A placard mounted high on the wall of the home-team dressing room at the Montreal Forum proclaims heroically: "Nos bras lass�s 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 1966, 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.
The ability to come from behind is one of sport's most admired qualities, and the current crop of Canadiens showed they had it in surplus after losing the first two games of the final cup series—and on their home ice at that. After that less than lustrous start, they outskated, outhit and outfinessed the Wings with some of the best hockey seen in many a year. In the final game, the sixth of what could have been a seven-game series, they had to go overtime to do it, for the Red Wings, playing with the sporadic inspiration that was their mark throughout the series, caught up with a 2-0 lead to tie the score at the end of the third period.
What happened at that point is told in as many versions as there were players on the ice to tell it. The referee's version was simple: at 2:20 of the sudden-death overtime period Henri Richard, the talented Canadien forward, put across the game-winning, series-winning goal in one way or another.
Others said that Richard, sliding on the ice, pushed the puck in with his body. Richard's own version, which may be the most authoritative, is that Montreal Wing Dave Balon "passed the puck out from the corner, and as I was going to hit it someone tripped me. The puck hit my knee and went in."
But, said Detroit Goalie Roger Crozier, principal victim, " Richard pulled the puck in with his hand. It should have been no goal at all." He was backed up in this by Bert Marshall, Detroit's rookie defense man, who was on the ice at the time. "I know one thing," Marshall said. " Richard didn't shoot it in. The pass from the corner [Balon's] hit my stick and dropped in front of the goal—right in front of Richard."
Tense situations often tend to breed strong language in strong men, so who can blame Detroit's Bill Gadsby if his comments on the disputed goal were somewhat salty?
Bill has played in the National Hockey League for 20 years without ever getting his name on the Stanley Cup. A shot by Canadien Forward J. C. Tremblay broke his right big toe in the fifth game last week. His body bore a dozen bruises, and he had a thigh wound, too. Not to mention a cut muscle in his right forearm. As he sat soaking his broken toe in ice water and contemplating the Red Wing defeat in the Detroit dressing room, Bill mused, "If Richard rifled the bastard into the net you don't mind, but you hate to lose like that. Well, what the hell, it's not the end of the world."
The Red Wings, in truth, had very little to complain about, considering that they had finished fourth among six teams in the race for the league title, which was won by the Canadiens. What made it so hard was that the Wings had reared up in the cup semifinals to eliminate the Chicago Black Hawks, who had finished second in the season race, and so got a heady taste of victory. But Montreal had previously knocked out the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs in a fantastic four straight games, and seemed a cinch to win it all.
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 topsyturvy by dropping the first two games to the fired-up Red Wings.