The Minnesota North Stars' incredible playoff journey is now three-fourthscomplete. The Edmonton Oilers' glorious ride as one of sport's great dynasties is apparently over.
Bobby Smith snapped a tie with 15:01 to play as the North Stars beat the defending NHL champions 3-2 Friday night, giving Minnesota a five-game triumph and a ticket to the Stanley Cup finals for just the second time in the franchise's 24-year history.Edmonton's first failure in seven trips to the semifinals guarantees the first championship series between two U.S.-based teams since 1981, when Minnesota lost to the New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh leads Boston 3-2 and hosts Game 6 Saturday night in the other semifinal series. The finals begin either Wednesday or next Friday.
In the nine finals since Minnesota's appearance, Edmonton went six times, winning the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990.
But through attrition, trades and defections, the Oilers have lost superstars like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and Andy Moog; the nucleus that remains from their glory years has dwindled and aged.
Edmonton finished at .500 during the regular season and its playoff victories over Calgary and Los Angeles were considered surprises.
If Edmonton's postseason success was somewhat surprising, Minnesota's has been downright stunning. The NHL's 16th-best regular-season team has polished off the top two clubs, Chicago and St. Louis, as well as the defending champions - and needed only 17 games to do so.
The North Stars, who finished 38 points behind Norris Division-leading Chicago with a 27-39-14 record, will be the first losing regular-season team to play for the title since Vancouver in 1982. Only two teams with losing records have won championships: Toronto in 1949 and Chicago in 1938.
Minnesota, which went into this postseason with just one playoff series victory since being swept by Edmonton in the 1984 semifinals, is the only Norris team since the 1982 divisional realignment to reach the finals.
It was fitting that Smith scored the winner because he was the star of the North Stars' 1981 team. He is in his first season back after Minnesota traded him to Montreal in 1983.
Chris Dahlquist stole the puck from Petr Klima and passed to Stewart Gavin, who led a rush into the Edmonton zone. Gavin fed Smith, who got behind Oilers defensive specialist Esa Tikkanen before beating goalie Grant Fuhr.
Smith's goal came just 41 seconds after Mark Messier capped Edmonton's rally from a 2-0 deficit with a goal that brought an otherwise quiet crowd at Northlands Coliseum to its feet. Tikkanen had started the Oilers' comeback with a goal midway through the second period.
As has been their postseason pattern, the North Stars got ahead early. They have outscored opponents 30-15 in opening periods.
With Messier in the penalty box for cross-checking, Mark Tinordi followed a rebound of Brian Propp's shot just 2:06 into the game.
The goal was the North Stars' 32nd on the power play, tying Edmonton's 1988 postseason record.
Marc Bureau made it 2-0 with 7:37 left in the first period. While the Oilers were on an untimely line change, Gaetan Duchesne led a 3-on-2 break and dropped to Bureau, who wristed a shot from the left circle over Fuhr's glove. Bureau had scored his first career goal in Minnesota's Game 4 victory.
Jon Casey, making his Minnesota-record 28th straight start in goal, stopped 19 shots. He leads playoff goalies with a 2.63 goals-against average and a 12-4 record.