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By William Leggett
It was a soft fall afternoon at the beginning of the professional hockey season and the inscrutable Phillipe Henri Watson, then the coach of the New York Rangers, was standing under a marquee at Madison Square Garden reading a newspaper. His eyes fell upon a picture of a missle leaving its launching pad and slowly his neck turned red and he rose up on tiptoe.
"Look at this malarky!" snarled Watson. "Men trying to get to the moon. Science! You can blame men trying to get to the moon on science. What's the matter with science, why doesn't it wise up? There's lots of things right here on earth that science has yet to do." Watson meditated for a moment and then smiled. "Science," he said, "has yet to find a cure for Montreal."
Science had not, science has not, science will not find a cure for the Montreal Canadiens, who last week skated to an unprecedented fifth consecutive Stanley Cup championship by gliding past the Toronto Maple Leafs in four straight games. Earlier, of course, in semifinal play the Canadiens had eliminated the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight. Their sweep of the two series made them the second team in the 42-year history of the National Hockey League to win the cup in eight straight games. (The other team was the Detroit Red Wings in 1952.) ...
In this Stanley Cup, Montreal had any number of heroes. Thirteen of them scored 29 goals in the playoffs. Montreal's defense was also stiffer than it had been; Doug Harvey gave perfect support to Goalie Jacques Plante. Plante, the delightful masked marvel, allowed only 11 goals in eight games, and in three of those, all on the road, he shut out the opposition (Chicago twice, Toronto once). And not for one single second in any of their eight games were the Canadiens behind.
Montreal slashed home three goals in the first period of the opening game and won 4-2; they scored twice in the opening period of the second game and won 2-1; they scored three goals in the third game before Toronto could get one and won 5-2; in the fourth game they scored twice in the first period and rolled to a 4-0 victory.
Many people complain that the NHL has no plot. Montreal always seems to win (they haven't been out of the playoffs in 12 straight years). Next season it would be refreshing if by some remarkable stroke of luck Montreal crumbled and the Stanley Cup ended up on a shelf in some other city. But then, how many years have people been hoping for the same thing?
Issue date: April 25, 1960
Chicago over Detroit in six games
By Kenneth Rudeen
At first glance the Stanley Cup finals being played along the southern shores of North America's Great Lakes last week seemed like a pretty parochial affair. For the first time in 11 years, both teams were American rather than Canadian -- in theory anyway -- and both were owned by members of the Norris family.
In point of fact, however, things were not nearly so Americanized: the 44th playing of the Stanley Cup was, like all big-time professional hockey, a strictly Canadian affair. Its principal protagonists were Canadian Gordie Howe, the Red Wings' ageless one-man team who hails from Floral, Sask., and the Black Hawks' bright, buoyant star, Bobby Hull of Point Anne, Ont. ...
After 15 years in the NHL, Gordie Howe is still the most feared player on the ice. Others are strong. He is as strong as a boa constrictor and, in his own quiet way, touchy as a cobra. Besides, he can skate, shoot and defend surprisingly well. This season he became the second NHL player of all time to score 500 goals (including playoffs; first was Rocket Richard ).
Bobby Hull is a beast of a different kind. Bouncy and breezy as a young calf, he rarely uses his great strength to intimidate. He likes to skate into the opponents' zone, then accelerate full throttle and swoop past, or if necessary, through, the defense, and shoot at close range. At 22, he is Howe's junior by 11 years, and although he was the league scoring champion last season he has yet to realize his immense potential ...
Glow of scintillant Habs dimmedThe theme of the drama was the downfall of a team which didn't even make the finals -- the National Hockey League champion Montreal Canadiens ...
The Hawks not only beat the Habs; they sent them back to Canada in a state of shock.
Far from fresh when the series began after the [regular] season's draining fight to best Toronto, Montreal still had enough class to win the first game ... Chicago took the next by only 4-3, and then went one up by snatching a precious, psychologically devastating and physically punishing 2-1 victory in the third 20-minute overtime period of the following game. Vexed at Referee Dalton MacArthur for calling a Hab tripping penalty, which left Montreal shorthanded at the game-winning score, Coach Toe Blake, normally one of the best-behaved gentlemen in hockey, reacted by throwing a punch at MacArthur, a punch that cost Toe $2,000. After that Montreal rallied and evened the series in the next game. But the wear and tear had been too great. Boom Boom Geoffrion, the Habs' fabulous wingman, had a leg in a cast. Center Donnie Marshall, utility man extraordinary, had a lame knee. The brilliant young wing, Bill Hicke, was wearing a helmet after suffering a concussion. Doug Harvey, the rock to which Montreal's defense has long been anchored, had come into the series with hip, ankle and knee ailments and was feeling new aches and the weight of his 36 years. Center Jean Beliveau, the league's best, was whole but slumping.
To make matters worse for Montreal, the Hawks then lost the hockey man's standard awe of the Canadiens ... Suddenly it must have occurred to the Hawks that the Habs could actually be beaten ...
In the press box a glum Montreal newspaperman felt Churchillian stirrings and solemnly typed: "It was the twilight of the Titans."
Issue date: April 17, 1961
FOR THE RECORD:
Issue date: April 24, 1961
Toronto over Chicago in six games
Excerpts follow from a feature on Stan Mikita, who set a playoff point-scoring record in the final series.
By William Barry Furlong
His legs are a little bowed. His toes are cramped from wearing tight skates. By the standards of modern sport, he is -- at 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds -- approximately two-thirds of an athlete. But Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks was indubitably the superstar of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, even though his team lost to Toronto, four games to two. As tough as a parboiled puck, Mikita set a new playoff point-scoring record of 21 (on six goals and 15 assists) ...
At 21, Czech-born Center Mikita is a candid, durable bachelor who asks and gives no quarter ... Not as burly as Montreal's big Center Jean Beliveau, not as fast as Montreal's little Center Henri Richard, Mikita brilliantly compensates with terror, wit and perception ...
In a sense, Mikita's entire life has been a battle for respect. He was born Stanislaus Guoth on May 20, 1940 in a Czechoslovakian village.
In 1948, three years after the war ended and with the Communists now in power, the Guoths were visited at Christmastime by Stan's uncle and aunt -- Joe and Anna Mikita, who had been living in Canada for 20 years. The talk turned to whether the Mikitas might take Stan home with them, and in one of those tortured personal decisions that often occur in the backlash of a war, the Guoths decided to send their child on to a new and, they hoped, better life.
Issue date: April 30, 1962
FOR THE RECORD:
Issue date: April 30, 1962
Toronto over Detroit in four games
FOR THE RECORD:
Issue date: April 29, 1963
Toronto over Detroit in seven games
By Tom C. Brody
With a collection of very old players, a rambunctious gang of very young ones and the incomparable Gordie Howe -- who is always at his best in Stanley Cup play -- the Wings simply skated their fool heads off in the preliminary round of the playoffs, disposed of smug Chicago in seven games and came close to doing the very same thing to Toronto in the finals ...
"If we skate as hard as the Wings do," [Toronto Coach Punch] Imlach said [before the series began], "we'll win easy because we have a far better team."
But skate hard is just what the Maple Leafs did not do in the first two games. They ambled haughtily along the ice seemingly fearful of working up a sweat. And while Imlach swilled milk to appease his ulcer, the wild-eyed Red Wings were after the Toronto players relentlessly. Leading the fray was Howe, still, at age 36, the best the NHL has, and close behind him were eight young men whose biggest assets are a swashbuckling abandon and the urge to skate full tilt every second they are on the ice ...
It was not until the fourth game, when they were trailing two games to one, that the Maple Leafs began to shake their confident pose and play the hockey one expects of defending champions ... That was the first game in the final series to be won by a margin of more than one goal, and it was a crucial game. The teams split the next two games, thanks largely to the incredible goal-keeping of (first) Terry Sawchuk and (second) Toronto's Johnny Bower ...
After fighting through breathless games marked by close scores and tie-breaking overtime periods, the Maple Leafs won their third straight Stanley Cup with an anti-climactic 4-0 shutout. The Wings were defeated, but they went down with honor.
Issue date: May 4, 1964
Montreal over Chicago in seven games
Conn Smythe winner*: Jean Beliveau, Montreal
Excerpts follow from a feature on Toe Blake, Montreal's central figure in the series.
By Mark Kram
The Canadiens stayed near the top throughout [the regular season], and they entered the playoffs in full stride, with their coach, Hector ("Toe") Blake, in a frenzy of cup lust. Blake had not won a Stanley Cup since 1960. The thought was unbearable.
More than any of his five previous championships, this one was almost completely the handiwork of Blake, a short, corpulent, interminably irascible man who gives the impression he would like to hit anybody in the mouth who dares voice a dissenting view ... Blake's approach, this year more than ever before, was as simple and direct as a blow. He drove his players physically, flogged them mentally and reluctantly applauded them once in a while until he achieved what he considered the proper degree of team spirit.
Toe Blake is not enamored of the press or the public, and he has bruised a lot of feelings along the way; his circle of friends is not as large as it once was. But Blake is never indifferent, whether in the dressing room or behind his bench. When coaching, he is either in steady conversation with himself or his jaws are ferociously masticating chunks of gum. After a defeat he is intolerable; after victory he makes an effort to be gentle, and he is full of generous clichés. But he always manages to convey his fierce disdain -- and it is said to be hastening his retirement.
Issue date: May 10, 1965
*FOR THE RECORD:
Montreal over Detroit in six games
Conn Smythe winner: Roger Crozier, Detroit
By Martin Kane
A placard mounted high on the wall of the home-team dressing room at the Montreal Forum proclaims heroically: "Nos bras lassés vous tendent le flambeau. A vous, toujours, de le porter bien haut." Beneath this message are pictures of some of the greatest Montreal Canadiens of the past -- Georges Vezina, Joe Malone, Aurel Joliat, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Sylvio Mantha, Herb Gardiner and Newsy Lalonde . And, as is the custom in bilingual Montreal, the message is repeated in English at the bottom of the sign: "To you with failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high."
Last week -- after a faulty start in which their own hands seemed to be failing -- the Habs of 1996, neither the finest nor the worst of the teams to represent Montreal in National League hockey, did indeed hold the torch high by beating Detroit four games to two in the Stanley Cup playoffs ...
Before facing Detroit in the finals, Montreal had a 10-day rest, and there was speculation over whether this would be good for them or bad. As it turned out, the long layoff had dulled the sharp, competitive edge that had carried the Habs victoriously through the 70-game regular season. Even with the presumed advantage of playing on its own ice, Montreal turned the 13-to-5 odds topsy-turvy by dropping the first two games to the fired up Red Wings.
The hottest man on the ice in those two games was Roger Crozier, the Detroit goaltender. A little fellow, Crozier looks vastly more like an amiable clerk than a hard-nosed goalie, but his defense and courage as he stood up to and deflected 100-mile-an-hour slap shots had Montreal fans gasping and Montreal players dismayed. His saves -- 33 of them in that first game alone -- were often spectacular, and, though they failed to earn ultimate victory for his team, they earned Roger the Conn Smythe Trophy (worth $1,000 and a Ford Mustang) as the outstanding player in the series ...
After that two-loss start [the Canadiens] made it four in a row, and the desperation of Detroit was seen clearly in the fifth game, when in the first period Coach Sid Abel tried out eight different line combinations, none of which worked too well ... The Canadiens, fielding almost exactly the same team that won the cup last year, skated brilliantly. Their three centers flew over the ice, and when they are like that no team can beat them.
Letter from the publisherThe four pages we devote to Martin Kane's story of the Stanley Cup windup in this issue, probably will be the last we will give to hockey until summer is done. But they bring to a total of 33 full pages the amount of space our magazine has alloted to the coverage of this fast-paced sport during the National Hockey League season of 1965-66. This is more than twice the space we have given to hockey in any previous season -- and it won't stop there. As the National Hockey League expands during the season on 1967-68 from its present eastern six-city setup into a coast-to-coast network of 12 cities with an aggregate population of 50 million people (two and a half times that of Canada), this once largely Canadian sport is sure to take its place alongside major league baseball, football and basketball as a a top American professional team sport.
-- Gary Valk, publisher
Issue date: May 16, 1966
Toronto over Montreal in six games
Conn Smythe winner: Dave Keon, Toronto
By Pete Axthelm
The two men sat on a small bench in the corner of the locker room, separated from most of the players and well-wishers by the pile of pads and skates and tape that goaltenders use for equipment. In the center of the room some of the Toronto Maple Leafs were drinking champagne from the Stanley Cup, which few hockey men had thought they could win. Other Leafs were shoving fully clothed Coach Punch Imlach toward the showers. But Terry Sawchuk and Johnny Bower, the goalies who had done the most to make the celebrations possible, were by themselves, dragging deeply on cigarettes and grappling silently with the frayed nerves and many physical ailments that are an inescapable part of life for aging men who insist on enduring in a young man's game.
Sawchuk, 38, had played one of the best games of his 20-year pro career that night to beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1, as the Maple Leafs clinched the Stanley Cup in the sixth game. Bower, who claims he is 42 but is probably older, had put in two big games the week before; now he had trouble walking because of a pulled groin muscle. But he had been in uniform on the end of the Leafs' bench all night, because Imlach said he deserved to be there. He looked happily around the room through bright eyes that have been narrowed into a perpetual squint by 22 years of watching pucks speeding at him ...
Sawchuck and Bower are the most prominent members of what the coach calls his Old Folks Home ...
Against the heavily-favored Canadiens, Imlach's old men fully vindicated his faith in them. Marcel Pronovost, 36, was the best defenseman in the series. Tim Horton, 37, had a bad opening game (won by Montreal 6-2), and Allan Stanley, 41, an awful fourth game (won by Montreal by the same score), but both veterans came back to play important roles in the Toronto victories. Center Red Kelly, 39, and Wing George Armstrong, 36, the captain, called on remembered skills and unflagging courage to execute big plays in what may have been the final cup series of their careers ...
And Dave Keon ranked close behind the two goalies as the most valuable Leaf; officially, he was the most valuable of all, and thus winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy. He led the club in its tireless forechecking of the speedy Canadiens and held together a line completed by the willing but slow Armstrong and Frank Mahovlich, the alleged superstar who never seemed especially interested in lending his large talents to the cause ...
With the exception of the wildly exciting, wide-open overtime game [Game 3, won by a Bob Pulford goal in the second OT], the Toronto wins were typical masterpieces of rugged checking, defense and superb goaltending ... Cynics around the NHL have often said that this cautious philosophy produces boring hockey. Imlach, who is never boring himself, laughed when the objection came up. Resting an elbow on the large Stanley Cup, he wondered, "Were the Toronto fans bored with us this spring?"
Montreal over St. Louis in four games
Conn Smythe winner: Glenn Hall, St. Louis
By Pete Waldmeir
The fans in the ancient and rickety Montreal Forum took up the chant when the clock said eight seconds to go. "Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two ...," they shouted to a rhythmic handclapping. "One." A St. Louis Blues defenseman, Barclay Plager, snatched the hockey puck at the blue line and flicked it half fast at stumpy Lorne (Gump) Worsley.
The Gumper caught it in his ample midsection and smothered it tenderly, and in a moment he was besieged by cheering teammates, each eager to bestow congratulations on the man who had carried them to a record 13th Stanley Cup title in a near-perfect 13 playoff games -- one over the minimum figures for the expanded National Hockey League -- with a final 3-2 victory Saturday afternoon.
The Canadiens won, as expected, in four straight games over the spunky Blues, but it wasn't a pipe. Two of the games went into overtime and all four of the Canadiens' victories were decided by the slimmest possible margin, a mere one goal.
Glenn Hall, the Blues' 36-year-old goalie, was the tragic hero of the series, for of course he lost each of the games by that same single goal. But it was Worsley who was the hero, for he had picked up the Canadiens at their low point, when big Jean Beliveau, the NHL's premier center, suffered a bone chip in his ankle and was sidelined for almost all of the final series. A veteran of 18 years in hockey, the 39-year-old Worsley had won all 11 playoff games in which he was still awake at the finish. In Montreal's only cup loss, Bobby Hull of the Black Hawks put him to sleep for 15 minutes with an errant knee ...
Describing "Gump"This is the same Gump -- this tiger in the nets -- who fears plane travel and on any trip sits stone upright at the first tiny bump, his head rigid, eyes transfixed and knuckles white, as if that big slap-shooter in the sky were coming in on a breakaway ...
Noble effortIt is to the credit of the Blues -- mostly to the credit of 34-year-old Head Coach Scotty Bowman -- that the series did not turn into a rout ... Outmanned and outgunned, the Blues chose to play tight-checking hockey. They had no other way to go.
Issue date: May 20, 1968
Montreal over St. Louis in four games
Conn Smythe winner: Serge Savard, Montreal
By Gary Ronberg
The Montreal Canadiens enjoyed a highly profitable and relaxing four days in St. Louis last week. They got in some golf, watched the Cardinals lose another baseball game and wagered a few bucks at the track. Then, on Sunday afternoon -- sunburned and well-rested -- they beat the St. Louis Blues for the fourth straight time to win their 14th Stanley Cup championship and an extra $7,500 per man.
Last year when the Blues were new to the NHL and eager to prove they belonged, they had forced the Canadiens to hustle for their four one-goal victories, two of which went into overtime. This time, however, with the exception of Sunday's game, in which they played well, the Blues looked neither hungry nor inspired, and as a result the series was an almighty bore.
"The Blues," said Canadien Defenseman Jacques Laperriere, "I think they need a few more forwards who can skate and put the puck in the net. We made many mistakes against St. Louis, many more than we usually do, but we got away with them. If we made the same mistakes against a team like Boston they would kill us."
As a practical matter, of course, the Canadiens had won the Cup the previous week by eliminating Boston in the East finals; the St. Louis series was a formality ...
Still one had to admire the dexterity with which the Canadiens dumped the Blues. Following the tough Boston series Montreal might understandably have taken St. Louis for granted and blown a game or two. And the Blues did have hockey's best goaltenders in Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall.
They Said It ..."After playing Boston it was a little tough to get up for these guys," said Montreal's John Ferguson, who scored the winning goal in Sunday's 2-1 victory. "But you've got to remember that we don't fool around when there's a lot of jack at stake. Almost everybody has some kind of bonus that depends on how we do in the playoffs. People talk about the magic of Montreal and things like that. Well, we're all in this thing to make money, and when we've got a chance to do it we're not going to blow it."
Issue date: May 12, 1969
[Ed. note: The most compelling matchups in the early post-expansion years took place in the East. Excerpts follow from SI's coverage of the epic 1969 Montreal-Boston East finals.]
By Gary Ronberg
Offer this ending to any reputable movie scriptwriter and he would be perfectly justified if he punched you in the mouth: the sixth game of the most intriguing Stanley Cup hockey series in a decade is in its second overtime period. Flick goes the stick of Jean Beliveau, captain of the Montreal Canadiens and one of their last links with the famous teams of Rocket Richard and Doug Harvey. Zap goes the puck over the shoulder of Gerry Cheevers, goaltender of the Boston Bruins. Montreal wins the series; Beliveau, the idol of French Canada, moves a little bit nearer actual sainthood.
That is, of course, too pat to be believed, and of course that is exactly what happened at a quarter past midnight last Thursday at the Boston Garden ...
As Beliveau demonstrated pretty clearly in the Boston series, he is the best hockey center who ever lived. Others have outscored him. Others have looked flashier, but none has had his ability to be in the right place at the right time so consistently or to pass the puck with his remarkable accuracy.
Beliveau and his light-hitting teammates were ideal foils for the pugnacious Bruins. It was a case of the saints against the sinners, and this was a bad April for sinners. starting way back on the 10th when the Canadiens began a two-game home sweep. The Bruins had the notion they had outplayed Montreal, and so they had, except on the scoreboard.
Issue date: May 15, 1969