Monday, April 25, 2016

1976 Lewis Cup Playoffs

As the 1976 Lewis Cup playoffs began, the Minnesota Lumberjacks were definitely the odds-on favorite to take the Lewis Cup. After finishing the regular season on a 12-game unbeaten streak, the 'Jacks entered their first round series against Winnipeg with loads of momentum. After taking a 1-0 series lead, Minnesota got off to a quick start in game two, taking an early 2-0 lead before disaster struck. Just one minute into the second period, Pioneers winger Eric Barton blocked a point shot to generate a 2-on-0 on Bobby Sorel. Sorel made the save but pulled a groin in the process. The Pioneers picked backup Bill Kelly apart for 3 goals to take game two 3-2. After the game, it was revealed that Bobby Sorel would miss at least the rest of the series. Demoralized by Sorel's injury, the Lumberjacks came out flat in games three and four as Winnipeg took a commanding 3-1 series lead. In game five, Guy Dupont scored six minutes into the game to give Minnesota their first lead since game 1. Winnipeg would storm back, however, taking the game and the series 4-1. In other Western Conference action, LA swept Calgary 4-0, California pulled off a surprise upset over Chicago, sweeping the Shamrocks 4-0, while Denver spoiled David Appleby's playoff debut, taking out St. Louis in five games.

 In the Eastern Conference, the defending champion New York Civics faced the Nova Scotia Claymores in what was supposed to be a fairly brief series. The Civics took an early 3-0 lead in game one before barely holding on as Nova Scotia scored two goals in the third before ringing one off the post. On the momentum from the failed comeback bid, Nova Scotia came out strong after game one, winning the next three to take a commanding series lead. But New York showed why they were the defending champs in game 5. After the Claymores scored two early, New York responded with a big goal from Phil Holmes to turn the momentum. With Gil Brady pulled in the dying minutes of the game, Dave Tobin managed to knock a loose rebound past Tim Underwood to tie the game. Both Underwood and Brady were spectacular through nearly three full overtime periods before Freddie Huff's point shot found the back of the net to force game six in Halifax. New York went on to win game six 4-2 to force game seven back home. Game seven would also go into overtime after the teams played a tight game throughout. It would not go nearly as long, however, as Civics rookie Bryan Trask scored just six minutes into the first overtime to complete the series comeback and send New York on to the second round. Elsewhere in the East, Ottawa won the battle of Ontario in a five game series where the Toronto Racers only managed to score three goals, while Philadelphia surprisingly took seven games to eliminate Quebec, and Boston pulled off the East's only upset, defeating the Montreal Royale in six games.

 By this point, the scrappy Bulldogs were making a reputation for themselves as a tough, hard-working team that just wouldn't go down easily. Never was this reputation more deserved then when they would face the Ottawa Beavers in the second round. The Beavers had finished first overall in the Eastern Conference, 36 points ahead of Boston, and were eager to remind them of this facing them in the playoffs. After Ottawa jumped to a 3-0 series lead, it appeared the Bulldogs relatively successful season was over. Boston managed to win if only in desperation in game 4, before goaltender of the year Ricky Spooner pitched a shutout in game 5. suddenly the Bulldogs found themselves one win away from forcing game seven. Spooner would turn away 39 Ottawa shots in game 6 while Brad Bush and Don Greer each scored to give Boston a second consecutive 2-0 win. The Bulldogs were just a game seven victory away from completing an unthinkable comeback. Game seven seemed to swing in Ottawa's favor early on, as Jeff Grant scored early for the Beavers before Boston's Glen Welton was called for tripping. Ricky Spooner made 13 saves during the ensuing powerplay, almost single-handedly killing the penalty. With momentum now on their side, the Bulldogs got scoring from Bush, Phil Reed, and Jeff Coleman to take a 3-1 lead. Casey Beckett scored for the Beavers in the third period to bring the score to 3-2, but it was too little too late. The Bulldogs held on to complete the miraculous comeback and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals where they would face the defending champion New York Civics, who had just completed a comeback of their own, overcoming a second consecutive 3-1 deficit, this time against Philadelphia.

 The Western Conference Semifinals were as predictable as they were brief, with LA extending their playoff winning streak to 8 with a 4-0 sweep against Winnipeg, while Denver eliminated California in five games.  In the conference finals, LA never really allowed the Denver Bulls into the series, extending their winning streak to ten consecutive playoff victories, before finally losing for the first time in the playoffs in game three. The win would be all Denver had left in the tank, as the Bulls ultimately succumbed to the Wizards in five games. Stuart Holly led the playoffs in scoring heading into the Lewis Cup Finals with 26 points through 12 games, shattering the PHL record for most points in a playoff year. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the heavily favoured New York Civics once again found themselves down 3 games to 1 against the hated Boston Bulldogs. The defending champs turned in a valiant effort in game five, winning 4-1 on the strength of Phil Holmes' two goals and a 41-save performance from Gil Brady. When Freddie Huff tied game six with just seven seconds left, it appeared that New York was on their way to an unbelievable third straight 1-3 comeback. But the Civics had run out of gas. Boston seemingly never left the New York end throughout overtime as Gil Brady stopped every shot, until finally a Rhett McFarlane slap shot made it's way through Brady's legs to send Boston to an unexpected date with the high-flying LA Wizards for the Lewis Cup.

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

No comments:

Post a Comment