Kenny Reardon, the tough Montreal Canadien defenseman, had one thing in mind as he stickhandled across Madison Square Garden ice on Sunday night, March 16, 1947—freeze the puck. " Dick Irvin, our coach, had bawled me out for losing the puck, and the game, the last time we were in New York," said Reardon recently. "I wasn't going to let it happen again."
Montreal was leading the Rangers 4-3, with about 30 seconds left in the game. If the Canadiens could hold the lead they would clinch first place. The fifth-place Rangers needed the win to remain in contention for a playoff berth.
The two teams had played a rough game the previous night, when the Canadiens had beaten the Rangers 1-0 at the Montreal Forum, and the players were in a fiery mood. The game at the Garden had moved along without incident, however, until Reardon and Maurice Richard had a brief scuffle with Bill Juzda and Bryan Hextall of the Rangers in the second period. After that, and all through the third period, the checking had been especially rough.
"They're out to get Richard and Reardon," Dick Irvin, the Canadiens' coach, shouted. "They want to ruin them for the playoffs."
Reardon agreed with his coach. "But I couldn't afford a fight. If I had received a penalty in that last half minute we might have blown our lead."
As Reardon skated over the blue line Brian Hextall checked him, bouncing Reardon toward the Rangers' Cal Gardner. Gardner's stick slashed Reardon across the mouth. "My upper lip," said Reardon, "felt as if it had been sawed off my face."
He was revived by Dr. Vincent Nardiello and escorted toward the Garden's medical room. As Reardon passed the Rangers' bench en route to the clinic, Phil Watson of the Rangers suggested that Reardon's mangled lip was not punishment enough for him. Reardon lunged at Watson, but a policeman intervened. Up popped a bald-headed fan behind the Ranger bench. " Reardon," he shouted, shaking his fist, "I've been waiting a long time for you to get it."
"That did it," said Reardon. "I swung my stick at him and missed. Then a cop grabbed me from behind and I fell." The disturbance aroused the Rangers who, out of natural curiosity, rose from their bench to see what was happening. Across the ice, the Montreal players thought the entire New York team was preparing to pounce upon Reardon.
"Get the hell over there and help Kenny," shouted Irvin. The Canadiens leaped over the boards and started for the narrow alleyway next to the Rangers' bench. But when they got there they were surprised to find that the Rangers had not laid a stick, much less a fist, on Reardon. Instead of retreating peacefully, however, Montreal Captain Emile (Butch) Bouchard began arguing with the bald-headed spectator. Without warning, Bouchard clouted the man with his stick, and Goalie Bill Durnan and Maurice Richard began slugging other customers.
As soon as the Rangers realized their fans were being manhandled by the Canadiens they scrambled over the boards and into the aisle, until there was no room to throw a punch. Almost immediately the players broke out of the aisle and moved to center ice, where four main events took place: 1) Maurice Richard vs. Bill Juzda, 2) Bill Durnan vs. Bill Moe, 3) Leo Lamoureaux vs. Hal Laycoe and 4) Butch Bouchard vs. Bryan Hextall.