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BUT GOD BLESSED THE CANADIENS
J. D. Reed
May 24, 1976
Kate Smith did her musical darndest, but to no avail as Montreal swept Philadelphia and carried the Stanley Cup back to Canada
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May 24, 1976

But God Blessed The Canadiens

Kate Smith did her musical darndest, but to no avail as Montreal swept Philadelphia and carried the Stanley Cup back to Canada

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A kid in an orange-and-white Flyers T shirt jogged past a solitary figure leaning against a wall outside the Philadelphia dressing room at the Spectrum one night last week. "You'd better get working," the kid said to the man. "Ah, son, I sure don't know why, but I'm just doing no good in these playoffs," said Father John Casey, Philadelphia's team priest.

Last Sunday night, with Father Casey, Kate Smith and 17,077 Flyer fanatics looking on, the lordly Montreal Canadiens administered the last rites to the two-year Stanley Cup reign of the brash Flyers, beating them 5-3 to complete a stunning four-game sweep of the cup. "Somewhere down the line people will see that we won in four straight games—and that it was easy," said Montreal Goaltender Ken Dryden. "But they will not be more wrong. If you'll notice, we're drinking our champagne sitting down."

The Canadiens, who coursed through the playoffs by winning 12 of 13 games, defeated the Flyers by a single goal in each of their first three games. Unwilling to give up without a fight, Philadelphia stormed to a quick 1-0 lead Sunday when Reggie Leach scored his 19th goal of the playoffs—and record 80th of the season—41 seconds after Miss Smith had finished singing her lucky God Bless America. But Montreal gained a 3-3 tie on three power-play goals, and then with slightly less than six minutes left in the game, the Canadiens struck for two goals within 58 seconds—and victory.

Peter Mahovlich set up Guy Lafleur for the cup winner at 14:18, and Lafleur reciprocated by feeding Mahovlich for the clincher at 15:16. On Lafleur's goal, he slapped at a wobbly Mahovlich pass, the puck grazing Flyer Defenseman Jimmy Watson and caroming past Goaltender Wayne Stephenson. Mahovlich applied the coup de gr�ce by wheeling around a Philadelphia defenseman and flipping a backhander between Stephenson's legs.

Despite the closeness of the scores, the swift-skating Canadiens shocked the former Broad St. Bullies by beating them at their own game of intimidation. Defenseman Larry Robinson rattled Philadelphia bodies off the boards, onto the ice and even into the benches; the only good check from a Flyer was a jolting high-stick by Bill Barber that missed Yvan Cournoyer's head and caught Flyer Defenseman Jack McIlhargey flush on the face, opening a 14-stitch gash. Robinson slammed Gary Dornhoefer so hard into the boards in one game that play had to be suspended so workmen could nail some slats back into place.

Usually robust and pugnacious in the corners, Philadelphia musclemen Dave Schultz, Don Saleski and Bob Kelly were bounced around and outwitted by a horde of strong Canadiens led by checking specialist Bob Gainey and a Venezuelan-born rookie named Rick Chartraw, who had the temerity to rub his gloves in Schultz' face right there in the unfriendly Spectrum. When Flyer Coach Fred Shero hastily composed a Muscle Beach line with Schultz and Kelly on the wings in an attempt to slow down the Canadiens in Game 3, Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman promptly countered by sending out his own Muscle Line with Chartraw and Pierre Bouchard, both of whom normally play defense, stationed opposite Schultz and Kelly. Late in that game Chartraw and Bouchard collaborated on Montreal's winning goal in the 3-2 victory; Chartraw had Schultz tied up in front of Stephenson, and Bouchard, who had scored only one goal all season, fired a 45-foot wrist shot between their entangled legs and past the completely screened Stephenson.

What hurt Philadelphia most of all, however, was Bowman's masterful strategy for containing Bobby Clarke, the usually indomitable captain of the Flyers. Clarke had 30 goals and 89 assists this year while centering for Leach (61 goals) and Barber (50 goals) on the most productive line in NHL history. "You never really stop someone like Clarke because he can beat you so many ways," Bowman said. "We just set out to wear him down. And by controlling Clarke, we naturally figured that we would be able to keep his linemates in pretty good check. You're probably never going to keep a Leach and a Barber from scoring goals, but you just don't want them to pop five past you in one game, like Leach did against Boston."

Bowman assigned the young center firm of Doug and Doug—Jarvis and Risebrough—to shadow Clarke at all times. To ease their task and also keep their legs fresh, Bowman double-shifted them against Clarke each time he was on the ice. Clarke averaged minute-long shifts against the Canadiens, so Jarvis, 21, and Risebrough, 22, averaged about 30-second shifts against Clarke, who played with an injured left knee that may need surgery this summer. A faceoff specialist, Jarvis dominated Clarke on the draws, while the hyperaggressive Risebrough, a hard hat who led the Canadiens with 180 penalty minutes this year, repeatedly outmuscled the weary Clarke in jousts for loose pucks. Together, Jarvis and Risebrough held Clarke without a goal and wore him to a frazzle; in fact, the gaunt Clarke was down to 170 pounds Sunday night, some 15 pounds below his normal playing weight.

For his part, Shero was unable to find a countermeasure for Bowman's tactics against Clarke, which, incidentally, resembled the stratagems Shero employed against Boston's Phil Esposito when the Flyers won the cup in 1974 and against Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault when they won again in 1975. "All I can do is give Clarke shorter shifts," Shero said, "but when I do that I'm always putting a player on the ice who isn't as good as Clarke—and why do that at this time?"

As Bowman correctly figured, by controlling Clarke's movements the Canadiens also effectively slowed down the production of Leach and Barber. Leach scored four goals against Dryden, but Barber was thoroughly contained by old hand Jimmy Roberts and, like Clarke, did not score a goal. " Leach can score while you blink," said Gainey, the NHL's best defensive wing. "He's hard to cover because once he touches the puck he shoots it on the net."

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