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Midway through the third period of last Sunday's showdown between Montreal and Boston, the old seigneurs and brash young lords of hockey, Ken Dryden stretched all 42 inches of his left arm across the mouth of the Canadien net and speared a couldn't-miss shot by Phil Esposito. Esposito, Public Enemy No. 1 to goaltenders, having scored the criminal total of 76 goals during the season, stared at Dryden, cursed him—"You thieving giraffe!"—and then slammed his curved stick against the glass behind the goal. "I looked at the faces of the Bruins," Dryden said later, "and I could see it all so clearly. They all looked defeated."
The Bruins were defeated (see cover), and it was Dryden, with help from the Mahovlich brothers, Peter and Frank, and some of that inexhaustible Montreal pride that upset them 4-2 in the Boston Garden in the seventh game of their wild and wicked Stanley Cup series.
"Dryden was better than we had ever dreamed," said Bobby Orr, who through the seven games performed more erratically than his Boston worshipers had ever dreamed he could.
It was the first time all year that the Bruins, runaway conquerors of the East, really had to win a game, and when they failed, Montreal's John Ferguson crowed, "That's one dynasty that didn't last very long."
Before 14,994 suffering spectators in the Garden and a national television audience, Peter Mahovlich set up a pretty first-period goal to put the Canadiens ahead 2-1, and brother Frank killed the last flickering Boston hopes with his second goal of the game, which made it 4-1 in the final period—after Jacques Lemaire had poke-checked the puck away from Orr. It was Frank Mahovlich, a wanderer from Toronto and Detroit only recently come to Montreal, who said, "With the Canadiens, pride is instilled even in the ratholes of the Forum."
In defeat the Bruins proved conclusively that they go only where Bobby Orr takes them. When Orr was able to control the puck with his private games of keepaway, Boston was invincible. But when the Canadiens were able to stymie Bobby by harassing him with two forecheckers or by ganging up on him at their blue line with what looked like hockey's version of the goal-line stand, as they did Sunday, Boston sputtered like any machine suddenly deprived of its horsepower. "Stop Orr," said John Ferguson of the Canadiens, "and you do stop the Bruins. It's that simple."
Indeed, the complexion of the series turned on what Orr did—or did not do—in every game. As the week began the series stood at 2-2; i.e., two superior Orr performances vs. two miserable ones.
"Now it's down to the best two of three," Phil Esposito said as the Bruins flew home for the fifth game, "and there's no way the Canadiens are going to beat us in Boston. No way. Believe me."
Despite Esposito's conviction, the other Bruins were wary as they waited for the Canadiens. Cocky and brash during their romp through the league during the regular schedule, they were now morose. Most of them had expected Montreal to die in four straight games. "Don't those damned little Frogs ever quit?" one player asked.
For both the Bruins and the Canadiens, it was now obvious, too, that besides Orr's battle with himself there were three other key matchups that ultimately would decide the winner. First of all there were the goaltenders—Dryden and Gerry Cheevers. At 6'4" and 210 pounds, Dryden covers most of the net, something the Boston shooters found most discouraging. The strongest complaints came from Esposito, who was not playing like a man who had scored 76 goals. "In 1968 Gump Worsley was like St. Peter at the pearly gates against us. The next year that little Roggy Vachon robbed me blind. And now these bleeping Canadiens come up with Dryden. Cripes. The kid's got paws like a giraffe." What made Esposito particularly annoyed at the rookie was the fact that Phil's low shots for the corners—shots that were goals against normal-sized net-minders all season—kept deflecting off Dryden's pads. "My brother wouldn't do the things to me that this guy has been doing," Esposito said, shaking his head.