Michael Leighton, a journeyman goaltender that’s been passed around the NHL and AHL like a used copy of Led Zeppelin I, pulled off the near unthinkable. The Philadelphia Flyers goaltender has pulled off back-to-back shutouts earlier this week, in the Eastern Conference Final.
For the Montreal Canadiens, it’s only happened to them five times, during the playoffs, in their 100 year history.
The most recent was in April of 1983, during the best-of-five Adams Division semi-final, at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres. The pair of whitewashes led to the end of an unpleasant era in Canadiens management.
During the regular season the Canadiens finished second in the NHL in goals with 350, while the Sabres had a respectable 6th place ranking in goals against.
The two teams had split their eight meetings with three wins apiece and two ties. The Sabres held the edge in goals with a 32-31 margin.
On paper it looked to be an evenly matched series. But as it goes in the playoffs, nobody expected what happened at the Forum in the first two games, played on back-to-back nights.
Game 1 was a 24-save night for Sabres’ netminder Bob Sauve, who had been the team’s number one goalie that season.
The Canadiens tried an ineffective dump and chase style that allowed the Sabres defense to chase down the puck easily.
Conversely, Sabres coach Scotty Bowman was playing a conservative offense, not allowing for errors, which was evident by just three shots on goal halfway through the game.
The series would prove to be a “getting-back” measure for Bowman. It was the first time the two teams had met in the post-season since Bowman resigned as Canadiens coach a year after being looked over for the GM position vacated by Sam Pollock in 1978.
“We don’t go looking for chances against this team,” Bowman said. “We have worked very hard on the game in our end. You can’t take chances trying to create opportunities against Montreal. You have to wait for them to come.'”
Bowman’s strategy and patience began to show. By the end of the second period, Montreal held a 20-10 shot advantage with the Sabres gaining momentum.
Brent Peterson scored the lone goal on the Canadiens Rick Walmsley, at 2:30 of the third period, and by game end, the Sabres had 26 shots and a 1-0 win.
In Game Two, the Sabres killed off penalties and aggressively checked the Canadiens, keeping them to just 22 shots on Sauve.
“They outhustled us, outworked us and outplayed us,” said Canadiens defenceman Larry Robinson.
The nail in the casket was a pair of second period goals just 36 seconds apart from Gilles Hamel and Mal Davis.
Forum fans and players alike were in shock to see their team leave the Forum with not a goal to show in two games. As one report put it, “The blanks on the Forum scoreboard were only matched by the looks on the Canadiens faces.”
“It’s a shame to be shutout twice in your own building,” said Canadiens coach Bob Berry. “But give credit to Buffalo. They checked us really well.”
“The most amazing thing is I have two shutouts in a row,” said Sauve. “I still can’t believe it.”
Making it more surprising was the fact the Sabres had not recorded a shutout win all season.Their only one came in a 0-0 tie against the Quebec Nordiques.
The series would end after a 4-2 Sabres win in Game Three, backed again by Sauve’s 30-save performance. Buffalo moved on to be on the losing end of a seven-game Adams Division final.
For Montreal, it was the third straight season being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. They had only advanced to the second round only once (1980) after four straight Stanley Cup victories.
In less than a week, changes would be made on the Canadiens organization. GM Irving Grundman, who’s appointment prompted Bowman to leave the Canadiens, would be fired by team president Ron Corey.
Berry was demoted to scout and Ron Caron, the team’ director of scouting was also let go. Howard Grundman, the Canadiens director of hockey administration resigned.
Two weeks later, Corey gave the Winnipeg Jets a third-round pick and $50,000 to have them release Serge Savard from his playing contract, and become the new Canadiens GM.
The other three times the Habs were shutout back-to-back:
1929 Games 1 & 2 Semi-Finals vs. Boston (Tiny Thompson –G)
1952 Games 3 & 4 Stanley Cup Finals vs Detroit (Terry Sawchuk –G)
1961 Games 5 & 6 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals vs Chicago (Glenn Hall –G)
Ottawa Citizen – April 7, 1983
UPI – April 7, 1983
AP- April 14, 1983
UPI - April 28, 1983