- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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In his office down the hall, Cherry, the beaten coach for the second straight year, is winding down from his eight-month high. "You know what really bothers the hell out of me about the damned Canadiens?" he says. "It's that they are really a bunch of good guys. I couldn't even work up a good hate against them if I tried for a month. It's easy to work up a hate for a club like Philadelphia. And I suppose—well, I know—that it's pretty easy for teams to work up a good hate against the Bruins. But hating the Canadiens is like hating your mother."
Cherry shakes his head. "It's a funny thing, or maybe right now it's not such a funny thing," he says, "but three of my best friends in hockey are those three big Canadien defensemen—Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. I got to know them real well when I was one of Team Canada's coaches during the Canada Cup in 1976. All three of them like to have the odd beer, just like me, and we all spent a lot of time together sweating it off in the sauna. Believe me, there aren't three nicer gentlemen anywhere."
Maybe not, but with friends like Robinson, Savard and Lapointe, Cherry hardly needs enemies. After the Bruins had squared the series at two games apiece by winning Games 3 and 4 in Boston, Robinson, Savard and Lapointe—no doubt the three best defenders ever to play on the same team—shut off the Boston attack with their slick stick checks and bruising body checks, and then awakened the slumbering Montreal offense with their strong rushes and their precise long passes to breaking forwards.
"Those three guys never let us do anything," Cherry says. " Lafleur's lucky he never has to play against them. And their fourth defenseman—Bill Nyrop—is unlucky because he's lost in their shadows and people will never know how good he is."
The 6'3", 210-pound Robinson, who won the Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, personally signaled the Canadiens' revival during the early moments of Game 5 Tuesday night at the Forum. Robinson had been one of the very few Canadiens to put out in both games at Boston, and now, back on home ice, he was even more menacing. He rattled two Bruins into the boards with hard body checks, and when some combative Bostonians tried to get at Lafleur after he had hit one of them illegally with the butt end of his stick, Robinson rushed to the scene and put an end to all overt threats.
On such occasions Robinson adopts a De Gaullish posture: he stands squarely in the center of the fray, towering over his opponents, and lets his scowl do the talking. Robinson fought regularly during his first few seasons with the Canadiens in the early 1970s, but he has not been challenged since one night two seasons ago when he came out of the dressing room with his skates untied and half-falling off and outpunched Philadelphia's Dave (Hammer) Schultz, then the NHL's heavyweight champion.
"I don't want to fight and hit all the time," Robinson says. "If I do, I'll end up being only 4'8"."
Cherry vividly recalls his first contact with Robinson. "I played against him the last year I was active with Rochester in the American League," he says. "Get this. The Canadiens had sent him down to Halifax because he couldn't skate well enough. He was really thin, maybe 25 pounds lighter than the tank he is now, and he had this real big Adam's apple sticking out and a ridiculous mop of hair. I took over as coach in the middle of that season, and the next time we played Halifax I told my guys before the game, 'Lookit, you got to watch that defenseman Robinson, number whatever-it-was.' One of my players said, 'You mean that big donkey who looks like a stork?' Forget what he looked like then. You could see that Robinson had meanness, that he could really hum the puck and really skate with it. You know, I never could understand why the Canadiens sent him down to work on his skating."
Why, indeed. In Game 5 Robinson took the puck behind his own net in the eighth minute of the first period. The game was scoreless at the time. Lafleur and Park both were in the penalty box, and Robinson had plenty of ice at his disposal. He started slowly, building speed, and by the time he reached the red line he was in full flight—"Like a runaway locomotive," Boston Goaltender Gerry Cheevers recalls. Robinson swooped around the overmatched Boston defense and bore in on Cheevers.
"I had to play the odds," Cheevers says. "I couldn't go out and challenge Robinson the way I'd have challenged most other players. He's got the longest reach and the longest legs I've ever seen, and he can fake you out like nothing. So I had to stay back in the crease and move across with him." It was a futile move: Robinson shot and scored.