When it was all over last Sunday night, Boston's Brad Park sat contemplating his bruises. He also sipped a cold beer, happily considering the surprising possibility that, if things continued to go this well, he might soon be drinking champagne. A few moments earlier, with Park dominating the play from his defense position the way Bobby Orr once did, the Bruins—hockey's Lunch Pail Athletic Club—had beaten the favored Montreal Canadiens 4-3 to tie the Stanley Cup finals at two games apiece. The victory had come on a Bobby Schmautz goal at 6:22 of sudden-death overtime, and now Park and his teammates were flying high in their Boston Garden dressing room. "This is a victory toast," Park said. "I can taste victory, I can smell it. Nobody gave us a chance to beat Montreal in the finals. No one. But now, if we've done nothing else, we have destroyed the myth of the Canadiens' invincibility."
The enthusiasm was understandable. If the Canadiens had not been destroyed, they had been humiliated. After opening the series with 4-1 and 3-2 victories, they had come to Boston poised for a four-game sweep. But last Thursday they had been so embarrassed by Park and the Bruins that Boston Goaltender Gary Cheevers never had to make a difficult save in the Bruins' 4-0 victory. Clearly intimidated by Boston's heavy checking in Game 3, Montreal showed up for Game 4 in a vengeful mood. "No way Boston's going to knock us all over the place in this game, too," said one Canadien.
With the score tied at 1-1 in the first period, Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman decided it was time for the Canadiens to flex their muscles. He sent out his Goon Squad Revue—6'6", 210-pound Gilles Lupien and 6'2", 208-pound Pierre Bouchard. Boston countered with 5'8", 170-pound Stan Jonathan and 6-foot, 200-pound John Wensink. Once the puck was dropped, both Bouchard and Jonathan dropped their gloves. Jonathan, a full-blooded Tuscarora Indian from Six Nations, Ontario, beat upon Bouchard's face like a tom-tom in winning the French and Indian War of 1978. He busted open Bouchard's face and the Montreal defenseman crumpled to the ice in a pool of his own blood. Wensink and Lupien chose wrestling over boxing, and Wensink decisively won in two straight falls. Jonathan and Bouchard got five-minute penalties for fighting, Wensink and Lupien were ejected from the game.
Although Boston won that battle, Montreal took the lead in the war 2-1 in the second period. Defenseman Larry Robinson (see cover) rifled a shot past Cheevers after rookie Pierre Mondou had outfaked Boston's Peter McNab on a face-off to Cheevers' right.
Then, midway through the final period, Boston struck again. At 9:19, McNab backhanded a loose puck past Ken Dryden to tie the score at 2-2. And at 12:37 Park made two adroit moves in front of Dryden and slid the puck through three pairs of legs—Serge Savard's, Greg Sheppard's and Dryden's—to put the Bruins ahead 3-2. With Dryden removed for an extra skater, Montreal tied the score, forcing the overtime when Savard batted the puck past Cheevers with 33 seconds to play.
The Canadiens stormed Cheevers early in the overtime, just as they had in Game 2 in Montreal when they beat the Bruins on a Guy Lafleur blast in sudden death—and twice they came close. Then Park—who as a New York Ranger always maintained that he was as good as Orr, but never played that way until this season—intercepted a Montreal pass and rifled the puck to Sheppard at center ice. Sheppard went to his left, almost against the boards, and dropped a soft pass to Schmautz, who was cutting through the middle in the Montreal zone. Schmautz has one of hockey's highest shots, his best blasts usually ending up in Row 4 of the mezzanine. But this time he hesitated, forcing Robinson to his knees and, using the downed Canadien as a screen, whipped a low shot past Dryden's left leg and into the net.
"I never saw anything," Dryden said.
The series was not supposed to be this tough for Montreal. The Canadiens had expected to dispose of Boston in less time than it takes Roger Doucet to polish off O Canada
before games at the Forum. After all, these were Les Canadiens, Le Rouge, Blanc et Bleu, the best players General Manager Sam Pollock could assemble with the dozens of high draft choices obtained from needier NHL teams. The Canadiens had lost only 29 of 240 games in the past three seasons. In the last two Stanley Cup playoff's, they had lost just three of 27 games—none in the finals—in sweeping Philadelphia in 1976 and Boston in 1977. And they were chasing their seventh Stanley Cup title in 11 years. If the Canadiens win it, they get the cup for the 21st time, enabling them to tie the New York Yankees for the lead in team championships.
"The people don't expect us to lose, so we have no choice but to win," Savard said last week. "If we lose this series to Boston, people will be phoning those radio hot-line shows with orders to trade half the team. The pressure from the fans—and our management—never leaves us."
And the pressure was typically on at the Forum when the Canadiens whipped the Bruins 4-1 in Game 1. Lafleur tied the score at 1-1 early in the first period when he golfed the puck out of midair and past Cheevers before the unsuspecting goaltender could blink. Then he set up Montreal's next two goals with artistic passes. He dazzled the Bruins with one breakaway after another, and only Cheevers' spectacular play prevented the Canadiens from doubling their output of goals. "We skated in reverse," said Park, "and the Canadiens were always in overdrive."