It was a soft fall afternoon at the beginning of the professional hockey season and the inscrutable Phillipe Henri Watson, then the coach of the New York Rangers, was standing under a marquee at Madison Square Garden reading a newspaper. His eyes fell upon a picture of a missile leaving its launching pad and slowly his neck turned red and he rose up on tiptoe.
"Look at this malarky!" snarled Watson. "Men trying to get to the moon. Science! You can blame men trying to get to the moon on science. What's the matter with science, why doesn't it wise up? There's lots of things right here on earth that science has yet to do." Watson meditated for a moment and then smiled. "Science," he said, "has yet to find a cure for Montreal."
Science had not, science has not, science will not find a cure for the Montreal Canadiens, who last week skated to an unprecedented fifth consecutive Stanley Cup championship by gliding past the Toronto Maple Leafs in four straight games. Earlier, of course, in semifinal play the Canadiens had eliminated the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight. Their sweep of the two series made them the second team in the 42-year history of the National Hockey League to win the cup in eight straight games. (The other team was the Detroit Red Wings in 1952.)
There was something about this Montreal championship that was different from any of the Montreal cup victories of the past: there was no single hero for the Canadiens this time around—Maurice Richard did not shine in solitary fashion. In this Stanley Cup, Montreal had any number of heroes. Thirteen of them scored 29 goals in the playoffs. Montreal's defense was also stiffer than it had been; Doug Harvey gave perfect support to Goalie Jacques Plante. Plante, the delightful masked marvel, allowed only 11 goals in eight games, and in three of those, all on the road, he shut out the oppositon (Chicago twice, Toronto once). And not for one single second in any of their eight games were the Canadiens behind.
After beating the Black Hawks (4-3, 4-3, 4-0 and 2-0), Montreal had to wait a full week to play Toronto, the winner of the other semifinal series. The Maple Leafs finally eliminated Detroit in the sixth game of that series (thus making it certain that for the 27th time since 1918 the Stanley Cup would go to a Canadian team).
FAST AND EASY
Toronto Coach "Punch" Imlach knew that Montreal would be hard to beat. Throughout the regular season the Leafs had stopped the Canadiens only three times in 14 meetings and had been outscored 51 goals to 28. But he thought that if his Leafs could win one of the first two games (played at Montreal) they could spring an upset. "We had a good year this year," said Imlach, "and we'll beat the Canadiens." The bookmakers politely disagreed with Imlach and installed Montreal as a 16-5 favorite. They were better prophets than Punch.
Montreal slashed home three goals in the first period of the opening game and won 4-2; they scored twice in the opening period of the second game and won 2-1; they scored three goals in the third game before Toronto could get one and won 5-2; in the fourth game they scored twice in the first period and rolled to a 4-0 victory.
Many people complain that the NHL has no plot. Montreal always seems to win (they haven't been out of the playoffs in 12 straight years). Next season it would be refreshing if by some remarkable stroke of luck Montreal crumbled and the Stanley Cup ended up on a shelf in some other city. But then, how many years have people been hoping for the same thing?