Game 592 – Canadiens 5, Maple Leafs 3

Game 592
Canadiens 5, Maple Leafs 3
February 28, 1981
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

Perhaps a good elementary school teacher would know what to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A good teacher, after all, knows how to cope with short attention spans.

Like bright but high-strung children, the youthful Leafs can concentrate on their assignments for a while. Then, collectively, their minds seem to wander.

That’s pretty much what happened Saturday night when they lost 5-3 to the soaring Montréal Canadiens.

For one period, they played well enough to beat anybody in the National Hockey League. Minds (and players) began to wander in the second period. By the third, the Leafs were playing poorly enough to lose to anybody in the league.

By the third period, the Montréal attackers were coming in waves at Leaf goalie Jiri Crha – three-on-two breaks followed two-on-one breaks until Crha started counting Canadiens, wondering if they’d slipped an extra player or two on to the ice.

The shots in the final period were 15-2 for Montréal, and the Canadiens weren’t shooting until they saw the whites of Crha’s eyes. He made a pair of big stops on Chris Nilan, stoned Doug Risebrough, and smothered a shot by Guy Lafleur.

But the breakdown, said assistant coach-player Dan Maloney, really began in the second period. “We quit staying close to our checks; we were turning away from them and giving them room,” said Maloney, who saw only spot duty in his first game back in the lineup after a back injury.

“When we did that, we let their big defencemen start moving the puck, let them get rolling and get the puck up to the forwards.” Mind you, the Canadiens have been playing well enough to exploit any team’s weaknesses. The win, before 18,183 paying customers at the Forum, extended their undefeated streak at home to 19 games and their overall record in February to nine wins and three ties in a dozen games.

Several Leafs agreed the February version of the Canadiens is the best they’ve seen this year.

Montréal scored twice in the second period to turn a 3-2 disadvantage into a 4-3 lead. Leaf defencemen redirected both shots past Crha.

First, a shot from the point by Canadien defenceman Brian Engblom, which Crha appeared to have lined up, hit defenceman Borje Salming’s skate and changed direction. The goal was Engblom’s first in 49 games.

Two minutes later, Robert Picard made a diving attempt to block a shot by Mario Tremblay. Instead, he deflected the puck past Crha and the Canadiens had the lead.

When Mark Napier, playing a carom off the end boards, scored Montréal’s fifth goal while Salming was serving a marginal roughing penalty early in the third period, the Leaf game really came apart. “When they got their fifth goal, we started trying to open it up,” coach Mike Nykoluk said. “Montréal just loves that. “We started gambling and getting caught out of position. We started trying long plays again instead of the good short passes that work for us. That’s inexperience.”

Pat Hickey was credited with the goal that put the Leafs in front in the final second of the first period. Montréal defenceman Serge Savard tried to kick away Hickey’s pass from behind the net and kicked it into his own goal instead.

Bill Derlago and Ian Turnbull were the other Toronto scorers. Doug Jarvis and Rod Langway had the other Montréal goals.

Which brings us back to the problem of the short attention span. Nykoluk has brought all kinds of positive changes to the Leafs, but one thing still hasn’t changed from the Joe Crozier era – the pattern of a strong, controlled first period, a so-so second and a desperate third.

The pattern fit Picard almost perfectly. His first 20 minutes were perhaps his best as a Leaf; he offered a glimpse of how good he could be. By the third, he was all over the ice.

That is how the Leafs played in last Wednesday’s 9-5 win over the Colorado Rockies. Only rarely – most recently against Chicago once and Minnesota twice – have the Leafs improved as the game progressed. “It all boils down to discipline,” Maloney said. “Don’t think Montréal isn’t a disciplined hockey team. They work hard and they’re always working. “Our system only works if everybody does his job. If one guy doesn’t do the job, the whole system breaks down. The whole key is being patient. If you’re patient, you save yourself a lot of work.” “I think we learned something tonight,” defenceman Barry Melrose said.

Toronto fans will find out tonight whether the lesson took effect when the Leafs take on the Los Angeles Kings and Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, March 2, 1981

1st Period
TOR GOAL – 01:41 – Derlago (Anderson, Picard)
MTL GOAL – 05:07 – Jarvis (Nilan)
TOR PEN – 09:58 – Picard, roughing
MTL PEN – 09:58 – Nilan, roughing
MTL PEN – 14:00 – Engblom, hooking
TOR GOAL – 16:40 – Turnbull (Hickey, Anderson)
TOR PEN – 18:05 – Salming, holding
MTL PP GOAL – 18:30 – Langway (Larouche, Napier)
TOR GOAL – 19:59 – Hickey (Salming, Anderson)

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 05:50 – Langway, slashing
TOR PEN – 06:03 – Salming, holding
MTL GOAL – 08:09 – Engblom (Mondou)
MTL GOAL – 10:44 – Tremblay (Risebrough)
TOR PEN – 15:38 – Hickey, tripping
MTL PEN – 18:20 – Houle, high sticking

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 02:54 – Salming, roughing
MTL PP GOAL – 03:25 – Napier (Robinson, Mondou)
MTL PEN – 17:36 – Mondou, tripping

MTL – Sévigny (W, 17-20)
TOR – Crha (L, 30-35)

MTL – 9+11+15 = 35
TOR – 11+7+2 = 20

MTLGoaltenders: Denis Herron, Richard Sévigny. Defence: Brian Engblom, Rod Langway, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard (C). Forwards: Keith Acton, Bob Gainey, Réjean Houle, Doug Jarvis, Guy Lafleur, Yvon Lambert, Pierre Larouche, Pierre Mondou, Mark Napier, Chris Nilan, Doug Risebrough, Steve Shutt, Mario Tremblay.
TORGoaltenders: Jiri Crha, Jim Rutherford. Defence: Vitezslav Duris, Dave Farrish, Barry Melrose, Robert Picard, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull. Forwards: John Anderson, Bruce Boudreau, Bill Derlago, Pat Hickey, Mike Kaszycki, Dan Maloney, Terry Martin, Wilf Paiement, Rocky Saganiuk, Ron Sedlbauer, Darryl Sittler (C).

MTL – 36-18-9 (.643)
TOR – 23-30-10 (.444)