For two straight seasons (1973-75) the Philadelphia Flyers had emerged as not just an aggressive, dirty, rough and tumble team, but also a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers took no prisoners in what is considered as "The Goon Era" of hockey, and if their ruthless aggression didn't win the game, they had some Hall of Fame talent to back it up.
At the same time the Canadiens had come of a pair of disappointing seasons. The 1974-75 season ended in a semi-final upset to the Buffalo Sabres, even with the return of Ken Dryden and Guy Lafleur's emergence as the superstar he was believed to become.
In the fall of 1975, the Canadiens knew they would have to come out tougher and stronger, especially against Philadelphia. With a four-year Cup dynasty on the horizon for Montreal, nobody would think that a major turning point would happen on the ice in September.
The Canadiens were never considered a "tough team" like their rival Flyers and Boston Bruins of the day. When opposed, they weren't afraid to mix it up, as this video clip from February of 1974 season attests to. It's not the best quality of a multitude of uploads of the same event, but it's one of the most complete and gives you an idea of how the game went in the early seventies.
With the '75-76 pre-season under way, the Canadiens and Flyers would square off in a home-at home weekend series.
The Flyers, and their aggressive style took the first game 5-4, at the Montreal Forum, in a game that saw 24 penalties called, 13 against Montreal.
One of the key match-ups on the evening was Dave Schultz, the baddest of the Flyers, and Doug Risebrough. The Canadiens' sophomore forward had finally had enough of Schultz's roughhousing, but was unsuccessful with any punches. He managed to escape unharmed himself, likely due to the fact that he wore a helmet.
The loss was a further sign, for Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman, that the team had to be more agressive to survive the Flyers through the regular season, and into the playoffs. "We've got people like Larry Robinson and Pierre Larouche that can give us that aggressiveness," Bowman said after the Saturday game. "It's the type of thing that can get contagious."
If contagious was what Bowman was expecting, then Sunday's game at the Spectum, was a blown out epidemic!
The game had already seen a slew of penalties that border-lined on regular season records (32 infractions totaling 82 minutes), but he worst came with less than two minutes to play in the third period.
The Canadiens managed to use their speed and finesse to build a 6-1 lead with 1:45 to play. The Habs had always felt they could simply outplay the Flyers in the past, but had failed over two seasons. While they maintained a strong lead, the turning point was yet to come.
The final melee of the evening centered again around Risebrough, admitted he was not an advocate of fighting, and Flyers captain Bobby Clarke. It was no secret that Clarke was a master of using his stick to attack opponents, and sometimes just kept it from a slashing call. Those who have seen or read about the '72 Summit Series know of Clarke's infamous slash on Valeri Kharlamov.
Risebrough, possibly still fueled by the evening prior and a well-known agitator, took exception to Clarke's antics and after words were exchanged, the gloves dropped. From there all hell broke loose, when Shultz jumped off the Flyers bench to aid his captain, and the benches cleared.
The Flyers went on the attack, but were met with an equal force as the two teams paired off and the fists began flying.
Trying to break up the players with his linesmen, referee Bruce Hood called off the game, but not before assessing another 250 in penalties, bringing the night's total to 332 minutes. The brawl alone saw 16 major penalties, 15 game misconducts, a ten minute misconduct and five minor penalties. Shultz for his trouble, took credit for three of the game misconducts, three majors and a trio of the minors.
Grand total, 69 penalties for an exhibition game!
The battle was a statement game from the Canadiens to the Flyers, and any other team willing to rough it up with them. as the season began.
"Philly now realizes the Canadiens are not going to take a back seat to anybody, when it comes to rough stuff and intimidation on the ice," said the late John Ferguson in a Montreal Gazette interview later that week. "They've proven that they aren't going to get pushed around.
"This year's Canadiens team has speed, scorers, goaltending and toughness, which means it's going to win it's share of games without resorting to all that rough stuff. I look for them to win their division and make it to the Stanley Cup FInal."
Ferguson's prediction was pretty much bang on, as the Canadiens finished first overall, in the league with the Flyers coming in second. The two teams would meet in the Stanley Cup FInal, where the Habs used thier skill over brawn and swept the Bullies in four straight.