Old Time Hockey: The curious case of the Chicago Black Hawks and Led Zeppelin

A playoff series with no home game for one team?

While they didn’t win a Stanley Cup, the Chicago Blackhawks (then known as the Black Hawks) were one of the NHL’s best clubs during the early 1970s. As the decade wore on, the team’s fortunes began to sag, leading to a long period of mediocracy.

The Black Hawks would almost always make the playoffs during the remainder of the 70s and the 1980s, which was much, much easier back then, but they were seldom ever a serious contender.

After getting swept in the quarterfinals by the Montreal Canadiens the year prior, Chicago made the 1977 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the skin of their teeth, with that skin being one more win than the Vancouver Canucks, who finished with the same 63 points as the Black Hawks.

In a season that saw the top three teams in each division make the playoffs, the wins tiebreaker banished the Canucks to fourth place in the weak Smythe Division while third place Chicago would face the up-and-coming New York Islanders in the best-of-three Preliminary Round, which had been in place since the 1974-75 campaign when the NHL postseason field expanded from eight teams to twelve.

As the higher seed, the Islanders got home ice for Game 1 and, if needed Game 3. Game 2 was supposed to take place at Chicago Stadium on April 7, 1977, but instead was played in Uniondale, NY.

The Black Hawks got spanked 5-2 in Game 1 and then dropped what was supposed be their home game by a 2-1 count on Long Island. The game-winner went to Clark Gillies and the Islanders also got a solid 18-save effort from Battlin’ Billy Smith. Had they not been swept, Game 3 would’ve also been played at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (more on that below).

So why did the Black Hawks lose their only home game in the series? Because Led Zeppelin was in town on the first leg of their 1977 North American Tour for a run of four dates in the Windy City.

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham rocked Chicago Stadium on April 6, April 7, April 9 and April 10. That left the 8th open on the calendar for the Black Hawks to play at home, but with Led Zep already set up, playing that particular night must have been out of the question.

So, if Chicago had extended the series, with the scheduling matrix already laid out by the NHL (with the three games slated across the board for April 5, April  7 and April 9) and Led Zeppelin performing on the 9th and 10th, the Black Hawks still would have had to play a third straight game in the Islanders’ barn.

The Black Hawks players were reportedly extremely upset that a bigger effort wasn’t made by management to move the Led Zeppelin dates around to allow them a home game, taking this as a not at all subtle slight that the suits upstairs had little to no faith in the talents of the team on the ice.

Perhaps more was done than thought and it just wasn’t possible or it could be that Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, a mountain of a man not to be trifled with, was simply unable or unwilling to reschedule.

Not having a home game in a series is something that wouldn’t happen nowadays, but back in the spring of 1977, the New York Islanders swept the Chicago Black Hawks with a secondary assist from the mighty Led Zeppelin.