Playoff Game 67 – Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 0

Playoff Game 67
Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 0
Stanley Cup Semifinals, Game 4
Tuesday, May 9, 1978
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ best season in 11 years dragged to a painful end last night, when the Montréal Canadiens eliminated them 4-0 in the Stanley Cup semi-final with a 2-0 win at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The sellout crowd of 16,485 seemed to sense the end, sitting quietly for much of the listless match until rising in standing ovation in the final minutes.

The Canadiens, winners of the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, advanced to the final again in the minimum number of semi-final games. They will meet the winner of the Boston Bruin-Philadelphia Flyer series in the championship round.

The Leafs, weakened by injuries, came into the series exhausted after a seven-game quarter-final round in which they eliminated the New York Islanders.

The Leafs lacked the energy and organization to compete with the Habs. Dave “Tiger” Williams limped through last night’s game on a sore left knee. Lanny McDonald played in the series despite a broken wrist. Defensive cog Borje Salming missed the entire series because of an eye injury received in a game against New York.

“We were trying to go some place without a couple of back wheels,” Williams said. “I think Borje would have made a big difference in this series.

“Brian Glennie, Trevor Johansen and Randy Carlyle all had a tremendous series. But, you need to fight finesse with finesse,” Williams said.

“You can’t expect to hold out any length of time without a guy like that,” said Ian Turnbull, who played both defence and left wing for the Leafs during the semi-final.

“At least we’ve gone further than this club has in 11 seasons. It would have been nice to go further. Maybe if we had met somebody else…but hell, you’ve got to face the Canadiens sometime.”

The Leafs sipped champagne, then thank-you gift of owner Harold Ballard, who felt the season was a great success. The Leafs earned 92 points, the second-highest total in their history. They cut goals-against by improving their checking game and relying on the reflexes of first-string goalie Mike Palmateer.

Ballard paid tribute to Toronto coach Roger Neilson, whom he said would be back behind the bench next year.

“I don’t think anyone else would have brought the team this far,” Ballard said. “Right now, I would consider no one over Neilson. He is the ultimate in today’s coaching and he can converse with the players.”

Last season, when Toronto was dispatched from the quarter-finals, Ballard was thinking about who would replace Red Kelly. This year, Ballard was pleased and captain Darryl Sittler was speaking in glowing terms of Roger the Rookie.

“I’m 27 and I learned many things this year, things I maybe should have learned when I was 17 or 18. I’ve improved my defence and I credit Roger with that. I’m a more complete hockey player than I’ve ever been,” Sittler lauded.

The Leafs had not reached the semi-finals in the Stanley Cup chase since expansion of the National Hockey League. The last time they had gone this far was in 1967, when they won the Cup in six-team play.

“It’s hard to measure the success,” Neilson said. “We finished higher and went further than last year, we cut the goals-against and the penalty killing improved. I’m confident next year will be better. I feel we can be legitimate contenders.”

Neilson said there was the possibility of changes on next year’s Toronto team. He noted the development of John Anderson and Ron Wilson, who spent most of the year in Dallas in the Central Hockey League. There is also the amateur draft, which yielded rearguard Johansen this season.

Neilson said the only disappointment of the season was the lack of success of the power play.

The Leafs could find no chinks in the solid armor of the Canadiens. Their attacks were frustrated by good checking. The defence, even without Guy Lapointe, who missed the game with a back injury, was almost impenetrable. Brian Engblom, playing his first match, blocked shots and shooters in front of Ken Dryden. The Leafs took only 23 shots at the Montréal goalie. The Canadiens fired 29 at Palmateer.

“They have no weaknesses,” Neilson observed. “They’re balanced, extremely well-coached and their checkers are as good as their scorers. I can’t see anyone beating them.”

The Canadiens took a 1-0 first-period lead on a breakaway by Jacques Lemaire. Although the Leafs outshot the Canadiens 9-7 in the opening period, they spent most of their time fending off incipient Montréal attacks, playing cautiously. The Leafs had two real breaks, one by Sittler and one by Ron Ellis. Dryden outguessed both men.

The Habs extended the lead to 2-0 with a power-play goal at 2:15 of the second period. They broke into Toronto’s box defence in front of the goal and set up a passing triangle. Steve Shutt scored the goal.

“The Leafs played more conservatively tonight,” said Dryden. “And we didn’t exactly storm them with opportunities.”

Dryden said he would prefer to go straight into the final series, rather than wait. “We had a wait after the regular season, after the quarter-finals and again now. It’s a painful process, waiting.”

For the Leafs, the pain of waiting extends into September, when they return to training camp. Veteran defenceman Brian Glennie summed up the feeling of the end.

“It doesn’t feel like the season is over. It won’t hit us ’til tomorrow morning when we wake up to get ready to come to the rink…and there’s no need to.”

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, May 10, 1978

1st Period
MTL GOAL – 07:21 – Lemaire (Houle, Robinson)
TOR PEN – 09:05 – Johansen, holding

2nd Period
TOR PEN – 01:25 – McDonald, tripping
MTL PP GOAL – 02:15 – Shutt (Houle, Lemaire)

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 13:30 – team, too many men on the ice
MTL PEN – 16:40 – Chartraw, tripping

MTL – Dryden (W + SO, 23-23)
TOR – Palmateer (L, 27-29)

MTL – 7+14+8 = 29
TOR – 9+9+5 = 23

MTLGoaltenders: Ken Dryden, Michel Larocque. Defence: Pierre Bouchard, Rick Chartraw, Brian Engblom, Bill Nyrop, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard. Forwards: Yvan Cournoyer (C), Bob Gainey, Réjean Houle, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Jacques Lemaire, Pierre Mondou, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt.
TORGoaltenders: Gord McRae, Mike Palmateer. Defence: Randy Carlyle, Brian Glennie, Trevor Johansen, Mike Pelyk, Ian Turnbull. Forwards: John Anderson, Pat Boutette, Jerry Butler, Ron Ellis, George Ferguson, Jimmy Jones, Dan Maloney, Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler (C), Jack Valiquette, Stan Weir, Dave Williams.