In the best tradition of Hollywood, the Los Angeles Kings, facing elimination from the Stanley Cup quarterfinals, planned to unnerve the Boston Bruins last Thursday night by staging what they hyped as "the greatest pregame show in hockey history." Shortly after 8 p.m. the Kings, trailing the series three games to two, skated onto the ice, and the capacity crowd of 16,005 in the sometimes Fabulous Forum rose up and began more than five minutes of wild applause. When the noise finally subsided, singer Frank Mahoney was led across a carpet to center ice to sing the fight song so beloved by L.A. Forward Dave (Hammer) Schultz when he was a Philadelphia Flyer: God Bless America. The lights were dimmed, and Mahoney began to do his best Kate Smith imitation, hoping that God would bless the Kings as He had so often blessed the Flyers.
Trouble was, Mahoney's microphone was dead. Frantic Forum officials tried to locate the source of the electrical malfunction, but in time they gave up.
The only people in the building who thought all this was very funny were the Bruins, for in the best electrical tradition of the late Ernie Kovacs, Boston Captain Wayne Cashman—with some help from Trainer Frosty Forristall—had cut Mahoney's microphone cord.
As it developed, nothing went right for the Kings. While the L.A. players no doubt were still wondering why "the greatest pregame show in hockey history" had been a dud, the Bruins scored three goals in the first eight minutes and outshot the Kings 30-7 over two periods. Spurred by the crowd, the Kings rallied for three goals to tie the score midway through the final period, but then disaster struck again. Boston was on the power play, and when L.A.'s Dave Hutchison broke his stick while trying to clear the puck, the Bruins' Gregg Sheppard picked up the loose puck and fired it past Goaltender Rogatien Vachon.
Cashman probably saved Boston's 4-3 victory with a superior defensive maneuver in the closing seconds. Inexplicably, the Bruins' two defensemen were caught up ice as Butch Goring and Marcel Dionne, the most dangerous L.A. attackers, crossed the Boston blue line. Goring tried to slide the puck to the streaking Dionne, who was in the clear, but Cashman deflected it into the corner—and time ran out. "God Bless Wayne Cashman," sang Boston Coach Don Cherry.
On Sunday night in Philadelphia the Bruins skated to another 3-0 lead after two periods in the opening game of their semifinal series against the Flyers. Once again they squandered the lead, with the Flyers scoring twice in the final 3:25 to force a sudden-death overtime. But once again they won 4-3, with Cashman breaking up a Philadelphia rush and Rick Middleton beating Bernie Parent 2:57 into the overtime.
For Cashman, that assist was all part of a week's work. Rough-tough describes L.A.'s Schultz, Toronto's Tiger Williams, St. Louis' Bob Gassoff and Philadelphia's Bob Kelly, Paul Holmgren and Moose Dupont, but Cashman was the "most hated player" in the NHL before any of them ever came into the league. Thoughts of Cashman bring to mind the swashbuckling beat-em-up Bruins of the late '60s and early '70s. Cashman was the meanest and toughest player on a team that ruthlessly bullied opponents. He played left wing on a line with Center Phil Esposito and Right Wing Ken Hodge, and it was Cashman who always did the dirty work in the corners to get the puck out in front of the net to his high-scoring and highly publicized linemates.
He also was the zaniest member of a team that was hockey's answer to the Gas House Gang. Once described as "looking like Randle Patrick McMurphy searching for some mischief in the cuckoo's nest," Cashman has always been something of a rogue. He once broke his foot while trying to swing on a chandelier from one motel ledge to another. Again, having apparently overimbibed at a team party, Cashman was stopped by the police on Route 1 north of Boston and taken to the station house. The officers told Cashman he could make one telephone call. Cashman dialed a number and mumbled into the phone. Twenty minutes later a small Oriental knocked on the station house door and announced, "Chinese food for Mr. Cashman."
On the ice Cashman was the NHL's premier policeman. Let someone cheap-shot Bobby Orr or Esposito, and Cashman would show up to exact revenge. A left-handed puncher, he was rated the best fighter to come out of the Boston area since Rocky Marciano. Actually, Cashman is from Harrowsmith, Ontario, a small town outside Kingston. "Cashman's town seems like something out of Deliverance"' says Cherry. "A tough town?" Cashman says. "Yeah, I guess so. There were nine Cashman boys in it."
According to Schultz, Cashman once told him during the heat of a game that he would "cut my eyes out," and, according to some Bruin teammates, Cashman once waved his stick at Montreal's Jean Beliveau during the warmups before a 1969 playoff game. "I guess I've done a few things I now regret," Cashman says, "but at the time I felt they had to be done. I knew at an early age I'd never be a 50-goal scorer, so I've spent my career doing what had to be done."
Nevertheless, Cashman always has had his admirers. "He's really one of the best wings ever to play the game," says Boston Goaltender Gerry Cheevers. "At the Team Canada training camp last summer we were picking our alltime NHL team, and I insisted that we had to have Cashman as one of the five left wings. O.K., he doesn't have the flair of a Bobby Hull, but championships aren't won only by the flashy guys. They're won in the corners and along the boards, and Cashman is the best of our era when it comes to playing in the corners and along the boards."
Over the last two seasons, though, a new Cashman has emerged. Oh, the new Cashman still plies his trade in the corners, and he provides protection for Center Jean Ratelle, but he has tempered the viciousness that once characterized his play and has become the unquestioned leader of the Bruins. He is Captain Cash of the Lunchpail A.C. now, a grizzled veteran of 31 with thinned-out hair and a face full of scars. "I don't think I ever could have dreamed of Cashman becoming such a leader," says Boston General Manager Harry Sinden, who was Cashman's first coach at Oklahoma City in 1966 and later coached him in Boston.
Cashman traces the change in Cashman back to Nov. 7, 1975, the day Esposito, his best friend, was traded to the New York Rangers. Cashman helped organize a farewell party for Esposito and Carol Vadnais that night in Vancouver—a bash, incidentally, that cost the Bruins $2,000 in damage to the hotel. Then it all sank in. Or as Cheevers says, "The guys who got the headlines were either gone [Esposito] or injured [Orr], and everyone on the team had to learn to become a worker like Cashman."
Says Cashman, "Suddenly we had to start doing what Don Cherry kept telling us we had to do. We had to work. We're not a colorful team anymore. We don't have anyone who thinks of himself as a star, not even the guys who are—like Ratelle. Everyone is equal, from Ratelle to the last guy on the bench. There are three key words for the Bruins now: toughness, work, control."
Cashman has exhibited almost perfect control this season, engaging in only one fight. "Who'd ever have thought they'd see the day when Cashman would turn the other cheek?" says one NHL coach. High-sticked by L.A.'s Hutchison Thursday night, Cashman refused Hutchison's offer to engage in immediate fisticuffs, thus giving Boston a man advantage. "A couple of years ago," Cashman says, "I never could have kept myself from going after the guy."
In his only fight, Cashman belabored Los Angeles' Vic Venasky but came out of the scrap with a broken left thumb that kept him off the ice for 15 games. When Cashman returned in mid-February, the Bruins had won only five of their previous 14 games. With Cashman back in the lineup, they lost just four of their last 22 and overtook Buffalo for the Adams Division title and the New York Islanders for third place in the overall standings.
Cashman assumed the Bruins' captaincy on March 3, when Defenseman Dallas Smith, who was wearing the "C" in the absence of the injured Johnny Bucyk, suddenly retired. When Bucyk returned to the Boston lineup for one game last week, he refused to wear the "C" on his shirt and insisted that Cashman keep it permanently.
"Cash never used to say a thing," Cheevers says. "Then he became captain, and now he's always talking with the young players—sometimes cheerleading, sometimes being brutally blunt. Cash becoming captain is the most important thing that has happened to this team."
There were no 40-goal scorers for the Bruins this season, but, playing in Cashman's image, they finished the schedule with 312 goals—third highest in the NHL. They had no All-Stars either, but finished with the third-best record.
"I'm prouder of this team than any other, even the two Stanley Cup champions I played on," Cashman says. "People have always buried us. We don't have as much so-called talent as some other teams, but talent above the shoulders and below the belt is as important as individual scoring totals. Every guy on this club has learned what he can and cannot do. And every guy is tough. We're just a bunch of muckers, like the Flyers. This series will be won in the corners."
And if the Flyers decide to call on Kate Smith before some game, Cashman will probably cut her off, too.