Numbers don’t mean much once the puck drops for tonight’s decisive game in the Canadiens-Bruins series, but when it comes to Game 7s, no two teams have been matched up in them more often than these old rivals.
This will be the eighth Game 7 these teams have played against each other, the most by any two teams in any pro sport. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs have played six Game 7s against each other, as have the NBA Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
And if you add in the 1931 semi-finals, which was a best 3-out-of-5 that year, tonight’s game will be the ninth time these two teams will have gone the limit in a Stanley Cup series.
The Canadiens have won six of the eight series against Boston that have gone the distance. They went on to win the Stanley Cup three times after those decisive games, in ’31, ’71 and ’79.
The first three of the Game 7s are among the most glorious in Canadiens playoff lore. The ’79 game in the semi-finals is well-known for the Bruins being called for too many men on the ice late in the third period and Guy Lafleur’s dramatic tying goal and Yvon Lambert’s overtime winner.
The Habs went on to beat the Rangers in five games to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
In 1971, the Bobby Orr-era Bruins were at their peak, having won a record 57 games and finishing atop the NHL with a record 121 points. They scored an unprecedented 399 regular season goals, including a then-record 76 by Phil Esposito who also set a new standard with 152 points. Orr established a new mark with 102 assists. Espo, Orr, Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge finished 1-2-3-4 in scoring, all topping 100 points.
But with a rookie goalie, Ken Dryden, in nets — he only had six games of NHL experience — the Habs took the B’s to Game 7 in the opening round. In Boston Garden, Dryden stopped 48 of the B’s 50 shots, leading Montreal to a 4-2 win and on to the next round against the North Stars and the final, where they defeated the Blackhawks.
And in 1952, the two teams staged a bruising semi-final series and in the seventh game at the Forum, two Bruins defencemen, Leo Labine and Bill Quackebush, collaborated to lay out Maurice Richard in the second period. After plunging head first into Quackenbush’s knee, “Richard’s head twisted so violently to the right and he lay so utterly motionless on the ice that, from the press box, we thought his neck was broken,” wrote Andy O’Brien in his great 1961 biography of the Rocket (which is well worth seeking out).
Carried off with a big gash on his head, Richard was stitched up and somehow returned to the bench in the latter stages of the third period with the score tied 1-1. He sat there wordlessly until sent out by coach Dick Irvin with just a few minutes remaining.
Richard got the puck in his own end, ducked a forechecker, headed toward centre ice, where he eluded the other winger, then cut away from the Bruins centre’s poke check. Richard skated into Boston’s zone, where Quackenbush tried to rub him out in the corner, but Richard fought him off with a straight-arm and headed for the net. The other B’s defenceman, Bob Armstrong charged at him, but Richard cut around him and moved toward the goal where he had only netminder “Sugar Jim” Henry to beat.
“There was a flurry of sticks,” O’Brien recalled, “Henry dove, Richard pulled the puck aside and blasted the netting with his very last ounce of strength. The chaos in the rink was unbelievable.”
The goal was captured in this photo and O’Brien, among others, think of it as the greatest ever scored by the Rocket.
Rocket had gone though the entire Bruins team to score what proved the be the game winner and after the final siren, Richard, bloodied and bandaged, met Henry who was broken-nosed and black-eyed. As O’Brien wrote, ”an immortal photograph was shot as Richard and Henry, looking like the two sole survivors of a head-on highway crash, stood shaking hands — without exchanging a word.” You can see the photo here.
A subdued Richard made his way to the dressing room afterward, where he sat unsmiling for a while. Then when team president Senator Donat Raymond came over and sat down next to Richard, and extended his hand to congratulate him, Richard broke down into what O’Brien described as “wild sobbing convulsions.” He had to be sedated and it was two hours before he could leave the dressing room.
O’Brien quoted the great Montreal sportswirter Elmer Ferguson, who sighed, “That beautiful bastard scored semi-conscious.”
More heroics are possible tonight.