Vintage Minnesota North Stars

Stars are too slick for Oilers – Team makes it look easy in waltz to Stanley Cup finals

Star Tribune: May 11, 1991

Author: Rachel Blount; Staff Writer

North Stars coach Bob Gainey has been around Bobby Smith long enough to know when the Stars center isn’t happy with himself. During the second intermission of the Stars’ 3-2 victory over Edmonton on Friday night, Gainey glanced over at Smith and saw a player in need of a supportive word.

Smith said he was disappointed with his play in the first two periods of Game 5 of the Campbell Conference finals. Gainey, who played with Smith through other Stanley Cup playoffs in Montreal, went to him. He asked Smith if he thought he could give the team a good period in the third. Smith said he would do his best.

At 4:59 of the final period, Smith took a pass from Stewart Gavin and faked out Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr, tucking the puck into the left side of the net to give the Stars their second trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Smith, who was with the Stars when they made their first trip to the finals in 1981, broke a 2-2 tie and became the latest in a long line of heroes that have lifted the Stars through their improbable romp through the playoffs.

The Stars took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Mark Tinordi and Marc Bureau, but the Oilers came back to tie it on a second-period goal by Esa Tikkanen and a third-period goal by Mark Messier. Messier’s shot from in front of the net tied the score 2-2 at 4:18 of the third, but Smith scored the winning goal 41 seconds later, and the Stars hung on through a wild finish.

It was the first-ever Campbell Conference championship for the North Stars, who were presented with the Clarence Campbell Bowl after the game. The Stars had gone to the conference finals once since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1981-82, losing that series to the Oilers in four straight games in 1984. The Oilers lost the championship for the first time in their seven trips to the conference finals.

“I never ask a question unless I know what the answer will be,” said a smiling Gainey, who knew Smith would respond to his challenge. “It was fitting that he would get the winning goal. The players are ecstatic; we got there because we earned it, and the victory tonight we certainly had to earn. It feels great.”

The Stars finished the series one game earlier than their previous victories over Chicago and St. Louis. They will begin the finals either Wednesday or Friday against the winner of the Pittsburgh-Boston series. The Stars, who finished the regular season with 68 points, will not have home-ice advantage over either team. They are the third team in NHL history to finish below .500 in the regular season and make it to the Stanley Cup finals.

I believe that the 1991 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the first time that I watched a hockey game and cared. I picked it up right about this time, and vividly remember the Bobby Smith goal. I hoped the goal was on youtube, but only found this Bobby Smith goal from earlier in the series.


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