Game 562 – Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 3

Game 562
Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 3
Saturday, January 18, 1975
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

The sight of Jim Gregory in ecstasy tells it like it was.

When Bill Flett scored an empty-net goal to give the Toronto Maple Leafs one of their greatest wins in recent years Saturday night, Gregory, the Leafs’ general manager, was seated high above the scene in the Forum press box. Alongside were such Canadiens as former coach Toe Blake and the team’s injured captain, Henri Richard.

The goal signalled a 5-3 dramatic upset win over Montréal, ending the Habs’ undefeated streak at 21 games, two short of a National Hockey League record.

Suddenly, there was this great leap and cry of glory – like the wailing of a siren. Gregory, a small man, was about four feet in the air, his arms flailing, his mouth about six inches agape, the joy of victory emancipated, the agony of past defeat forgotten, as his scream rang through the shocked building.

Toe Blake’s stern demeanour turned slowly sideways to view this overdose of emotion and lack of decorum. Blake’s lips grumbled something in French at Gregory, something like, “sit down, you jerk,” and he turned away.

Meanwhile, the debris of angered fans littered the air, the players, the officials, and finally clothed the ice in disgust. If it carried a message with it, it was “lose to anybody, but not the Leafs.”

Down in the corridor by the Toronto dressing room the Canadiens’ fans resentment was even more apparent. A band of youths masquerading as autograph hunters ridiculed some Leaf players on their way out.

Defenceman Borje Salming, who dived fearlessly in front of hard slapshots and played brilliantly, was a prime target. “Boris,” they mocked. “Hey Boris, sign here you dumb Swede.” Borje, conscious of the jibes, just pushed his way on out, ignoring them.

He, like his teammates and coach Red Kelly, was bathing in an air of sweet revenge. Not only had they just beaten the team with the best points record in the NHL, not only had they halted a record-bound streak right in the Forum, but they had done it convincingly. They earned the victory through superior play and, in the end, crushed the egos of many Leaf detractors with a performance that likely would have beaten anyone.

It was a remarkable game, vintage pro hockey, reminiscent of classic Leafs-Canadiens struggles of a decade ago and beyond.

Based on their poor record, the Leafs were supposed to provide only token opposition to the cocky Canadiens. But, perhaps nourished with a new confidence following a splendid physical road victory over St. Louis last Wednesday, the Leafs gave their best performance of the season.

They played Montréal at the Canadiens’ own game – incessant, swift skating, crisp, quick passing, clean, cold checking and goof-free goaltending.

Bob Neely, the second-year defenceman who, at his best, can move with the force of a Larry Csonka and the ability of a Marcel Marceau, was at his best. His blueline drive was tipped in by Norm Ullman for the Leafs’ first goal and later he shocked himself by scoring the winner, smashing a bouncing puck in the slot past goalie Michel Larocque.

Bill Flett, the former Philadelphia Flyer who possesses that team’s heady desire to win, and can play intelligent positional hockey, did just that. He scored not only the open-net clincher but also a short-handed goal late in the second period, which gave the Leafs a brief lead.

At his hottest, goalie Doug Favell is about as good as anyone in the league. Saturday, he was at a boil, baffling Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur and other Habs with everywhere goaltending.

As for Dave “Tiger” Williams, few who saw it will forget his performance. For a 23-year-old called up to replace fan favourite Eddie Shack less than two weeks ago, a kid playing his first game in the Forum against some players who can skate almost twice as fast, “Tiger” was incredible.

As left wing on a most effective line, with talented centre Darryl Sittler and a tireless right-wing Gary Sabourin, Williams showed considerable poise while, at the same time, brandishing his reputed belligerence. He fought Jim Roberts handily, played good positional hockey, made few mistakes and scored his first NHL goal, which was probably the most important of the game.

“Tiger” has an eye for the net and a willingness to park near it, without looking over his shoulder to see who’s coming. Midway through the last period, Pete Mahovlich took a pretty pass from Lafleur to beat Favell in picturesque fashion, giving the Canadiens a one-goal lead.

A minute later, set up by Sittler, Williams found himself with the puck in the slot area and zap! – a whistler of a wrist shot rocketed into the top corner and the game was tied.

Small wonder that later in the evening, at a bar in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, four Montréal fans cursed “that bastard Williams” for about an hour. “He’s just a punk from Saskatchewan,” someone named Mary blurted. “Why didn’t somebody like Robinson rub him out early?”

The allusion was to Larry Robinson, the Canadiens’ cantankerous defenceman. However, Robinson only praised Williams following the game saying “a great shot, he played very well.” Robinson also singled out Salming, Sittler and Favell and a Leaf team which he said, “was always coming at us.”

Robinson, coach Scotty Bowman and Mahovlich would not go so far as to say the Canadiens had played well in losing. However, they would not say it was a bad effort. “They were just checking us very well,” said Bowman. “We didn’t get as many good shots as we usually do.

“I figured it would be a tough game because the Leafs always play well against us and this unbeaten streak has been giving teams extra incentive.”

Other scorers for Montréal were Steve Shutt, who tied the game in the first period, and Murray Wilson, who tied it again in the second. The most noticeable Canadien, however, was Lafleur, whose sudden blossoming into superstar status was evidenced by great shifting degrees of speed, by rapid Bobby Orr-like slap-shots and by his new willingness to bodycheck.

The Leafs received only four of 11 penalties, a fact which had the Montréal crowd booing referee Andy Van Hellemond through much of the third period.

When the Leafs did get a penalty, it came at a crucial time, with Brian Glennie going off for holding at the 19-minute mark. The Canadiens pulled their goalie for a two-man advantage but Dave Keon made the big play, winning a faceoff and getting it back to Rod Seiling, who cleared it down the ice.

Lafleur was then trapped in his own zone, Flett scored and it was all over.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, January 20, 1975

1st Period
MTL PEN – 05:08 – Shutt, illegal equipment
MTL PEN – 08:01 – Cournoyer, holding
TOR GOAL – 14:35 – Ullman (Neely, Flett)
MTL GOAL – 16:14 – Shutt (Lafleur, Mahovlich)

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 13:34 – Savard, tripping
TOR PEN – 17:36 – McDonald, holding
TOR SH GOAL – 18:56 – Flett (Keon)
MTL GOAL – 19:48 – Wilson (Cournoyer, Lemaire)

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 01:00 – Williams, roughing / high sticking double minor
MTL PEN – 01:00 – Roberts, roughing / high sticking double minor
MTL PEN – 06:04 – Risebrough, high sticking
MTL GOAL – 10:04 – Mahovlich (Lafleur, Shutt)
TOR GOAL – 11:40 – Williams (Sittler, Sabourin)
TOR GOAL – 12:25 – Neely (Sabourin, Williams)
MTL PEN – 16:07 – Lafleur, tripping
TOR PEN – 19:04 – Glennie, holding
TOR EN SH GOAL – 19:28 – Flett

TOR – Favell (W, 24-27)
MTL – Larocque (L, 29-33)

TOR – 12+11+11 = 34
MTL – 9+13+5 = 27

TORGoaltenders: Doug Favell, Dunc Wilson. Defence: Claire Alexander, Brian Glennie, Borje Salming, Rod Seiling. Forwards: Ron Ellis, George Ferguson, Bill Flett, Inge Hammarstrom, Dave Keon (C), Lanny McDonald, Bob Neely, Gary Sabourin, Darryl Sittler, Blaine Stoughton, Errol Thompson, Norm Ullman, Dave Williams.
MTLGoaltenders: Ken Dryden, Michel Larocque. Defence: Don Awrey, Pierre Bouchard, Guy Lapointe, Jim Roberts, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard. Forwards: Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Jacques Lemaire, Peter Mahovlich, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay, Murray Wilson.

TOR – 17-20-7 (.466)
MTL – 25-7-13 (.700)