Throughout the 1970s, the Montreal Canadiens were the most dominant club in hockey. While the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers tried to wrestle that title away from them throughout the decade, the team’s defense corps that featured the Hall of Fame trio of Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe ensure that Lord Stanley’s Mug was staying with the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.
As the game of hockey rolled into the expansion era, the Canadiens were firmly in place as an annual Stanley Cup contender. They defeated the St. Louis Blues in 1968 and 1969 for their fourth title in five seasons and this era is often referred to as hockey’s Quiet Dynasty.
Savard Starts Things Off
On those teams which beat the Blues was a promising defenceman in Serge Savard. He caught on with the Habs as a full-timer in 1967-68 and honed his craft playing alongside legends like J.C. Tremblay and Jacques Laperriere. As a sophomore, he broke out during the playoffs and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.
As a result, both Topps and O-Pee-Chee were sure to include him in their 1969-70 hockey card releases. However, he had already been featured in two seasons worth of food issues and some collectors already had him on their radar. As a rookie, he was part of the contest cards produced by IGA grocery stores in Quebec and his second year saw him be part of the promotion for a second time and be featured as one of the shortprinted 1968-69 Shirriff Coins.
Savard’s 1969-70 O-Pee-Chee rookie card has grown in value overtime and experienced a bit of a price bump a few years back. The Topps version is much more affordable (both are readily available on eBay), but collectors may also want to consider getting his Trophy Winner subset card from that year’s O-Pee-Chee set or the Four-in-One mini card (one he shares with Andre Lacroix, Bob Wall, and Roger Crozier).
The Canadiens, however, could not repeat as Stanley Cup champions and some changes to the roster were coming.
Pointu Pops In
For the 1970-71 campaign, Montreal added another promising defender in Guy Lapointe to their loaded lineup. With his bowl haircut, he stood out on the ice and was a legendary prankster in the dressing room. As a rookie, he dazzled fans with his offensive capabilities and made some key contributions as the Canadiens reclaimed the Stanley Cup. It was in this same season where he was given a card in the second series of 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee. His rookie card has been underrated for decades – especially when one considers how strong he was at both ends of the ice. It’s still inexpensive.
Part of the reason for Lapointe’s ascension within Montreal’s ranks can be attributed to the fact that Savard went down with a broken leg and missed Montreal’s epic run to the title while backstopped by rookie goalie Ken Dryden.
The Trio Comes Together
Savard eventually returned to action in 1971-72, but there was some hope on the way in the form of Larry Robinson, who was taken in the second round of the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft. Following a short minor league apprenticeship, he joined the Canadiens mid-way through the 1972-73 campaign. The Canadiens were hungry to reclaim the Cup once again and Lapointe finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy behind Bobby Orr in addition to earning a spot on the NHL First All-Star Team.
Montreal’s playoff run that year was also one for the ages. Lapointe and Savard hit double digits in points while Robinson showed a glimpse of his potential with a memorable overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Since Robinson was still a budding prospect, he did not make the cut for 1973-74 Topps. Instead, he was included in the second series of 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee. The card’s photo shows a fresh-faced kid with bushy sideburns and the green borders combined with typical O-Pee-Chee cuts make it tough to get top-condition copies and eBay prices reflect that.
The release of Robinson’s rookie card also coincided with the Broad Street Bullies running roughshod over the rest of the league. The Canadiens were certainly still serious contenders in 1973-74 and 1974-75, but the latter campaign saw Dryden take a one-year sabbatical to work on his law career before being convinced to return. Lapointe delivered a career year with 28 goals and kicked off a run of three straight Second All-Star Team nods. The Big Three were now an established force in both their zone and that of the opposition – but bigger things were ahead.
Four In A Row
With Philadelphia still clinging to the Stanley Cup, the Habs were about to wrestle it away in 1975-76. With the city of Montreal preparing for the 1976 Summer Olympics, the Canadiens rolled over Chicago and the New York Islanders during the playoffs before facing off with the crew from the City of Brotherly Love. Collectors also got two great cards of Lapointe that year with his basic Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards featuring a cameo from Dryden while his All-Star subset card has an unexpected appearance from one-time teammate Glen Sather.
Game 1 of the 1976 Stanley Cup Final was a tight 4-3 affair, but Robinson essentially sealed victory during the second contest as he drove Gary Dornhoefer into the boards so hard that it took a few minutes for repairs before play started up again. At this point, his place as one of the best defenders in the game was sealed and the next two outings were easy victories over the demoralized Flyers.
Not wanting to rest on their laurels, the Big Three played a pivotal role in helping Montreal to one of the greatest finishes in hockey history in 1976-77. A finely tuned unit, the Habs won a then-record 60 games and lost just eight times over the regular schedule. This was the year where Big Bird came to roost (the lanky Robinson’s curly locks earned him a nickname due to a resemblance to the Sesame Street star) and he posted an impressive 85 points to go along with a +120 rating to capture the Norris Trophy for the first time. Lapointe was no slouch, either, with a career-high 76 points to his credit.
In the playoffs, the team only lost twice over their first two rounds of action before facing the rival Boston Bruins. There was little trouble engineering a four-game sweep and a dream season came to an appropriate close.
While the team could not match the same number of wins in 1977-78, they only missed their target by three points. For the third straight year, the Habs had the league’s best defensive record even though the offensive production from the Big Three dropped. Lapointe missed about 30 games due to injury and Savard’s numbers remained steady, but this was a marquee year for Robinson – especially in the playoffs. He paced all players in assists and points and joined Savard as a Conn Smythe Trophy winner once the Canadiens knocked out the Bruins in six.
After winning three titles in a row, there were some pundits who felt that another team, like the Islanders, was ready to rise. While the regular season crown belonged to New York by a one-point margin, the Canadiens still had the best defensive record in the league. Savard was named to the Second All-Star Team for the only time in his career and his dedication to the game was recognized with the Masterton Trophy. Robinson was runner-up for the Norris and got a First Team nod, but the regular season didn’t matter once the playoffs were in full swing.
After dispatching Toronto in four games, the Canadiens and Bruins faced off in one of the most shocking Semi-Final battles in hockey history. The seven-game clash was hard-fought, but a badly timed penalty for too many men on the ice in the deciding game helped send Montreal to their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final. This time, they would face Phil Esposito and the New York Rangers. It only took five games to win the Cup, but it was the beginning of the end for a dynasty.
For the next two seasons, the Canadiens remained competitive. However, with the retirement of key personnel such as Dryden, Yvan Cournoyer, and Jacques Lemaire, the team was in a state of flux. Robinson delivered an excellent 1979-80 campaign where he won a second career Norris Trophy, but Savard and Lapointe’s days on Montreal’s roster came to an end soon after. Savard retired temporarily in 1981 before resurfacing in Winnipeg and Lapointe was traded to the Blues during the 1981-82 season.
Robinson won one more Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1986 and Savard was a part of it as the team’s General Manager. Lapointe remained part of the game after retiring as a member of the Bruins in 1984 and had a long and successful career as a scout. All three players would become members of the Hockey Hall of Fame as well. Savard entered first in 1986 and Lapointe took a little bit longer before being welcomed in 1993. Robinson remained with the Canadiens until the end of the 1988-89 season before spending three more years with Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. He joined his Hall of Fame teammates in 1995, his first year of eligibility. Still involved in the game, he had tremendous success as a coach and most recently was part of the St. Louis management team that captured a Stanley Cup in 2019.
A Cardboard Legacy
With each of the Big Three having plenty of cards during their playing days, there is a lot out there for collectors to consider. Most of their individual vintage cards are affordable, but be prepared to shell out a bit more for modern autograph and game-used memorabilia cards. Robinson tends to be involved in more projects than the others and has quite a few good looking cards at reasonable prices, but there is still a lot of newer material out there for Lapointe and Savard.
The trio did not appear on a card together until In The Game produced a Stick Rack card for them in its 2006-07 Ultimate Memorabilia release. A card with jersey pieces for the trio debuted two years later in the same product. A card with signatures from all three came along in 2010-11 and the regular version was limited to just nine copies. A few other Canadiens tribute relic and autograph cards featuring all three players can usually be found for sale.