The World Hockey Association began play this season with 12 teams and a number of former NHL players, chiefly Bobby Hull, who left the Chicago Blackhawks to sign a 10-year, $2.75 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets. But, before the season opened, the Soviet Union's national team played a historic series against Team Canada, made up of NHL stars. The Soviets won three of the first five games, with one tie, but Canada managed to win the last three games and the series. The skating and passing ability demonstrated by the Soviet team was a revelation to the Canadian players, coaches, and fans, and was to have an important influence on North American hockey.
Two new teams, the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders, entered the NHL. The Montreal Canadiens surged to the top of the league, finishing 13 points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the East Division and 27 points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, who led the West Division.
While Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins was the NHL's leading scorer for the third straight year, Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player. He was the first player from an expansion team to win the award.
The New York Rangers eliminated the Bruins in five games but were in term eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks in five. Meanwhile, Montreal beat the Buffalo Sabres in six games and then won a five-game semifinal series over Philadelphia.
That set up a rematch of the 1971 Stanley Cup finals. This time around, it was a high-scoring series. Montreal won the first two games at home, 8-3 and 4-1, and the Black Hawks came back with a 7-4 win in Chicago. The Canadiens took a 3-1 lead by winning in Chicago, but the Blackhawks won a shootout in Montreal, 8-7, and the series returned to Chicago. The final game was another shootout. Yvon Cournoyer broke a 4-4 tie with a third period goal and the Canadiens went on to win, 6-4, to take the series and the cup.
Cournoyer tied Gordie Howe's record with 12 points in the final series and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.