Midway through thethird period of last Sunday's showdown between Montreal and Boston, the oldseigneurs and brash young lords of hockey, Ken Dryden stretched all 42 inchesof his left arm across the mouth of the Canadien net and speared acouldn't-miss shot by Phil Esposito. Esposito, Public Enemy No. 1 togoaltenders, having scored the criminal total of 76 goals during the season,stared at Dryden, cursed him—"You thieving giraffe!"—and then slammedhis curved stick against the glass behind the goal. "I looked at the facesof the Bruins," Dryden said later, "and I could see it all so clearly.They all looked defeated."
This is an article from the April 26, 1971 issue
The Bruins weredefeated (see cover), and it was Dryden, with help from the Mahovlich brothers,Peter and Frank, and some of that inexhaustible Montreal pride that upset them4-2 in the Boston Garden in the seventh game of their wild and wicked StanleyCup series.
"Dryden wasbetter than we had ever dreamed," said Bobby Orr, who through the sevengames performed more erratically than his Boston worshipers had ever dreamed hecould.
It was the firsttime all year that the Bruins, runaway conquerors of the East, really had towin a game, and when they failed, Montreal's John Ferguson crowed, "That'sone dynasty that didn't last very long."
Before 14,994suffering spectators in the Garden and a national television audience, PeterMahovlich set up a pretty first-period goal to put the Canadiens ahead 2-1, andbrother Frank killed the last flickering Boston hopes with his second goal ofthe game, which made it 4-1 in the final period—after Jacques Lemaire hadpoke-checked the puck away from Orr. It was Frank Mahovlich, a wanderer fromToronto and Detroit only recently come to Montreal, who said, "With theCanadiens, pride is instilled even in the ratholes of the Forum."
In defeat theBruins proved conclusively that they go only where Bobby Orr takes them. WhenOrr was able to control the puck with his private games of keepaway, Boston wasinvincible. But when the Canadiens were able to stymie Bobby by harassing himwith two forecheckers or by ganging up on him at their blue line with whatlooked like hockey's version of the goal-line stand, as they did Sunday, Bostonsputtered like any machine suddenly deprived of its horsepower. "StopOrr," said John Ferguson of the Canadiens, "and you do stop the Bruins.It's that simple."
Indeed, thecomplexion of the series turned on what Orr did—or did not do—in every game. Asthe week began the series stood at 2-2; i.e., two superior Orr performances vs.two miserable ones.
"Now it's downto the best two of three," Phil Esposito said as the Bruins flew home forthe fifth game, "and there's no way the Canadiens are going to beat us inBoston. No way. Believe me."
Despite Esposito'sconviction, the other Bruins were wary as they waited for the Canadiens. Cockyand brash during their romp through the league during the regular schedule,they were now morose. Most of them had expected Montreal to die in fourstraight games. "Don't those damned little Frogs ever quit?" one playerasked.
For both the Bruinsand the Canadiens, it was now obvious, too, that besides Orr's battle withhimself there were three other key matchups that ultimately would decide thewinner. First of all there were the goaltenders—Dryden and Gerry Cheevers. At6'4" and 210 pounds, Dryden covers most of the net, something the Bostonshooters found most discouraging. The strongest complaints came from Esposito,who was not playing like a man who had scored 76 goals. "In 1968 GumpWorsley was like St. Peter at the pearly gates against us. The next year thatlittle Roggy Vachon robbed me blind. And now these bleeping Canadiens come upwith Dryden. Cripes. The kid's got paws like a giraffe." What made Espositoparticularly annoyed at the rookie was the fact that Phil's low shots for thecorners—shots that were goals against normal-sized net-minders all season—keptdeflecting off Dryden's pads. "My brother wouldn't do the things to me thatthis guy has been doing," Esposito said, shaking his head.
Between games lawstudent Dryden visited law school libraries. "That's good," said GerryCheevers. "At least I'll never run into him off the ice." When he isnot in the Boston goal, Cheevers usually can be found at the race track. "Istart every day the same way," he says, "with the Lord's Prayer. 'OurFather, Who art in heaven, give us this day our daily double.' "
The second andthird vital matchups involved centermen: Boston's swinging Derek Sanderson vs.Jean Beliveau, the magnificent captain of the Canadiens, and Montreal's HenriRichard vs. the quick stick of Phil Esposito. Sitting in the Bruins' dressingroom one night, Sanderson talked about Beliveau. "I hate him. I hatehim," Derek said, twitching his mustache. "What I hate about Beliveauis that he's so good. All the time I was growing up I idolized him. So now I'mplaying against him and I still think he's the greatest. But the way I figureit, if we're going to win, I got to outplay Beliveau."
The great man ofthe Canadiens gave Derek a few hard lessons during the first three games, butSanderson covered Beliveau so closely in the fourth game that Jean was never animportant player. "That's what I've got to do again," Derek said.
Playing Richardagainst Esposito was a totally unexpected move by Montreal Coach Al MacNeill.Actually, in the first game MacNeill started with Peter Mahovlich, who at6'4" and 210 pounds is bigger than Esposito, but when Phil took 11 shots atDryden (none got past him) MacNeill switched to the Pocket Rocket. Startingwith the second game, Richard skated alongside Esposito everyplace he went—evento the Boston bench. Phil, who averaged some seven shots on goal during theseason, took only three shots at Dryden in the second game, six in the thirdand four in the fourth. "Henri is doing his job, right?" Esposito saidbitterly.
And so, when thefifth game started last Tuesday in Boston, the matchups were set. In the firstminute Wayne Cashman scored for Boston. Moments later Yvan Cournoyer tied thescore for the Canadiens. All the while Richard was dogging Esposito andSanderson was clinging to Beliveau. Orr, meanwhile, seemed to be playing as hedid in the first game—more concerned about preventing goals than scoringthem.
Then it happened.The puck was behind the Montreal goal. Richard left Esposito alone in front,figuring the puck was safely on the stick of a Montreal defenseman. But somehowthe puck hopped over the net—and Dryden, too—and there was Esposito free to tapin one of the easiest goals he has ever scored. "I was owed that, thankyou," he said later. Boston then started to hit every Canadien who moved,and soon the Bruins were in control. Mike Walton scored later in the firstperiod and the Bruins rolled to a 5-1 lead in the second.
Contrary Montrealroared out for the third period and scored two fast goals. Visions of thethird-period debacle in Game No. 2 started to dance through the minds of theGarden spectators, but Johnny Bucyk killed the rally with a strong individualeffort, and the Bruins ultimately got a 7-3 victory. The Garden crowd jeeredDryden, yelling, "The Bruins ain't Hahvud, kid," as the Canadiens leftthe ice. "We'll be back," said John Ferguson. "We'll beback."
Although theCheevers-Dryden confrontation was probably a standoff, mostly because Drydenstopped 56 Boston shots while Cheevers had to cope with only 27 Montrealattempts, the Bruins clearly won the other matchups. Esposito scored a goal andtook 10 more shots at Dryden, while Sanderson totally blunted Beliveau whenJean had the puck or was in position to get it. Most important, though, Orrplayed a strong game—not as spectacular as in his hat-trick performance theprevious Sunday, but solid, solid.
Back in Montrealfor the sixth game Thursday night, Al MacNeill made one more change in hislineup. Hoping to add some speed and aggressiveness on the wing, he decided tomove Henri Richard from center to right wing, a position Henri had not playedsince the 1950s. They had been fairly docile in the previous game, but now theCanadiens came on with speed and muscle. Peter Mahovlich scored early, skatingthrough four Bruins and beating Cheevers from 25 feet. After Esposito scored ona power play to tie the score, Richard made a clever move to beat Cheevers witha backhander to give Montreal a 2-1 lead. Boston tied the score again onanother power-play goal, but the Canadiens were still flying. With two Bruinsin the penalty box, Jacques Lemaire broke the tie, and four minutes later J.C.Tremblay beat Cheevers for a 4-2 lead. Henri scored again and so did PeterMahovlich as the Canadiens overpowered the Bruins 8-3. It was Boston's worstdefeat of the year.
Mahovlich is calledPeter the Clown by his teammates, including his brother Frank, because of thepranks he likes to play in hotel lobbies—like setting the newspapers of lobbysitters afire. He ignited Orr's temper in the third period and had a prettyfair fight with him. Orr won. It was the only thing Boston won all night.
Beliveau handledSanderson easily, and half a dozen Montreal checkers kept Esposito tightlyguarded whenever Phil was near Dryden. Meanwhile, Dryden got an assist on oneof Peter Mahovlich's goals, and when the public-address man announced it theForum crowd stood and cheered the goaltender for a solid minute.
Orr playedinconsistently. "I don't know what's the matter," he said. "I wantto go, but when I turn it on I don't go anywhere." He thought for a moment."I'd better go when I turn it on Sunday. We'd all better. Cripes."
As most of NorthAmerica knows by now Orr did not go, ending that remarkable affair andpermitting some reflection on the other playoff battles. New York and Minnesotamanaged to settle their feuds with Toronto and St. Louis in six games, andChicago, of course, had required only four games to dispose of Philadelphia.For the Rangers—who rallied behind Eddie Giacomin's goaltending and some suddengoal scoring by their captain, Bob Nevin—it was the first time in 21 years theyhad won any kind of a series in Stanley Cup play. For the North Stars—whoturned to Gump Worsley, one of the two NHL goalies who still refuse to wear amask, and a former collegian named Lou Nanne for urgent help after they losttwo of their first three games—it marked the first time in three playoffs thatthey had defeated their bitter mid-country rivals, the Blues, and it also meantthat for the first time since expansion the Blues would not be playing in thefinal cup series.
The Rangers seemedto have a simple game plan for the Maple Leafs. From the start they directedtheir attack at crusty old Bob Baun, the very good Leaf defenseman who is theone steadying influence on the other Toronto defenders, all of whom are intheir early 20s. While doing this, though, the Rangers forgot to play theclose-checking hockey that has made them a good team. As a result they barelysqueaked past Toronto 5-4 in the first game, lost the second game 4-1 and thenlost the third game 3-1. When Giacomin allowed eight goals in the first twogames he was replaced by Gilles Villemure. Indeed, it seemed that Giacomin'shistory of poor playoff performances was being replayed.
Still, EmileFrancis, the New York coach and general manager, went back to Giacomin for thefourth game—a critical one for the Rangers. And suddenly Giacomin played likethe Giacomin of the regular season. He limited the Maple Leafs to four goals inthe next three games, and the Rangers won all three. The last was best, amasterpiece of suspense as Nevin scored nearly 10 minutes into sudden-deathovertime to win for the Rangers 2-1. Ironically, Nevin has been the leastfavorite Ranger among the fans at Madison Square Garden. "The first time Imake a bad play in the Garden I'll get the same old business from thefans," Nevin said before the Rangers flew to Chicago for the opener intheir semifinal series with Chicago, which they also won 2-1 in overtime.
When Nevin wasscoring his winning goal, the organist at The Met in Bloomington, Minn. wasjust starting to play Bye, Bye, Blues, and the 15,370 packed into the rinkbegan to serenade the visitors from St. Louis, who, at the time, were losing5-2. Then the place fell quiet. "I told the organist to stop," saidNorth Stars Coach Jack Gordon, "because I wanted to win the seriesfirst—and then celebrate." The score remained 5-2—and, boy, did the NorthStars celebrate.
Fierce opponentssince the first days of expansion, the Blues and the North Stars had wagedcontinuous guerrilla warfare that St. Louis always seemed to win. But not thistime. Worsley stepped into the goal last Sunday night and, despite a pulledgroin muscle, he stopped the Blues 2-1 to even the series at two games apiece.Gump played superbly in Minnesota Tuesday when the North Stars, on a last-gaspgoal by Lou Nanne, upset the Blues 4-3, and he was strong again in the 5-2victory Thursday that won the series. For Worsley it was a profitable week.Gump has a $37,500 base salary, and he gets a bonus of $500 for each victory.The three wins over the Blues, then, were worth an extra $1,500—in addition tothe $2,250 he earned by playing on a winning quarterfinal team.
For all theirtrouble, the North Stars immediately got more—Montreal. Much would depend onGump Worsley, nature's most successful copy of the fireplug—and a man who hatesto fly. When last seen, however, the Gumper didn't really need an airplane.
As for Bobby Orr,he said, "I'm going to go home and practice playing hockey."