Two teams who had been long absent from the playoffs made their return to the post-season in 1982. Winnipeg and Nova Scotia had missed the playoffs every year since 1976. Both teams’ return, however, would be short lived. The Pioneers lasted only six games against the California Nuggets. The Claymores put up a good fight, jumping to a 2-1 lead over Quebec with two shutouts. It appeared they would advance until Quebec salvaged the series in seven games thanks to dominant play from stars JC Girard and Ron Plunkett while John Gage rebounded from a tough start to the series with a strong performance in the last four games of the series. Meanwhile, the gritty Boston Bulldogs gave the Pittsburgh Stingers all they could handle in their first round series. After the Stingers won the first two games, Danny Stevenson went down with an upper body injury. Boston took advantage, bringing the series to seven games. Stevenson would return to the lineup for game seven and scored two goals as Pittsburgh took game seven 4-3 to advance. Washington’s post-season was cut short after two consecutive finals appearances as they lost to the New York Civics in six games, while veterans Casey Beckett and Jeff Grant led Ottawa to a tough seven-game win over Montreal.
In the Western Conference, St. Louis avenged their stunning loss to Calgary the previous year. David Appleby scored nine goals in the series as the Spirits won it in six games, while in a battle of ‘70s powerhouses, LA upset the Minnesota Lumberjacks in six games. Pressure was mounting in Chicago as fans became increasingly restless after a long string of second and third place finishes and playoff failures. The Shamrocks would face Denver in the first round, a team whose season had ended at the hands of the Shamrocks two out of the last three seasons. Chicago put in a valiant effort, but the determined Denver Bulls managed to jump to a 3-1 series lead. After the Shamrocks won a face-saver in game five, Jani Kaaleppi’s hat-trick in game six for the Bulls clinched the series as Denver moved on and Chicago went home early once again.
Denver went on to play the California Nuggets in the second round in what would be one of the most exciting series of the 1982 playoffs. After the Nuggets took game one 6-2, Denver won the next three games to lead the series 3-1. Facing elimination, the Nuggets got brilliant goaltending from Yvon Tremblay as they won the next two to force game seven. In game seven, Ken Gilbert proved to be the overtime hero as the Nuggets completed the comeback to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Danny Stevenson missed the first two games of Pittsburgh’s series against the Civics, still bothered by the injury he had suffered against Boston. By the time he returned for game three in New York, the series was tied 1-1. Stevenson put the Stingers on his back for the rest of the series, leading them to a six-game series victory. Elsewhere in the East, John Gage’s brilliant play continued as Quebec stunned the heavily favoured Ottawa Beavers in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to face Pittsburgh.
The St. Louis Spirits would face the LA Wizards in the other Western Conference semifinal series as the PHL’s past met its future. Stuart Holly and David Appleby did not disappoint as Holly scored 11 points while Appleby scored ten. Ultimately, the Spirits won a tough seven-game series to advance.
In the conference final round, the St. Louis Spirits would face the California Nuggets, while the Pittsburgh Stingers would face the Quebec Nationale for the right to play for the Lewis Cup. The Spirits found themselves down 2-0 heading to San Francisco as it appeared the Nuggets were on their way back to the championship round. However, the Spirits managed to win the next two on the road including an overtime win in game four to tie the series. California took the lead once again in game five and had an opportunity to end it in game six, but Appleby would be the hero, scoring two goals in a 4-2 victory in game six to force seven. Jarri Pukki was the hero in game seven, scoring in double overtime for St. Louis as the Spirits advanced to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. In the East, Quebec kept things close against Pittsburgh, but their magic finally ran out as the Stingers won the series in six to advance to the Lewis Cup Finals for the second time in their history.