Tuesday, August 9, 2016

1981 Playoffs

If the battle of Ontario seemed to intensify during the regular season, it tension mounted exponentially when the Beavers and Racers met in the first round of the playoffs. Game one took place at the Capital Arena in Ottawa and Beavers supporters once again turned out mostly dressed as cavemen. Toronto would silence the boisterous crowd in game one with a 5-3 victory, but they would be back for game two as loud as ever. Ottawa would treat their fans to a 3-1 win in game two, as things predictably boiled over on the ice. Beavers’ tough guy Randy McCracken bumped Racers’ goalie Ralph Morello late in the third period and everybody jumped into the ensuing scrum. Within the final two minutes of the game, a total of 66 penalty minutes were handed out including four fighting majors. Although play remained tense and the rough stuff continued in Toronto for games three and four, things did settle down just a bit as the Racers jumped to a stunning 3-1 series lead. Toward the end of game four, Ottawa’s frustration came out once again as Jeff Grant was ejected for a sucker punch on Toronto’s Bruce Carson. Before being ejected, Grant also received a thorough beating from Toronto enforcer Rex Hull that left him bloodied while the two benches yelled threats and obscenities at each other throughout the final minutes. Heading back to Ottawa, the Racers had a chance to close out the Beavers and move on. Jeff Grant was suspended for three games and the Beavers knew they had an uphill climb. Thanks to goals from Derrick Rowe, Rob Ashley, Brad Tearney, and Tony Knight, the Beavers staved off elimination with a big 4-2 win. In game six, Rex Hull and Randy McCracken squared off in a heavyweight battle just seconds into the game which seemed to calm both teams down as Ottawa earned a gutsy 3-2 win to force game seven. In game seven, Toronto was simply outclassed once again as the Beavers showed just how deadly and offensive team they could be, winning the game 6-2 with captain Casey Beckett scoring a hat-trick. The Beavers were not the only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round. The Pittsburgh Stingers found themselves facing elimination three times against the New York Civics before Danny Stevenson put the team on his back, leading them to a seven-game victory. Elsewhere in the East, Washington also took seven games to take down Detroit, and Philadelphia came back from a 2-0 deficit to shock Montreal in six games.

In the Western Conference, the Seattle Grey Wolves gave St. Louis a bigger challenge than expected, nearly taking a 3-2 series lead with a 3-2 lead in game five with the series tied 2-2. Dave Appleby proved to be the hero, however, scoring both the tying goal and the OT winner before scoring the winner in game six as well as the Spirits moved on. The defending champion California Nuggets appeared to be in control of their series with the Calgary Wranglers after taking a 2-0 series lead. However back-to-back overtime victories for the Wranglers at home tied the series 2-2. In game five Calgary captain Warren Jensen was the hero with a big two-goal night as Calgary moved ahead three games to two with a 4-2 win. Game six would go to overtime again this time with Gary Mendoza proving to be the hero for Calgary as the Wranglers completed the upset and moved on to the second round. Also in the Western Conference, Minnesota defeated LA 4-2, while the Denver Bulls ditched their long pants after a string of losses to finish the season. It wouldn’t help as they lost to the Chicago Shamrocks in seven games.

Round two would see two of the game’s biggest rivalries take center stage. The Chicago Shamrocks faced the Minnesota Lumberjacks in a matchup already filled with hate before the puck even dropped. The series was tied 2-2 after four games in an already fight-filled series before the ‘Jacks took a 3-2 series lead with a 3-2 win in game five. Facing elimination to their hated rivals in game six, Chicago came out swinging, literally, as two big line brawls took place early on. When the rough stuff began to spill over into the crowd, officials were afraid the benches would clear and so they sent both teams to the locker room for ten minutes to cool off while things were cleaned up on the ice. When the game resumed, Vladimir Gaganov scored his first career playoff hat-trick as the Shamrocks sent the series to seven with a 3-1 win. As the Chicago players went to celebrate with goaltender Tim Massey, some of the Lumberjacks got tangled up between the Chicago team and their goalie. Pushing and shoving ensued and before long gloves and helmets began flying as players began to pair off and swing at each other. When the dust settled, four players found themselves suspended for game seven. Chicago’s Rob Saskin and Lester Brooks and Minnesota’s Brett Flores and Jimmy Andrews would miss the deciding game. Chicago came out strong in game seven. Vlady Gaganov enjoyed another big night with two goals as the Shamrocks advanced with a 5-3 win. At the end of the game, which proved to be another fairly rough one, the officials decided to send both teams off the ice immediately, forgoing the traditional handshake and not even allowing the Shamrocks to celebrate the victory on the ice. It was a somewhat fitting end to one of the roughest series in a long time.

Although it was not quite as hate-filled as the Chicago-Minnesota series, Washington and Pittsburgh also played each other hard in a tough seven game series that was eventually won by Washington. The series was highlighted by injuries to star players on both sides, as Gerry Stokes went down in game two with a sprained wrist, while Danny Stevenson was knocked out for the remainder of the series in game three with a dislocated shoulder. Stokes would return in time for game seven to help Washington advance. In other second round action Ottawa defeated Philadelphia in five games, while the Calgary Wranglers pulled off another shocking upset over St. Louis in six games with Warren Jensen scoring an incredible eight goals in the series including a hat-trick in game four.

Jensen’s dominating play continued as the Wranglers entered the conference finals against Chicago. The Shamrocks took game one 3-1, but Jensen scored twice in game two to give his team a 3-2 win. In game three, Johnny Bedford’s point shot in OT gave Calgary a 2-1 series lead before another two-goal game from Jensen gave the Wranglers a 3-0 win in game four and a 3-1 series lead. In game five, it appeared Calgary would advance when they took an early 2-0 lead that lasted into the third period. However, the Shamrocks stormed back in the third with goals from Gaganov, Rob Saskin, and Don Newman as Chicago forced game six back in Calgary. Back home for game six, the Wranglers were nervous. They had Chicago on the ropes and had had a chance to pull off a third straight upset but let the Shamrocks back into the series. Once the game began, Warren Jensen stepped up once again with his third two-goal game of the series as Calgary skated to a 5-2 victory. After upsetting three powerhouse teams in the Western Conference, and flying under the radar all year long, the Calgary Wranglers were headed to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Meanwhile, it was the battle of the capital cities in the Eastern Conference Final as Ottawa took on Washington. The series would be a brief one as the Beavers simply could not muster the offense they had in previous series nor could they intimidate a very disciplined Generals team. Washington held Ottawa to only seven goals all series, eliminating them in five games to advance to the Lewis Cup Finals for the first time since 1955, when they were known as the Hamilton Kings.

Round 1

Round 2

Round 3

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