Oh, what a week it was in Boston. First came the greedy old Celtics, letting the air out of New York's basketball. Then in trooped the hungry young Bruins, down two games in their Stanley Cup firefight with the Montreal Canadiens, the grands seigneurs of hockey, but still behaving with the crunching insolence that has endeared them to the city. The Bruins down? To the sweet thunder of Montreal bodies thudding into the Garden's boards, they creamed the Canadiens 5-0 on Thursday night and then on Sunday, in a game of high excitement, kicked the Montreal mystique in the seat of the pants and emerged with a 3-2 victory.
Brash of word as well as stick and elbow, some of the Bruins hinted that Tuesday's fifth game in Montreal and Thursday's sixth, back in Boston, would be all that they would need to clinch the East title. "Get your tickets for Thursday night," said 22-year-old Derek (Turk) Sanderson, a mod kid who fears neither man nor myth. "That's when we wrap it up."
Sanderson and all the Bruins had plenty of reason to be exhilarated, because the opening losses in Montreal's Forum had an atmosphere of doom about them. Boston had a reasonably clear edge in the play and skated into the last little bit of each game a goal ahead, only to be tied and then swiftly beaten in overtime. To the ordinary fan there was something awesome about those Canadien victories, as if all the speed and experience of all the Habs' 13 Stanley Cup champions had been distilled into a few magical moments, as if all the famous French-Canadian pride had wrapped the Canadiens in ultimate invincibility.
In the first game the Bruins led 2-0 on goals by Sanderson, with less than seven minutes left to play. It was then that Boston's Eddie Shack was penalized for charging and Montreal's John Ferguson slipped a long, soft shot past Goalie Gerry Cheevers. With 56 seconds remaining, Jean Beliveau, majestic and masterful in his ability to meet the occasion, tied the score. And with 42 seconds gone in sudden-death overtime Ralph Backstrom won for Montreal.
Game No. 2 was so similar to the first as to be uncanny. Boston rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to tie and then go ahead 3-2—this time with six minutes to play. And then as that terrible last minute approached—1:09 remaining—Montreal's Yvan Cournoyer fired from the left point into a melee in front of the Boston net. The puck fell free and the Canadiens' Serge Savard pounced on it. Savard whipped it past Eddie Johnston, who had replaced Cheevers in the Bruin goal. Five minutes into overtime lightning flashed once more, the spirits of departed Canadiens stirred in their shrouds and Mickey Redmond steered Savard's long shot over Johnston's shoulder.
It is the special quality of these Bruins, who finished a mere three points behind Montreal in regular-season play, that they sneer at dynasties and ignore evil omens. Far from being crushed, the Bruins—as their jet left Montreal for Boston—were convinced they were the better team. "They won't beat us again this year," said Coach Harry Sinden. "There is no way they can win from us in Boston [where the Bruins had won 29 games, lost only three and tied six during the season], and I'll guarantee you they won't beat us again in Montreal. We should have won both games and they know it. They've only got five or six men really playing hockey."
(In Montreal, informed of Sinden's remarks. Coach Claude Ruel growled, "They were supposed to win the division but they wound up losing on the road to expansion teams.")
But confident as he was, Sinden permitted himself a nagging thought. "The only thing this team has failed to show me," he said, "is that it can win the big game. You don't win championships without winning the big games, and this team won't play a bigger one than next Thursday night. If we can get to Gump Worsley things will turn around."
The weather was balmy in Boston on Thursday and the Garden's ice on the slow side. Up in the seats the fans seemed strangely decorous. So colorful until now that one Toronto newsman, smarting from the Leafs' losses to Boston in the East semifinals, described it as a "lunatic asylum," the Garden held hundreds of genteel types who had discovered the Bruins—and had the connections to get tickets.
Sinden's longing for goals suddenly was realized. Not only goals but goals from his No. 1 gunner, Phil Esposito, the tall, gorilla-armed center who had run up a record total of 126 points during the season—and had been shut out in Montreal by the tight-checking Backstrom line. Late in the first period Bobby Orr, the all-everything defenseman who is finally old enough to vote, took a big swing from the left point and sizzled a shot at Worsley, the same acrobatic fireplug who had quit in November with a case of nerves and come back to play a very superior goal. The puck hit the skate of Esposito's left wing, Ron Murphy, and caromed off the boards to the Gumper's left. It flew directly onto the stick of Esposito, whose low shot from 15 feet away started the Bruins toward their shutout.