Game 520 – Canadiens 3, Maple Leafs 2

Game 520
Canadiens 3, Maple Leafs 2
Wednesday, March 20, 1968
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

Manager-coach Punch Imlach will have to admit it now. His Maple Leafs are dead.

It was made official here last night by the Montréal Canadiens, who defeated the Leafs 3-2 in the Forum to erase Toronto’s final hopes of making the National Hockey League playoffs.

Bob Rousseau scored two of the Montréal goals with the other by Mickey Redmond. Ron Ellis and Tim Horton scored for Toronto.

Imlach, who has consistently maintained the Leafs could still make it into the playoffs, had no arguments left when the game ended.

Despite a 5-3 loss by the fourth-place Chicago Black Hawks to the Rangers in New York, the Leafs remained 13 points behind Chicago. They have only six games to play.

The Leafs entered last night’s game needing to win all seven remaining regular-season games to retain any hope of entering the playoffs.

They had not previously missed the playoffs in Imlach’s 10-year reign.

Now, the remaining six games don’t matter.

However, in this important contest they battled the first-place Canadiens to the final whistle.

Toronto couldn’t overcome the Canadiens’ three-goal surge, which erased a 1-0 lead the Leafs grabbed when Ron Ellis scored at the 26-second mark of the first period.

Before five minutes elapsed, the Canadiens struck back for two goals, taking advantage of penalties to defencemen Mike Pelyk and Larry Hillman.

The Habitants, playing without defencemen Terry Harper and Ted Harris, added another before the period ended.

The Leafs are out of the playoffs for the first time since 1958. They also have tied a dubious mark of another Leaf team that won a Stanley Cup and then failed to make the playoffs the next year. That was coach Hap Day’s 1945-46 Leafs team, Cup champions in the spring of 1945.

The loss stretched the Leafs’ streak to 12 games without a win on the road. The last time they won outside of Maple Leaf Gardens was on January 28 in Chicago. Since then they’ve lost 10 and tied two.

The Leafs dismal road record of seven wins, 21 losses and six ties has often prompted Imlach to remark “this is the worst road team I’ve ever been associated with.”

Last night before the game he said, “you’ve buried us and resurrected us before. Perhaps this will be the night you bury us for the final time this season.”

He also had another premonition as he attempted to sustain some faith in this team.

“We’ll score on our very first shot on goal,” said Imlach at dinner.

Norm Ullman, the gifted centre Leaf won from Detroit in a trade earlier this month, darted up the middle of the ice and after seeing an attempted pass to Paul Henderson blocked by J.C. Tremblay, he fed the puck to Ellis.

Ellis quickly fired and scored his 24th goal of the season, his best total since turning pro four years ago.

The complexion of the game changed when the Leafs lost goalie John Bower. He was bowled over in the crease by Dick Duff after robbing Duff from close range and suffered an injured wrist. Brian Conacher knocked Duff into the crease.

It was Conacher who inadvertently set up the situation. His attempt to clear the puck out of the Leaf zone while Pelyk was in the penalty box was blocked by Jean Béliveau. Béliveau fired at Bower and Duff snapped up the rebound.

The Leafs put Bruce Gamble in goal at 2:05 but he wasn’t sharp. Neither were Tim Horton, Duane Rupp, Jim Pappin nor Bob Pulford as they became tangled up while Gamble was attempting to clear a loose puck.

Gamble missed the puck and Redmond gently poked it into the open net.

Conacher also erred on the Canadiens’ second goal. He attempted to clear while Hillman was off, but the puck slid out to Rousseau who blasted it between Gamble’s legs.

Jacques Lemaire set up Rousseau 20 feet out for the third Montréal goal. Gamble was slow moving on the shot as Rousseau carefully took aim and slapped the puck inside the post.

The tempo of the game slowed in the last two periods as the Leafs fought back. They scored once on Horton’s long drive at 6:57 of the second period. They had few good scoring chances in the third period, directing only four shots at Rogatien Vachon.

The best chance they had was a shot by Ellis, who was set up by Ullman, but Ellis’ drive was wide.

The Leafs finished the season here without a win, losing four and tying one.

Gamble, after a shaky start, was outstanding in the second and third periods, thwarting Béliveau six times.

Béliveau had an open net for a target in the last minute of play but shot wide, as Gamble watched from the bench.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 21, 1968

1st Period
TOR GOAL – 00:36 – Ellis (Ullman, Pelyk)
TOR PEN – 00:51 – Pelyk, interference
MTL GOAL – 02:52 – Redmond (Richard)
TOR PEN – 03:45 – Hillman, high sticking
MTL PP GOAL – 04:02 – Rousseau
TOR PEN – 05:04 – Pappin, roughing
MTL PEN – 05:04 – Savard, roughing
MTL GOAL – 17:40 – Rousseau (Lemaire, Duff)

2nd Period
TOR GOAL – 06:57 – Horton (Walton, Byers)
MTL PEN – 14:13 – Ferguson, hooking
MTL PEN – 18:45 – Vadnais, elbowing

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 02:53 – Horton, interference
MTL PEN – 11:56 – Lemaire, interference
TOR PEN – 15:36 – Pelyk, hooking

MTL – Vachon (W, 26-28)
TOR – Bower (3-3), Gamble (L, 33-36)

MTL – 22+9+8 = 39
TOR – 12+12+4 = 28

MTLGoaltenders: Rogatien Vachon, Gump Worsley. Defence: Jacques Laperrière, Serge Savard, J.C. Tremblay, Carol Vadnais. Forwards: Ralph Backstrom, Jean Béliveau (C), Yvan Cournoyer, Dick Duff, John Ferguson, Danny Grant, Jacques Lemaire, Claude Provost, Mickey Redmond, Henri Richard, Bobby Rousseau, Gilles Tremblay.
TORGoaltenders: Johnny Bower, Bruce Gamble. Defence: Larry Hillman, Tim Horton, Mike Pelyk, Marcel Pronovost, Duane Rupp, Allan Stanley. Forwards: Mike Byers, Brian Conacher, Ron Ellis, Paul Henderson, Dave Keon, Murray Oliver, Jim Pappin, Bob Pulford, Norm Ullman, Mike Walton.

MTL – 40-19-10 (.652)
TOR – 28-30-10 (.485)