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. It was not merely that St. Louis lost four straight to Montreal (the Blues are now 0-16-2 against the Canadiens), but how they lost the first three that was disturbing to a number of people—Coach Scotty Bowman in particular.
The Blues hit bottom on Thursday night as they opened at home before a record crowd of 16,338—a marvelously animated gathering that deserved something better. Fans who had applauded the Blues when they took the ice were booing them when they left. St. Louis' only goal was disallowed halfway through the first period when Referee John Ashley ruled that the puck had gone in off Frank St. Marseille's skate instead of his stick, and the Canadiens took over after that to win 4-0 and go three games up. "We looked complacent," said Bowman. "You could see that when nobody really got upset about that disallowed goal."
"Let's face it," said Boston Coach Harry Sinden, who was still recovering from his club's four razor-thin losses to Montreal. "The way things are right now the Blues can only look as good as the Canadiens will let them look. To beat Montreal you have to press them, rush them, hit them in their own end—like we did. But to do that you have to have the players—and right now we're the only club with nearly the players Montreal has. No expansion club is close."
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.
"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."
The Canadiens, moreover, seemed to get a special kick out of scoring on Plante, who performed well in the first game but rather lackadaisically in the third. Plante had played for 10 years in Montreal, and when he was traded to New York in 1963 he left few close friends on the Canadiens. During the regular season Bowman had refrained from using Plante against the Canadiens (and Hall, an ex-Black Hawk, against Chicago), but in the Montreal series he decided to alternate his goaltenders.
"Because of Plante we worked harder against St. Louis," said Laperriere. " Plante talks about us. He talks too much. It starts when he leaves us and goes to New York. He talks and talks."