Game 555 – Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 1

Game 555
Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 1
Wednesday, March 7, 1973
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

The Canadiens aren’t perfect after all. Last night, with a 4-1 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Claude Larose wound up for a slap-shot from excellent range – and missed, and the 4-1 score was the final count.

Afterward, the kidding in the Canadien dressing room was merciless. Larose had teed up like Jack Nicklaus preparing for a drive only to fan a wind to be felt on St. Catherine St.

“The reason I miss,” Larose told his buddies, “was that at the other end I broke my stick, and somebody from the bench handed me one of Guy Lafleur’s.”

Larose’s was one of several miscues that glared in the Canadiens’ 45th win of the season, compared to eight losses and 14 ties. The team was tired, playing its fourth game in five nights, but nevertheless it stormed around Leaf goaltender Ron Lew often enough for its fifth win in a row. It’s now undefeated in eight games since losing here to the Philadelphia Flyers, and that streak breaks down to seven wins and one tie.

“They’re trying to beat Boston,” noted Leaf coach John McLellan in reference to the Canadiens’ opportunity of breaking the National Hockey League record for most points in a season. The Canadiens have 104 with 11 games remaining, and the Bruins’ record is 121.

The Leafs provided enough opposition to stall any Canadien assault at the record. But goals by Marc Tardif and Lafleur in the first minute and a half proved to be too much to overcome, ruining Leaf goaltender Ron Low’s night as well.

“I cost us the game,” said Low, “I just played terribly. After those first two goals, I expected a blitz. But the guys played a great game and if they hadn’t scored those two quickies it would have been a different ball game.”

Low, 22, longed for counsel. “It’s times like this you wish ‘The Snake’ (Jacques Plante, traded to the Bruins) was here. He would be able to tell me exactly how those goals were scored.

“He was always a big help. Even in a game he would send someone off the bench and wake you out of your sleep. He would have the guy tell you if you were doing something wrong.”

Low blamed himself on Tardif’s game opener, but defenceman Jim McKenny insisted he deserved the discredit. “It was on my stick. I should have dumped it into the corner.”

Low countered, “You’re full of crap, Howie, I cleared it right on to Tardif’s stick.” Backup goaltender Gord McRae observed from the bench that it had been a breakdown of communication.

Lafleur’s game winner resulted from a weird bounce off the backboards which followed a shot from the point. “I just lost the puck right from the blueline,” said Low.

What should have been an early kayo didn’t turn out that way, however, because Low became stubbornly unyielding, with a glare showing through his facemask as he made save after save.

David Keon’s 29th goal cut the lead to 2-1, a feat made possible when defenceman Jacques Laperrière and goaltender Ken Dryden fell to smother the puck but missed. “I dove,” said Dryden,” but somebody had let all the water out of the pool.”

Dryden made several alert saves to redeem himself as the Leafs gradually took over. McKenny blocked a Canadien shot and raced from the Leaf blueline with Pierre Jarry for one opportunity late in the first, but Dryden stopped first Jarry and then Garry Monahan on the rebound.

Montréal coach Scotty Bowman wasn’t unaware that his team was in danger. “I decided in the second period to shift our lines’ matchups around, and I sent out Lafleur, Tardif and Réjean Houle against the (Darryl) Sittler line. Not because our kids are checkers, but because they have been skating so well I thought they could control the puck.”

Bowman’s strategy worked, and the only goal in the second period was a high backhand by Murray Wilson, a Canadien extra who doesn’t play regularly but has 13 goals.

About the same time Bowman was adjusting his forwards’ assignments and dispensing his original plan of using four lines, McLellan found himself reacting. “I look over at the Canadien bench and see Steve Shutt sitting there, and I think of Serge Savard, Chuck Lefley and Pete Mahovlich out with injuries…what a great hockey club. Even with their talent it’s hard to realize they only have eight losses, because it’s so hard for any team to stay up for every game.”

Jacques Lemaire’s 38th goal of the season, scored off Wilson’s rebound with Low prone on the ice, completed the scoring early in the final period. Not long before the goal, the 21-year-old Wilson demonstrated another capability when he noticed at the last moment that McKenny was going to check him into the boards. He met the Leaf defenceman chest-to-chest and the original checker became the victim.

“Wilson is just a great player,” said McLellan, and Bowman had a similar comment about the wing who doesn’t get a regular shift with his team. “The way Wilson hit McKenny was one of the things that turned the game. It was like in the second period when Larose hit Jarry just before Wilson made it 3-1.”

The story of 1972-73? The Canadiens get extra efforts from their extras, while the Leafs don’t even have enough regulars for a lineup. With the Leafs, even the weather is bad. “Fog on the Eastern seacoast has cancelled our charter,” McLellan told his players. “We’ll try again at 7:45 this morning, and if we can’t fly we’ll have to go to Long Island by bus (for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders). Every time we travel it’s fog.”

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 8, 1973

1st Period
MTL GOAL – 00:49 – Tardif (Houle)
MTL GOAL – 01:29 – Lafleur (Laperrière, Lapointe)
MTL PEN – 03:19 – Larose, interference
TOR PEN – 05:05 – Dupéré, tripping
TOR GOAL – 11:16 – Keon (Thompson, Fortier)
MTL PEN – 13:51 – Tardif, high sticking
TOR PEN – 13:51 – Sittler, high sticking
MTL PEN – 16:07 – Lemaire, holding

2nd Period
MTL GOAL – 13:52 – Wilson (Bouchard)
TOR PEN – 15:24 – Grisdale, holding

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 04:43 – Lemaire (Wilson, Laperrière)
TOR PEN – 16:54 – Fortier, tripping

MTL – Dryden (W, 26-27)
TOR – Low (L, 30-34)

MTL – 15+10+9 = 34
TOR – 10+9+8 = 27

MTLGoaltenders: Ken Dryden, Michel Plasse. Defence: Pierre Bouchard, Dale Hoganson, Jacques Laperrière, Guy Lapointe, Bob Murdoch, Jim Roberts, Larry Robinson. Forwards: Yvan Cournoyer, Réjean Houle, Guy Lafleur, Claude Larose, Jacques Lemaire, Frank Mahovlich, Henri Richard (C), Steve Shutt, Marc Tardif, Murray Wilson.
TORGoaltenders: Ron Low, Gord McRae. Defence: Dave Fortier, John Grisdale, Joe Lundrigan, Jim McKenny, Mike Pelyk. Forwards: Terry Clancy, Denis Dupéré, Ron Ellis, George Ferguson, Pierre Jarry, Rick Kehoe, Dave Keon (C), Garry Monahan, Darryl Sittler, Errol Thompson, Norm Ullman.

MTL – 45-8-14 (.776)
TOR – 21-34-9 (.398)


Murray Wilson (MTL)
⭐⭐ Marc Tardif (MTL)
⭐⭐⭐ Darryl Sittler (TOR)