There’s no doubt that the 1981-82 season was Vancouver’s best in the 1980s. Not only did they have their highest winning percentage, but they had their deepest playoff run. The Canucks were generally not a very strong team in the 80s and, compared to the average, that remained true for the 1981-82 season. Still, there were plenty of things to celebrate during the year.
Thomas Gradin set a new Canuck record by putting up 86 points on the year, with an impressive 49 assists. Winger Lars Molin had a solid rookie season with 46 points on the year and the team as a whole set a new record for the highest goals-per-game at 3.62. The team had a fairly even start to the season, but then hit a slump in the middle of the season. Just as things were looking grim, the team caught fire and went 6-0-3 in their last 9 games to make the playoffs and face the Calgary Flames with a home ice advantage in the series, finishing 2nd in the Smythe Division. It was during this stretch that the Canucks had their best game of the season, beating down the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 6-0.
The Canucks rode mostly with Richard Brodeur in net during the regular season, but did hand a fair share of games to Glen Hanlon as well. On defense, the Canucks were led by team captain Kevin McCarthy, who tallied 45 points during the season. Their forward core was made up by a host of players who provided great depth for the Canucks, including the aforementioned Gradin, Stan Smyl, Ivan Boldirev, Curt Fraser, and Ivan Hlinka, all of whom posted 60 or more points.
Just prior to the end of the season, McCarthy suffered an injury, one that would keep him out for the duration of the playoffs. As the Canucks took to the playoffs without their captain, a new leader stepped up to take his place–none other than Stan “the Steamer” Smyl. As the playoffs began, the Canucks surprised by dominating the Flames in the first round by a 3-0 series score. The series was expected to be a close one, not a lopsided one. The Canucks went on to face the Los Angeles Kings, who famously upset the Oilers in the first round in a 5-game series. Vancouver put an end to the Kings’ storybook playoff run by shutting them down in five games by a score of 4-1.
At this point, it became clear that the Canucks were playing at a new level. Not only were their two best forwards, Gradin and Smyl, stepping up, but their netminder, “King Richard” Brodeur, was playing the best hockey of his life. The diminutive goaltender played his heart out, constantly keeping the Canucks in games to help them come out victorious. The Canucks then face the Chicago Black Hawks, who had also been part of an upset in the first round, upsetting the Minnesota North Stars, who had finished atop their division. It was against the Hawks that coach Roger Neilson famously held up a white towel in mock surrender to the officiating of the referees. The Canucks would easily handle Chicago in five games and were on their way to the finals, with a record of 11-2 under their belts. Unfortunately for Vancouver, they faced the NHL’s best team in the New York Islanders in the finals and were swept 4-0, but did take game one to overtime until Mike Bossy scored the game winner off a giveaway.
All in all, it was a very successful season for the Canucks and led to a lot of excitement (and towel-waving) in the future.