Game 584 – Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1

Game 584
Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1
Thursday, March 1, 1979
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

When Jacques Lemaire scored with 1:25 left in the game to cap a two-goal Montréal comeback in the third period last night, it meant more than a 2-1 National Hockey League loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It put an end to Roger Neilson’s brief term as Leaf coach. President Harold Ballard said after the game that Neilson, hired in the summer of 1977 to replace Leonard “Red” Kelly, had coached his last game for the club.

Former coach Johnny McLellan will take over for the remainder of the season.

Lemaire’s goal came after Guy Lapointe blasted a shot from the point past Toronto goalie Paul Harrison at 13:12 to tie the Leafs 1-1, after Toronto had taken a 1-0 lead into the third period.

The result was particularly disappointing for Harrison and the Leafs, who had played with tremendous determination throughout the game.

The first period started slowly as both clubs played cautious, defensive hockey, particularly the Leafs who lined four players along their blueline on almost every Canadien rush.

For much of the opening period, the Leafs gave the Canadiens few chances in close and when the Canadiens got within range Harrison came up with big stops.

Early in the period Harrison made a big glove save on Steve Shutt’s 55-foot blast and minutes later robbed Pierre Mondou right in front of the crease.

On the play, Harrison appeared to aggravate an old back injury but after a brief pause in the action returned to the nets.

Dave Williams had Toronto’s finest scoring chance of the period when he took Ian Turnbull’s rink-wide pass and smashed a shot behind Montréal goalie Ken Dryden but off the post.

Lemaire came right back and took a Guy Lafleur pass behind the Leaf defence and hit the post behind Harrison with a hard shot.

The Canadiens, who appeared somewhat disorganized for much of the period, outshot the Leafs 8-7.

Larry Robinson had an outstanding chance to open the scoring early in the second period but his shot from 40 feet away hit the crossbar.

Lafleur had a good chance moving in off the left wing but was stymied and from there the Canadiens sputtered, playing sloppy hockey highlighted by dreadful execution.

Walter McKechnie had a fine opportunity to give the Leafs the lead when he moved into the clear but was robbed on an excellent save by Dryden.

The Leafs finally broke the goalless draw when McDonald connected on a power play at 16:28 of the second period, beating Dryden with a hard wrist shot to the shortside.

After two periods of play the Canadiens held an 18-15 edge in shots.

The Leafs returned home to ready themselves for tomorrow night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Sunday they travel to New York to meet the Rangers. Neilson, who was in the final year of a two-year contract, was to meet Leaf general manager Jim Gregory and Ballard today in Toronto to resolve his position with the club.

Ballard has definitely made up his mind about the sophomore coach. He has told the board of directors he will replace him with assistant general manager John McLellan on an interim basis.

Leafs are in real trouble and could conceivably miss the National Hockey League playoffs, a thought that has Ballard horrified.

Last night prior to the game in a taped interview Ballard admitted Neilson was the wrong man for the job and would definitely have to be replaced. “We will see how we do tonight and if we really have a bad game – goodbye,” Ballard said. “Roger is a heck of a guy,” Ballard continued, using the same comment he uttered when he released Red Kelly following the 1976-77 season.

Neilson was aware of Ballard’s thoughts and is prepared for the inevitable. “No matter how we do I don’t think I will be around,” he said prior to the game. “I think if we don’t get going I’m gone for sure.” And that was the understatement of the hockey season. Ballard told himself at the start of the week if Leafs didn’t start winning he would make a change.

Monday night they lost to Buffalo 3-1 and Wednesday they were humiliated 6-4 in Maple Leaf Gardens by the Atlanta Flames. Last night’s loss pushed the Leafs to a 24-27-11 mark, not good enough for a team both Neilson and Gregory said could challenge for the Stanley Cup.

Gregory may be the next to go. Ballard is dissatisfied with him as well.

Last night the Canadiens rallied from a 1-0 disadvantage to defeat the Leafs, who haven’t beaten Montréal since November 1976.

Lanny McDonald opened the scoring on a powerplay goal in the second period but Guy Lapointe came back to tie the game at 13:12 of the third period. Lemaire scored the winner at 18:35 when he lifted a shot behind Leaf goalie Paul Harrison from the side of the net.

Harrison was injured on the play and left the ice on a stretcher. It appeared Yvon Lambert ran into the goalie, who has a history of back problems, on the play.

Neilson, in perhaps his final Leaf coaching decisions, inserted minor leaguer Pierre Hamel, then yanked for an extra attacker 12 seconds later.

The prospects are frightening for the Leafs until regular goaltender Mike Palmateer returns to action. Palmateer has missed two games with a head injury and could miss tomorrow night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Spectrum.

Neilson, 44, became the 13th coach of the Leafs after an outstanding career coaching the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League.

In 1976-77 Leafs hired Neilson to tutor Leaf prospects in Dallas of the Central League and at the end of the season he was promoted to the NHL.

Last year Neilson played a major role in preparing the Leafs for their victory over the New York Islanders in the quarter-final of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This season was a different story. Neilson and Gregory orchestrated trades that brought Dan Maloney, Dave Hutchison, Dave Burrows and Walter McKechnie to the club and promptly told everyone the team had a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Ballard had considered firing Neilson last Wednesday in Minnesota following the Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the North Stars.

That same week Ballard got embroiled in a brief confrontation with Al Dunford, Neilson’s assistant, and walked away muttering “the two of them are gone.” McLellan will take over the club with reluctance. At first Leafs had hoped to pry Eddie Johnston away from the Chicago Black Hawks organization. Johnston coaches the farm team the Leafs share with the Hawks in Moncton, N.B. McLellan coached the Leafs from l969-70 to 1972-73.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 2, 1979

1st Period
TOR PEN – 11:12 – Turnbull, hooking

2nd Period
TOR PEN – 02:35 – Boutette, elbowing
MTL PEN – 07:50 – Shutt, roughing / high sticking double minor
TOR PEN – 07:50 – Monahan, roughing
MTL PEN – 15:32 – Mondou, hooking
TOR PP GOAL – 16:28 – McDonald (Sittler)

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 00:19 – Salming, hooking
TOR PEN – 06:15 – Maloney, hooking
MTL GOAL – 13:12 – Lapointe (Robinson, Lafleur)
MTL PEN – 14:56 – Lafleur, slashing
MTL GOAL – 18:35 – Lemaire (Lambert, Lafleur)

MTL – Dryden (W, 25-26)
TOR – Harrison (L, 31-33), Hamel (1-1)

MTL – 8+10+16 = 34
TOR – 7+8+11 = 26

MTLGoaltenders: Ken Dryden, Michel Larocque. Defence: Rick Chartraw, Brian Engblom, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard. Forwards: Bob Gainey, Réjean Houle, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Jacques Lemaire, Pierre Mondou, Mark Napier, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay.
TORGoaltenders: Pierre Hamel, Paul Harrison. Defence: Dave Burrows, Dave Hutchison, Joel Quenneville, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull. Forwards: John Anderson, Pat Boutette, Jerry Butler, Ron Ellis, Jimmy Jones, Dan Maloney, Lanny McDonald, Walt McKechnie, Garry Monahan, Lorne Stamler, Darryl Sittler (C), Dave Williams.

MTL – 43-11-8 (.758)
TOR – 24-27-11 (.476)