Midway through the third period of last Sunday's showdown between Montreal and Boston , the old seigneurs and brash young lords of hockey, Ken Dryden stretched all 42 inches of his left arm across the mouth of the Canadien net and speared a couldn't-miss shot by Phil Esposito . Esposito , Public Enemy No. 1 to goaltenders, having scored the criminal total of 76 goals during the season, stared at Dryden , cursed him—"You thieving giraffe!"—and then slammed his curved stick against the glass behind the goal. "I looked at the faces of the Bruins," Dryden said later, "and I could see it all so clearly. They all looked defeated."
The Bruins were defeated (see cover), and it was Dryden , with help from the Mahovlich brothers, Peter and Frank, and some of that inexhaustible Montreal pride that upset them 4-2 in the Boston Garden in the seventh game of their wild and wicked Stanley Cup series.
It was the first time all year that the Bruins , runaway conquerors of the East, really had to win a game, and when they failed, Montreal 's John Ferguson crowed, "That's one dynasty that didn't last very long."
Before 14,994 suffering spectators in the Garden and a national television audience, Peter Mahovlich set up a pretty first-period goal to put the Canadiens ahead 2-1, and brother Frank killed the last flickering Boston hopes with his second goal of the game, which made it 4-1 in the final period—after Jacques Lemaire had poke-checked the puck away from Orr . It was Frank Mahovlich , a wanderer from Toronto and Detroit only recently come to Montreal , who said, "With the Canadiens, pride is instilled even in the ratholes of the Forum."
In defeat the Bruins proved conclusively that they go only where Bobby Orr takes them. When Orr was able to control the puck with his private games of keepaway, Boston was invincible. But when the Canadiens were able to stymie Bobby by harassing him with two forecheckers or by ganging up on him at their blue line with what looked like hockey's version of the goal-line stand, as they did Sunday, Boston sputtered like any machine suddenly deprived of its horsepower. "Stop Orr," said John Ferguson of the Canadiens , "and you do stop the Bruins . It's that simple."
Despite Esposito's conviction, the other Bruins were wary as they waited for the Canadiens. Cocky and brash during their romp through the league during the regular schedule, they were now morose. Most of them had expected Montreal to die in four straight games. "Don't those damned little Frogs ever quit?" one player asked.
For both the Bruins and the Canadiens , it was now obvious, too, that besides Orr 's battle with himself there were three other key matchups that ultimately would decide the winner. First of all there were the goaltenders—Dryden and Gerry Cheevers . At 6'4" and 210 pounds, Dryden covers most of the net, something the Boston shooters found most discouraging. The strongest complaints came from Esposito, who was not playing like a man who had scored 76 goals. "In 1968 Gump Worsley was like St. Peter at the pearly gates against us. The next year that little Roggy Vachon robbed me blind. And now these bleeping Canadiens come up with Dryden . Cripes. The kid's got paws like a giraffe." What made Esposito particularly annoyed at the rookie was the fact that Phil's low shots for the corners—shots that were goals against normal-sized net-minders all season—kept deflecting off Dryden 's pads. "My brother wouldn't do the things to me that this guy has been doing," Esposito said, shaking his head.
Between games law student Dryden visited law school libraries. "That's good," said Gerry Cheevers. "At least I'll never run into him off the ice." When he is not in the Boston goal, Cheevers usually can be found at the race track. "I start every day the same way," he says, "with the Lord's Prayer. 'Our Father, Who art in heaven, give us this day our daily double.' "
The second and third vital matchups involved centermen: Boston 's swinging Derek Sanderson vs. Jean Beliveau , the magnificent captain of the Canadiens , and Montreal 's Henri Richard vs. the quick stick of Phil Esposito . Sitting in the Bruins ' dressing room one night, Sanderson talked about Beliveau . "I hate him. I hate him," Derek said, twitching his mustache. "What I hate about Beliveau is that he's so good. All the time I was growing up I idolized him. So now I'm playing against him and I still think he's the greatest. But the way I figure it, if we're going to win, I got to outplay Beliveau ."
The great man of the Canadiens gave Derek a few hard lessons during the first three games, but Sanderson covered Beliveau so closely in the fourth game that Jean was never an important player. "That's what I've got to do again," Derek said.
Playing Richard against Esposito was a totally unexpected move by Montreal Coach Al MacNeill. Actually, in the first game MacNeill started with Peter Mahovlich , who at 6'4" and 210 pounds is bigger than Esposito , but when Phil took 11 shots at Dryden (none got past him) MacNeill switched to the Pocket Rocket. Starting with the second game, Richard skated alongside Esposito everyplace he went—even to the Boston bench. Phil, who averaged some seven shots on goal during the season, took only three shots at Dryden in the second game, six in the third and four in the fourth. "Henri is doing his job, right?" Esposito said bitterly.
And so, when the fifth game started last Tuesday in Boston , the matchups were set. In the first minute Wayne Cashman scored for Boston . Moments later Yvan Cournoyer tied the score for the Canadiens . All the while Richard was dogging Esposito and Sanderson was clinging to Beliveau . Orr , meanwhile, seemed to be playing as he did in the first game—more concerned about preventing goals than scoring them.
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 somehow the puck hopped over the net—and Dryden , too—and there was Esposito free to tap in one of the easiest goals he has ever scored. "I was owed that, thank you," 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 first period and the Bruins rolled to a 5-1 lead in the second.
Contrary Montreal roared out for the third period and scored two fast goals. Visions of the third-period debacle in Game No. 2 started to dance through the minds of the Garden spectators, but Johnny Bucyk killed the rally with a strong individual effort, and the Bruins ultimately got a 7-3 victory. The Garden crowd jeered Dryden , yelling, "The Bruins ain't Hahvud, kid," as the Canadiens left the ice. "We'll be back," said John Ferguson . "We'll be back."
Although the Cheevers-Dryden confrontation was probably a standoff, mostly because Dryden stopped 56 Boston shots while Cheevers had to cope with only 27 Montreal attempts, the Bruins clearly won the other matchups. Esposito scored a goal and took 10 more shots at Dryden , while Sanderson totally blunted Beliveau when Jean had the puck or was in position to get it. Most important, though, Orr played a strong game—not as spectacular as in his hat-trick performance the previous Sunday, but solid, solid.
Back in Montreal for the sixth game Thursday night, Al MacNeill made one more change in his lineup. Hoping to add some speed and aggressiveness on the wing, he decided to move Henri Richard from center to right wing, a position Henri had not played since the 1950s. They had been fairly docile in the previous game, but now the Canadiens came on with speed and muscle. Peter Mahovlich scored early, skating through four Bruins and beating Cheevers from 25 feet. After Esposito scored on a power play to tie the score, Richard made a clever move to beat Cheevers with a backhander to give Montreal a 2-1 lead. Boston tied the score again on another power-play goal, but the Canadiens were still flying. With two Bruins in 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 Peter Mahovlich as the Canadiens overpowered the Bruins 8-3. It was Boston 's worst defeat of the year.
Mahovlich is called Peter the Clown by his teammates, including his brother Frank, because of the pranks he likes to play in hotel lobbies—like setting the newspapers of lobby sitters afire. He ignited Orr 's temper in the third period and had a pretty fair fight with him. Orr won. It was the only thing Boston won all night.
Beliveau handled Sanderson easily, and half a dozen Montreal checkers kept Esposito tightly guarded whenever Phil was near Dryden . Meanwhile, Dryden got an assist on one of Peter Mahovlich 's goals, and when the public-address man announced it the Forum crowd stood and cheered the goaltender for a solid minute.
Orr played inconsistently. "I don't know what's the matter," he said. "I want to 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 North America knows by now Orr did not go, ending that remarkable affair and permitting some reflection on the other playoff battles. New York and Minnesota managed to settle their feuds with Toronto and St. Louis in six games, and Chicago , of course, had required only four games to dispose of Philadelphia . For the Rangers—who rallied behind Eddie Giacomin 's goaltending and some sudden goal scoring by their captain, Bob Nevin—it was the first time in 21 years they had won any kind of a series in Stanley Cup play. For the North Stars—who turned to Gump Worsley , one of the two NHL goalies who still refuse to wear a mask, and a former collegian named Lou Nanne for urgent help after they lost two of their first three games—it marked the first time in three playoffs that they had defeated their bitter mid-country rivals, the Blues , and it also meant that for the first time since expansion the Blues would not be playing in the final cup series.
The Rangers seemed to have a simple game plan for the Maple Leafs . From the start they directed their attack at crusty old Bob Baun, the very good Leaf defenseman who is the one steadying influence on the other Toronto defenders, all of whom are in their early 20s. While doing this, though, the Rangers forgot to play the close-checking hockey that has made them a good team. As a result they barely squeaked past Toronto 5-4 in the first game, lost the second game 4-1 and then lost the third game 3-1. When Giacomin allowed eight goals in the first two games he was replaced by Gilles Villemure . Indeed, it seemed that Giacomin 's history of poor playoff performances was being replayed.
Still, Emile Francis, the New York coach and general manager, went back to Giacomin for the fourth game—a critical one for the Rangers . And suddenly Giacomin played like the Giacomin of the regular season. He limited the Maple Leafs to four goals in the next three games, and the Rangers won all three. The last was best, a masterpiece of suspense as Nevin scored nearly 10 minutes into sudden-death overtime to win for the Rangers 2-1. Ironically, Nevin has been the least favorite Ranger among the fans at Madison Square Garden . "The first time I make a bad play in the Garden I'll get the same old business from the fans," Nevin said before the Rangers flew to Chicago for the opener in their semifinal series with Chicago , which they also won 2-1 in overtime.
When Nevin was scoring his winning goal, the organist at The Met in Bloomington , Minn. was just starting to play Bye, Bye, Blues , and the 15,370 packed into the rink began to serenade the visitors from St. Louis , who, at the time, were losing 5-2. Then the place fell quiet. "I told the organist to stop," said North Stars Coach Jack Gordon, "because I wanted to win the series first—and then celebrate." The score remained 5-2—and, boy, did the North Stars celebrate.
Fierce opponents since the first days of expansion, the Blues and the North Stars had waged continuous guerrilla warfare that St. Louis always seemed to win. But not this time. Worsley stepped into the goal last Sunday night and, despite a pulled groin 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-gasp goal by Lou Nanne , upset the Blues 4-3, and he was strong again in the 5-2 victory 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 to the $2,250 he earned by playing on a winning quarterfinal team.
For all their trouble, the North Stars immediately got more—Montreal. Much would depend on Gump Worsley , nature's most successful copy of the fireplug—and a man who hates to 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."