For the last eight Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup wins, from 1971 to 1993, I managed to save the front pages and laminate them. (Although one, from 1977, is an inner page).
This is part four – 1971.
It had been two long years since the Canadiens had last won a Stanley Cup, and so in 1971 they did us all a favour by winning again. The natives had been getting restless.
As you can see by the headline, Toe Blake declared 1971 as the Habs greatest victory. And why did he say that?
Here’s Toe. “This is the greatest victory since I have been round Canadiens. These fellows won every series (three) on the other team’s ice. That’s an incredible feat and they came from behind in several games, snatched victory from teams who thought they had won. I said it was better than my last Stanley Cup winner. No team has ever shown more heart under pressure.”
The 1971 playoffs was quite a time for Habs, beginning with a brand new goalie. Law student Ken Dryden, who had at one time been an All-American backstopper at Cornell, had played just six games in the regular season, then replaced the more experienced Rogie Vachon and proceeded to stand on his head as his team took out favoured Boston, then Minnesota, and finally the Chicago Black Hawks.
The legend of Ken Dryden was born in the spring of 1971. And Jean Beliveau called it a day after his brilliant 20 year career with his Montreal Canadiens.
A not quite-so Disneyesque event occurred that spring, unfortunately. After Montreal had lost a game to Chicago, Henri Richard called out coach Al McNeil as incompetent. Headlines blared. The French-English thing came up. For other teams, this might have been a death blow. Instead, Montreal overcame a two-goal deficit to win in game six, and then proceeded to win it all in game seven.
Milt Dunnell, in his Toronto Star column, mentioned that not only were there accusations of McNeil favouring English-speaking players, but also that the coach couldn’t seem to make up his mind where he wanted his players to play. There were no set lines, which sort of reminds me of Jacques Martin. Regardless, it burned the Pocket’s ass.
The other thing that stands out from this series is the legendary goal Jacques Lemaire scored, and one that many still talk about. Lemaire’s long slapshot stunned the Hawks and the crowd, set in motion the overcoming of his team’s second two-goal deficit in two nights, and I have a friend in Calgary, a lifelong Hawks fan, who likes to say that Jacques Lemaire ruined his childhood. It warms my heart when he whines about that.
Legend has it that Lemaire let go a blistering slapshot from centre ice that beat Hawks’ goaltender Tony Esposito, but it was a slight exaggeration. If you’ve ever seen footage of the moment, Lemaire’s shot came from closer to the blueline. But the goal did one huge thing. It was a fortuitous jolt that helped create a Cup celebration. “It might have been the haze in the rink,” said Chicago coach Billy Reay. “I don’t think Tony even saw the shot.”
Footnote. Al McNeil would no longer coach the Habs, even though he had ended with a Stanley Cup. There had been just too much commotion with the Henri Richard disagreement. McNeil was sent to coach the Habs minor-league affiliate Nova Scotia Voyageurs, where he stayed for six years, winning three championships, and finally re-joined the the big club in the front office for a couple more years after that.
And one last quote to end the story, from Bobby Hull who was on the losing end. “Hockey in May is a drag when you’re a loser.”