The Road to the Stanley Cup 1981

1981 was a great time to be a North Stars fan. The Stars surprised everyone but themselves when they went all the way for a Stanley Cup showdown against the defending champs, the New York Islanders.

A combination of youth and experience was the biggest reason why this team went so far. The previous year the Stars had knocked off the defending Cup champion, Montreal, with players like Bobby Smith, Steve Payne, Al MacAdam, Brad Maxwell and Craig Hartsburg. This year the newcomers gave the team an extra boost. Dino Ciccarelli, called up from Oklahoma City in February, broke the record held by teammate Steve Christoff for most goals by a rookie when he recorded 14 of them. Nineteen year old, All-Star, Don Beaupre was a sensation in goal. Brad Palmer scored some big goals with a shot so hard it went through the net on occasion. And, fresh from his Hobey Baker award season, Neal Broten came aboard to bring more speed to an already fast skating squad.

The Stars opened the playoffs on the road against Boston. There was no respect on either side here. Late in February the two teams battled at the Garden for a game that resulted in a combined 406 penalty minutes which stands as record to this day. Everyone expected another blood bath to start the series, but instead an exciting hockey game was played. Steve Payne scored at 3:34 of the first overtime to win Game One. The Stars would win the next game there and one in Bloomington before closing out the hated Bruins with a masterful three game sweep.

The North Stars next faced the Buffalo Sabres, who won the Adams regular season title with a .619 winning percentage. Steve Payne once again came up big by scoring another opening game overtime goal. The Stars rolled over the Sabres by only dropping one game to the favored team.

The suprising Calgary Flames gave them a battle in the Semi-Finals, but the Stars made the most of home ice by winning all three games at the Met. For the first time in franchise history the North Stars would play in a final series for the Stanley Cup.

The New York Islanders would reach the finals for the second time in two years. Like the North Stars, they made it to the finals with little difficulty. The squad's only real opposition came with a young Edmonton team which took them to six games in the Quarter-Finals.

Unfortunately, for the Stars speed and enthusiasm wouldn't be enough as the Islanders were at their best. The Stars lost games one and two by identical 6-3 scores in Long Island.

A sell out crowd in Minnesota welcomed their team back for Game Three. The Stars responded by taking an early 3-1 lead at the end of the first period. But, the Islanders fought hard and took back the lead 4-3 before heading into the final period. The Stars managed to tie it early in the period, but Butch Goring scored his third goal of the game soon afterward. An empty netter followed and New York won 7-5.

Down three games to zero there was little for the Stars to lose when they skated out for Game Four. Utility man, Gord Lane opened the scoring and the crowd was silenced. Midway in the first period the Stars were on a power play when Brad Maxwell scored on a blistering shot from the point. Or did he? The shot was later seen on reply to go through the net. Referee Andy Van Hellemond never saw it and play continued until Craig Harstburg's point shot eluded Billy Smith for the second time in ten seconds. This time credit was given. With the crowd back into the game the Stars received two third period goals by Payne and Smith along with outstanding goaltending by Don Beaupre. The Stars took Game Four 4-2.

The Islanders came out with another strong performance in Game Five. Butch Goring netted two goals in the first period. The Stars were never really in it here. The Islanders won the series clincher 5-1 and skated off the ice with the Cup. Butch Goring captured the Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for his relentless forechecking and timely goal scoring. Future Hall of Famers, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith and Mike Bossy would go on to win two more Cups and establish their team as one the game's great hockey dynasties.

Series Results

                      Preliminary Round

 Toronto   2 at Islanders 9             North Stars 5  at Boston      4 *
 Toronto   1 at Islanders 9             North Stars 9  at Boston      6
 Islanders 6 at Toronto   1             Boston      3  at North Stars 6
  (Islanders win 3-0)                    (North Stars win 3-0)

 Pittsburgh 2  at St. Louis  4          Quebec 4        at Philadelphia 6
 Pittsburgh 6  at St. Louis  4          Quebec 5        at Philadelphia 8
 St. Louis  5  at Pittsburgh 4          Philadelphia 0  at Quebec       2
 St. Louis  3  at Pittsburgh 6          Philadelphia 3  at Quebec       4 *
 St. Louis  3  at Pittsburgh 4 *        Quebec 2        at Philadelphia 5
  (St. Louis wins 3-2)                   (Philadelphia wins 3-2)

 Edmonton 6 at Montreal 3               Chicago  2  at Calgary  4
 Edmonton 3 at Montreal 1               Chicago  2  at Calgary  6
 Montreal 2 at Edmonton 6               Calgary  5  at Chicago  4 *
  (Edmonton wins 3-0)                    (Calgary wins 3-0)

 NY Rangers  3 at Los Angeles 1         Vancouver 2 at Buffalo   3 *
 NY Rangers  4 at Los Angeles 5         Vancouver 2 at Buffalo   5
 Los Angeles 3 at NY Rangers 10         Buffalo   5 at Vancouver 3
 Los Angeles 3 at NY Rangers  6          (Buffalo wins 3-0)
  (NY Rangers win 3-1)


 Edmonton  2 at Islanders 8         North Stars 4 at Buffalo     3 *
 Edmonton  3 at Islanders 6         North Stars 5 at Buffalo     2
 Islanders 2 at Edmonton  5         Buffalo     4 at North Stars 6
 Islanders 5 at Edmonton  4 *       Buffalo     5 at North Stars 4 **
 Edmonton  4 at Islanders 3         North Stars 4 at Buffalo     3
 Islanders 5 at Edmonton 2           (North Stars win 4-1)
  (Islanders win 4-2)
                                    Calgary      0 at Philadelphia 4
 NY Rangers 3 at St. Louis  6       Calgary      5 at Philadelphia 4
 NY Rangers 6 at St. Louis  4       Philadelphia 1 at Calgary      2
 St. Louis  3 at NY Rangers 6       Philadelphia 4 at Calgary      5
 St. Louis  1 at NY Rangers 4       Calgary      4 at Philadelphia 9
 NY Rangers 3 at St. Louis  4       Philadelphia 3 at Calgary      2
 St. Louis  4 at NY Rangers 7       Calgary      4 at Philadelphia 1
  (NY Rangers win 4-2)               (Calgary wins 4-3)


 NY Rangers 2 at Islanders  5       North Stars 4 at Calgary     1
 NY Rangers 3 at Islanders  7       North Stars 2 at Calgary     3
 Islanders  5 at NY Rangers 1       Calgary     4 at North Stars 6
 Islanders  5 at NY Rangers 2       Calgary     4 at North Stars 7
  (Islanders win 4-0)               North Stars 1 at Calgary     3
                                    Calgary     3 at North Stars 5
                                     (North Stars win 4-2)


                   North Stars 3 at Islanders   6
                   North Stars 3 at Islanders   6
                   Islanders   7 at North Stars 5
                   Islanders   2 at North Stars 4
                   North Stars 1 at Islanders   5

                        (Islanders win 4-1)

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