Game 529 – Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 4

Game 529
Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 4
Wednesday, March 26, 1969
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

Normally, if you give the Montréal Canadiens a three-goal lead in the first period, it’s like leaking a little blood in front of a shark.

However, the Maple Leafs, who have been living dangerously in this National Hockey League season, did it at the Gardens last night. They not only survived the experience, they prospered on it.

The Leafs made their most dramatic comeback of the year to salvage a 6-4 victory and turned a triumphant celebration by the Canadiens into a humiliating loss.

Some critics, from time to time, have accused the Gardens’ fans of being passive, of restraining their emotions or merely giving forth with loud handclaps when spiritually uplifted.

There was no evidence the 16,485 customers were too sophisticated to applaud last night. When the Leafs went ahead for the first time in the game, shortly after the third period started, the din would have made an habitue of the Boston Garden wince.

As a result of the Leafs’ win, the four playoff positions are still undetermined and the schedule ends this weekend. Three of the four teams and almost a fourth are identified, but not the order of finish.

The Leafs, with the win, pulled to within three points of the third-place Rangers. All of a sudden the schedule-maker, who had been castigated by most teams throughout the season, appears to be a genius. The Leafs and Rangers also end the schedule with a home-and-home series this weekend.

The Canadiens had been unbeaten in their previous nine games and last night’s loss was only their fourth in 27 games. They aren’t likely to forget it for a long time.

They scored three goals in about 5 minutes in the first period, demoralizing the Leafs with speed and systematic team play.

The Leafs, tense and prone to glaring mistakes, scored one goal before the period ended. They scored two more in the second to tie the game but the Canadiens went ahead again. It lasted for only 18 seconds. The Leafs tied the score again at 4-4 and then scored the only two goals of the third period.

Henri Richard, Ralph Backstrom, John Ferguson and Jacques Lemaire scored for the Canadiens. Ron Ellis, Norm Ullman, Dave Keon, Jim Dorey, Floyd Smith and Mike Walton scored for the Leafs.

It is doubtful if you could single out any of the goals as the one that stimulated the Leafs most.

Ellis restored some of their confidence with the Leafs’ first goal. Perhaps he has fired harder shots, but nobody could remember when. His slapshot from three feet outside the Montréal blueline ripped past Canadiens goalie Rogatien Vachon like a tracer bullet.

Keon’s second-period goal, which tied the score at 3-3, was a masterpiece. He tucked the puck inside the post the instant Vachon left it.

Dorey’s goal was another stabilizer for the Leafs. It came with 20 seconds left in the second period and the Canadiens had regained the lead after the Leafs had tied the score. Instead of the Leafs going into the third period one goal down, Dorey’s shot from the left point gave them a 4-4 tie.

Smith got the winning goal at the 17-second mark of the third period. Rookie Rick Ley, the most competent defenceman on either team in this game, set up the play with a rush down the middle. When he crossed the Montréal blueline he dropped a pass, Smith picked up the puck and beat Vachon with a long screened shot.

Walton’s goal, on a power play near the halfway mark, completely deflated the Canadiens and that was not so surprising. He had devoted most of his earlier ice time to aimless meandering and the Canadiens had probably dismissed him as a threat.

Walton, however, stunned them with one of those stirring spurts that serve to remind everyone of the great talent he keeps concealed a great deal of the time. He raced down left wing and Montréal defenceman J.C. Tremblay deduced that Walton would shoot, but the Leaf player looped around him and cut in to outshift Vachon.

Vachon and Leafs goalie Bruce Gamble each spent an exasperating game trying to follow the puck. They looked at fault on some of the shots that beat them, but it was the kind of game in which the high-power shooters were finding the holes. When that happens a goalie is helpless.

Vachon and Gamble made outstanding stops on other occasions. Brit Selby broke away early in the game when the score was 0-0. Vachon outguessed him. In the second period, when the Canadiens had a 3-1 lead, Gamble moved with uncharacteristic swiftness to close off a side of the net just as Jean Béliveau was preparing to dump the puck in there.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 27, 1969

1st Period
TOR PEN – 03:16 – Horton, tripping
MTL GOAL – 07:50 – Richard (Redmond, Lemaire)
MTL GOAL – 09:06 – Backstrom (Ferguson, Cournoyer)
TOR PEN – 10:44 – Walton, holding
MTL PEN – 10:44 – Richard, holding
MTL GOAL – 13:13 – Ferguson (Richard, Savard)
TOR GOAL – 17:28 – Ellis (Oliver, Ley)
MTL PEN – 19:01 – Duff, tripping

2nd Period
TOR PEN – 03:27 – Pulford, holding
MTL PEN – 03:27 – Harris, elbowing
MTL PEN – 04:10 – Savard, interference
TOR PP GOAL – 05:37 – Ullman (Pulford, Walton)
TOR PEN – 07:21 – Ley, slashing
MTL PEN – 08:41 – Tremblay, interference
TOR GOAL – 15:17 – Keon (Smith, Dorey)
TOR PEN – 17:24 – Selby, tripping
MTL PP GOAL – 19:22 – Lemaire (Cournoyer, Laperrière)
TOR GOAL – 19:40 – Dorey (Smith, Ullman)

3rd Period
TOR GOAL – 00:17 – Smith (Ley)
MTL PEN – 07:49 – Duff, cross checking
TOR PP GOAL – 09:48 – Walton (Pulford, Dorey)
TOR PEN – 13:08 – Pulford, interference
TOR PEN – 18:21 – Pelyk, slashing
MTL PEN – 18:21 – Béliveau, slashing

TOR – Gamble (W, 29-33)
MTL – Vachon (L, 28-34)

TOR – 9+10+15 = 34
MTL – 10+15+8 = 33

TOR Goaltenders: Bruce Gamble. Defence: Jim Dorey, Tim Horton, Rick Ley, Mike Pelyk, Pierre Pilote. Forwards: George Armstrong (C), Ron Ellis, Paul Henderson, Forbes Kennedy, Dave Keon, Murray Oliver, Bob Pulford, Brit Selby, Floyd Smith, Norm Ullman, Mike Walton.
MTLGoaltenders: Rogatien Vachon. Defence: Terry Harper, Ted Harris, Jacques Laperrière, Serge Savard, J.C. Tremblay. Forwards: Ralph Backstrom, Jean Béliveau (C), Yvan Cournoyer, Dick Duff, John Ferguson, Jacques Lemaire, Claude Provost, Mickey Redmond, Henri Richard, Bobby Rousseau.

TOR – 34-24-15 (.568)
MTL – 45-18-11 (.682)