Name your game, baby, and the Montreal Canadiens will beat you. If you want to play hockey on the pond, the Canadiens will outskate you. If you want to play it on the docks, the Canadiens will outslug you. And if all you want to do is sit at home and play Blue Line Hockey, General Manager Sam Pollock and Coach Scotty Bowman will show up in your living room with loaded dice. "Any way the other team wants to play the game, we can play that way, too," says Montreal Defenseman Serge Savard.
The Boston Bruins certainly learned this the hard way last week during the Stanley Cup finals. Outskated 7-3 in Game One, the Bruins were outslugged 3-0 in Game Two Tuesday night at the Forum. Vowing revenge for the manhandlings suffered by his teammates, Bruin roughneck John Wensink predicted before Game Three that Montreal star " Guy Lafleur won't get out of Boston Garden alive." Blithely skating away from Boston checkers, particularly the overmatched Wensink, Lafleur not only escaped with his life Thursday night, but he also scored two goals and neatly set up the other two in Montreal's 4-2 victory. "Guy really played scared, eh?" said linemate Steve Shutt.
Trailing the series three games to none, the Bruins were reeling now, and Lafleur personally applied the coup de gr�ce Saturday night in Boston. Early in the second period Lafleur fed linemate Jacques Lemaire for the goal that tied the score at one, and it remained that way through the end of the regulation 60 minutes as both teams forgot about brawling and played excellent pure hockey.
But Lafleur has plans for a holiday on the French Riviera, and once the sudden death began it was obvious that he did not want the Bruins to delay the start of his vacation. The Canadiens pinned the Bruins deep in their own end, and suddenly there was Lafleur skating down a wobbling puck along the end boards behind Boston Goaltender Gerry Cheevers.
In less time than it takes a Frenchman to say Les Canadiens Sont L�, Lafleur spotted the ubiquitous Lemaire alone at the corner of the goal crease, flattened the rolling puck by covering it with the blade of his stick, then adroitly slid it to the uncovered Lemaire. Flick! The puck was past Cheevers and into the net, and the Canadiens had a four-game sweep of the cup finals. Pass the champagne, s'il vous pla�t.
"Any excuses we could come up with would be bull," said Boston Captain Wayne Cashman. "It all came down to one thing. The Canadiens are so bleeping good!"
But just how good are these Canadiens? Starting with the training-camp exhibitions, they played 104 games in eight months and lost only 10. Over one 14-week period they lost only one of 41 games. They finished the 80-game regular schedule with an NHL record of 60 victories, a record of only eight defeats and a record of 132 points. In 94 regular season and playoff games they outscored the opposition 440 goals to 194. They had the leading goal scorer ( Shutt), the leading point maker ( Lafleur) and the best goaltending tandem ( Ken Dryden and Bunny Larocque). They have swept the last two finals, and their two-year playoff record is a remarkable 24-3—they lost only to the New York Islanders, twice this season and once a year ago. But are these Canadiens better than any of the 1956 through 1960 Montreal teams that won five straight Stanley Cups?
"It's impossible to rate teams from different eras because you're talking about the old NHL with six teams and the new NHL with 18 teams," says Tom Johnson, who played defense for the 1956-60 Montreal clubs and now is the Bruins' assistant general manager. "However, this Canadien team has no center as good as Jean Beliveau, no winger as good as Maurice Richard, no one defenseman as good as Doug Harvey, no one goaltender as good as Jacques Plante. But this Canadien team has other things that we didn't have, like great depth and balance. It has every element a team needs, and it's the hardest-working, best-checking great team I've ever seen."
Bowman agrees with at least the last part of Johnson's assessment. "We're a unique blend of superstars and workers," he says. "If you took the 18 most talented players in the NHL and put them on the same team, they could not accomplish what we accomplished as a team this year."
The Canadiens demonstrated throughout the Boston series that they indeed possess marvelous and diversified talents. They did not need to resort to highlight films to get this message across to the Bruins either, just half a dozen picture postcards with italicized inscriptions: