunity to compete for the richest prize in the game - The Stanley Cup.
Was that the case for the 1976-77 Penguins? Not so much.
The regular season had been a rather trying one for the Penguins.
Injuries to key players (Vic Hadfield, Lowell Macdonald and Ed Van Impe) Disciplinary Issues (Pierre Larouche) and lack of production from the top stars, saw Pittsburgh finish the season with a record of 34-33-13. Good enough for eighth in the conference.
*Pierre Larouche scored 29 goals down from 53 the previous season and Jean Pronovost scored 33 down from 52.
At the time the Penguins were in the same division (Norris) as the Montreal Canadiens who posted a record of 60-8-12 that season and had what many considered to be the best roster ever put on ice.
Many of the Penguins felt they were only playing to get in second place all season. Which affected the product on the ice and the lackadaisical attitude of the players.
With the injuries and lack of production from their stars, Pittsburgh decided to replace the loss in goals by putting the focus on team defence.
It worked. To a certain degree.
The Penguins went from 15th (previous season) in team defence to 7th.
What was the cost? 99 fewer goals scored.
Pierre Larouche “ We tried to forget offence and concentrate on defence” adding “You see what happens to us, if they get a few goals on us, we have to change and try to catch up”
By the time the play-offs rolled around many within the Penguins camp just wanted the season to be over.With none more vocal than Larouche - “I would like to write off the whole season, just forget it”
Did any of the other Penguins feel the same way?
Jean Pronovost -“It just hasn't been a good year for us”
However, Pronovost elected to take a more optimistic view on the state of the Penguins play-off prospects “Physically we are in good shape, but were not mentally prepared,,were lucky to have made the play-offs, lucky to still be alive”.
How did the Pittsburgh faithful respond?
10,033 fans were attendance to watch Game 1 of the series that saw the Leafs win by a score of 4-2. In fact, many seats were empty before Denis Herron was pulled in the dying minutes of the third period. (You may recall at the time the Civic arena held around 15,000)
The fans heard the message loud and clear. The players appeared not to care, so why should they.
How did the rest of the series play out?
The Penguins knotted the series up in Toronto winning 6-4, but would go on to lose the third and deciding game in Pittsburgh by a score of 5-2. The Penguins went out with a whimper.
Who knows what would have happened if the Penguins made it on to the next round. Could they have found the desire to battle the Flyers in the second round? or was this just the beginning of some trying times in Pittsburgh?
More on that later.
It's Time to close and bury this #penstimecapsule
Thanks for reading.