Game 570 – Maple Leafs 2, Canadiens 1

Game 570
Maple Leafs 2, Canadiens 1
Wednesday, March 24, 1976
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

Beating a team the calibre of the Montréal Canadiens, especially on its home ice, usually takes a lot of luck.

But when the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off one of the season’s big surprises and beat the Canadiens 2-1 last night in a splendid hockey game, not even the Habs themselves dared to attribute only their fifth loss of the year to ill fortune.

Instead they spoke of a new Leaf hockey team, one that combines youth, speed, confidence and a change of spirit that just might take them a long way in the playoffs.

The spectacular goaltending of Wayne Thomas was probably the biggest factor in the win, the Canadiens said, but as coach Scotty Bowman put it, “goaltending is a part of your hockey team and its just one of the ways you win hockey games. Tonight, Toronto played a really good game. We could have had a few more goals but they could have had them too. You have to give them all the credit. We didn’t play that badly.”

Bowman credited the Leafs’ coaching and management for having their youngsters in the right spots, utilizing them to their full potential.

The young Leafs, in fact, were able to beat the Canadiens at their own game. Their skating was swift, brisk and consistent, they were shooting the puck at every opportunity and they were organized in their own zone.

The Leafs scored both goals on power plays. Early in the first period, Dave Williams, whose skating has improved remarkably this season, took advantage of a Guy Lapointe defensive error and beat Ken Dryden close in from the short side.

In the second period, Errol Thompson clicked for his 42nd goal of the year, taking a perfect pass out of the corner from Darryl Sittler and getting the drive off quickly, too fast for even Dryden’s great reflexes to match.

Then in the third period, with a big Forum crowd of 17,219 making as much noise as at any game this season, the Leafs hung in. The Habs got the opportunities but, as defenceman Larry Robinson put it, “they were not the type of clean-cut opportunities we usually get. They came off scrambles in front of the net and it was one of those nights when they just wouldn’t bounce in for us.”

With less than two minutes remaining, the press box contingent was scratching its collective head trying to remember the last time the Canadiens were shut out in the Forum. It was November 2, 1974, when Philadelphia beat them 3-0. However, just as that statistic was hitting home, Jacques Lemaire was banging in a set-up from the corner by Guy Lapointe.

Besides Thomas, key Leafs were Jack Valiquette and Borje Salming. Coach Red Kelly said of Valiquette, “he reminded me of big Jean Béliveau the way he handled that puck.” Bowman was clearly surprised by his play. “He won a lot of key face-offs. He’s big and strong and looked really effective.”

Valiquette also drew praise from Dryden who noted that the Leafs have been a streak team this season and that if they streak in the playoffs they could be tough. “Usually when you think of the Leafs, you think of the Sittler line. But tonight I was really surprised by the work of Valiquette and also Williams.

“The idea was to keep forcing them in their own end,” explained Valiquette. “We’d try to bottle them up there and then bust our butts to get back to our own zone.”

Maybe it was because they had spent so much of their strength in the winning effort, but the Toronto dressing room was surprisingly phlegmatic about the whole thing. Sittler, who took over as captain this year and is given much credit for changing the spirit of the club, said that the Canadiens are a team that can strike so quickly at any time that relaxation is impossible. “They can get them back so fast. Just like in that last minute. You can never be sure.”

The Canadien robbed most often was Yvan Cournoyer, whose good chances numbered about six. “What can you say,” he said. “Thomas came up bigger than I did.”

The Leafs’ Inge Hammarstrom saw little action after being crushed by a hard-boiled check by Larry Robinson in the first period. The Leafs’ other Swede, Salming, blocked shots in every period, playing a standout game defensively, even though he complained later of being physically tired in recent games.

If either Vancouver or Chicago should win their division and get more points on the season than the Leafs, the Canadiens and Toronto could meet in the second round of the playoffs. That was something Bowman didn’t want to think about. “I’m pretty sure Chicago or Vancouver will finish ahead of them.”

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 25, 1976

1st Period
MTL PEN – 03:59 – Bouchard, hooking
TOR PP GOAL – 04:45 – Williams (Boutette, Turnbull)
MTL PEN – 14:34 – team, too many men on the ice
TOR PEN – 16:49 – Ferguson, hooking
MTL PEN – 19:54 – Gainey, charging

2nd Period
TOR PP GOAL – 00:27 – Thompson (Sittler, McDonald)
TOR PEN – 01:40 – Boutette, tripping
MTL PEN – 06:34 – Risebrough, high sticking
TOR PEN – 08:34 – Salming, holding
MTL PEN – 15:00 – Bouchard, hooking

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 02:54 – McDonald, tripping
MTL PEN – 07:32 – Shutt, tripping
TOR PEN – 16:45 – Neely, delay of game
MTL PEN – 17:36 – Mahovlich, hooking
MTL GOAL – 18:14 – Lemaire (Lapointe, Savard)

TOR – Thomas (W, 34-35)
MTL – Dryden (L, 37-39)

TOR – 10+14+15 = 39
MTL – 14+9+12 = 35

TORGoaltenders: Gord McRae, Wayne Thomas. Defence: Claire Alexander, Brian Glennie, Greg Hubick, Borje Salming, Rod Seiling, Ian Turnbull. Forwards: Pat Boutette, George Ferguson, Inge Hammarstrom, Lanny McDonald, Bob Neely, Darryl Sittler (C), Errol Thompson, Jack Valiquette, Stan Weir, Dave Williams.

MTLGoaltenders: Ken Dryden, Michel Larocque. Defence: Don Awrey, Pierre Bouchard, Guy Lapointe, Jim Roberts, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard. Forwards: Yvan Cournoyer (C), Bob Gainey, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Jacques Lemaire, Peter Mahovlich, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay, Murray Wilson.

TOR – 33-28-14 (.533)
MTL – 54-11-10 (.787)