The way they were

Cohen

Andrew Cohen, a native of the Town of Mount Royal, is a national correspondent for the Atlantic.com, where he has written about hockey, and also the chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News Radio.

Cohen offers this memoir of the Canadiens-Bruins rivalry.

Everyone should have their own Rosebud, that one revered item from the adult world that brings its owner back instantly to a simpler, kinder time. Mine is actually a quartet of yellow, fading scrapbooks, compiled during the first 20 years of my life and dedicated entirely to news clippings about the Montreal Canadiens (and the Montreal Expos, but that’s another story). I started the first book while I still lived in Montreal, which means until June 1979, and completed the rest when I moved thereafter to the United States.

Gearing up for Game 1 on Thursday, I pulled out the old books this week in honor of the 40th anniversary of the 1971 NHL playoff hockey series between the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins; a series that marked a watershed in the modern era of competition between the two teams. Indeed, strange as it sounds, fully two generations of hockey fans have come along now since the Big Bad Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, then and after the Stanley Cup champions, were felled by Ken Dryden (in his first Stanley Cup playoff) and Jean Beliveau (in his last).

I was too young in 1971 to have any memory of that series. My first hockey memory remains, blessedly, Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series , which I watched, like virtually every other kindergartner in Canada, in the musky gymnasium at my beloved elementary school. So my narrative of the Boston-Montreal rivalry begins in 1977. And there on the first page of my scrapbook (from the Montreal Gazette of Monday, May 16, 1977) is the classic photograph of Jacques Lemaire in which the star of the Habs’ Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Bruins is flipping a double bird to signal his two goals (get it?). Here’s how the paper’s Bob Morrissey wrote the lede:

“Several of the Canadiens were still belting out songs in the shower and gulping champagne from the Stanley Cup when Jacques Lemaire, dressed in a breezy summer suit, began making his way out of the dressing room. Suddenly, Lemaire stopped, looked down at his feet and laughed: ‘Hey, where’s my socks,’ he yelled. ‘I can’t go back home to Montreal like this.’ Well, Lemaire could have gone back to Montreal any way he wanted after what he and the Canadiens did to the Boston Bruins here Saturday night.”

I have several clippings from the greatest hockey game I ever saw: Game 7 of the 1979 semi-final playoff series between the Habs and the Bruins. That’s the “Too Many Men On The Ice” game in which Guy Lafleur ties it late and Yvon Lambert wins it in overtime to save (for the moment) the Canadiens’ consecutive Cup run. The first word on this part of the rivalry goes to Red Fisher, in what I believe was the best column he ever wrote. The headline of his column is “Game Resurrected the Glory” and here’s is how Red wrote his lede:

“You knew it was something special as soon as you entered the Forum last night and heard a tremendous roar a half an hour before the opening whistle. ‘Game start early?’ you ask a confrere in bewilderment. ‘Just the warmup. It’s like old times,’ he tells you. Like old times, like we haven’t seen old times since those classic Canadiens-Bruins vendettas of the late ’60s and early 70s..

“I’ll go out on a limb and say that this game, between the Bruins, one of the gutsiest teams ever to come down the pike, and the Canadiens, proud heirs to one of the great mystiques in the history of professional sports, will be recalled as long as the people who witnessed it are still among the quick.”

Want more? Al Strachan , then the sports editor of the Gazette, had a sidebar story on Don Cherry, the Bruins coach who famously saw it all slip away. Strachan wrote:

“A tired, obviously shaken Don Cherry still held his head high. Resplendent in a blue suede jacket and a light green vest and trousers, he climbed up on a chair a few minutes after his Bruins had gone down to a heartbreaking defeat to the Canadiens. ‘I feel like crying for them (the Boston players), I really do,’ he said. “Not for me-for them. I’m so proud of them. I’m as proud of them as he (Scott Bowman) is of his.’”

Little did we know then that it would be five long years before the teams would meet again in the playoffs.

My story, too, skips ahead to 1984. And by then I was living in Boston. I spent seven marvelous years there and still love the city very much. But my strain of Canadiens’ blood was way too virulent to be compromised even by all those hockey-filled years in Beantown.

I was at the Boston Garden on Sunday, April 14, 1985-exactly 26 years ago-to see Ken “The Rat” Linseman scored in the third period  to beat the Canadiens in Game 4 of the 1985 playoff series. I was also at the Garden when the Habs clinched against the Bruins in 1986 . Or was it 1987? I can’t remember. Until 1988 they all blended together.

From the Associated Press in 1984: “After taking over as Montreal’s coach late in the National League season, coach Jacques Lemaire was reluctant to make changes. But he made just the right move Wednesday night. Lemaire surprised Boston by using rookie goaltender Steve Penney instead of veteran Richard Sevigny, and the Canadiens upset the Bruins 2-1 in the opener of their best-of-five game Adams Division playoff series.”

Wherever you are today, Steve Penney, I hope you are well. Thanks for the memories.

In 1985, I watched the playoffs from my dorm room on Beacon Street. And it was left to the Boston Globe’s legendary hockey reporter Francis Rosa to tell the tale of another playoff series victory for the Canadiens over the Bruins. Here’s the lede:

“There were no tears of bitterness about this one, this 1-0 game that Montreal won from the Bruins with 51 seconds left last night. This was a game that rose above all others in the history of the Boston-Montreal series. This time there wasn’t an extra man on the ice. There was no bad officiating decision to grumble about. There was nothing eerie about the way Montreal scored the winning goal, the one that ended Boston’s season and sent the Canadiens into the Adams Division finals against the Quebec Nordiques. Nothing freaky-just frustrating.”

Let’s jump head one year-to April 13, 1986 (exactly 25 years ago). And there’s poor Rosa writing again about a playoff series in which the Bruins are beaten by the Canadiens. The headline says it all – “Familiar Canadien Beat”– but Rosa’s lede is epic, truly:

“Some time in the next century somebody will look at the hockey Book of Records and be startled by the number of times Montreal has beaten the Boston Bruins in playoff games. They’ll see that Montreal has won 19 out of 21 series and they’ll believe some ancient up there in the province of Quebec cast a spell on the Bruins, or at least concocted a boiling pot of some mysterious brew that makes super hockey players out of anyone who puts on a Canadiens’ sweater.

“Wrong. Montreal’s latest victory came last in the form of a 4-3 decision that swept the Bruins out of the play-offs in three straight games. And voodoo had nothing to do with it. Bob Gainey had everything to do with it. And goalie Patrick Roy had everything to do with the three-game sweep.”

Imagine being a Canadiens’ fan in Boston waking up to that. Ahh, those were the days! And they continued for one more year. Let’s move forward to April 1987. And again the Canadiens have beaten Boston in the playoffs. And again Rosa at the Globe is left to pick up the pieces:

“The sun shines on some dog’s tail every day. Will it ever shine on the Bruins? Not until they build a team that is as big and as strong and as talented and as disciplined as Montreal’s. They don’t need a team that works harder or tries harder. They have that already. They need a team that will reap what should be the true harvest of that effort.”

Of Patrick Roy, who at the time had never lost a playoff series, the Globe’s iconic veteran reporter John Powers added this:

“He wears no amulets, follows no rituals, harbors no superstitions. Except one: ‘Always eat my steak with my spaghetti,’ Patrick Roy says. So he did yesterday, somewhere between a walk and a long look at the Masters on television. And then Roy did what he’s done for seven straight games-wriggle into his pads and stone the Bruins in a playoff game. He is merely 21 years old, yet no Montreal goalkeeper-not Dryden, not Plante-has done as much damage to a Boston club in consecutive series as Roy has done this spring and last.”

Okay, Bruins’ fans. In the unlikely event you’ve stuck around this long, here’s the good news. The Bruins team that Rosa asked for in 1987 appeared in 1988 and the Bruins finally beat the Canadiens in a playoff series. You can tell from Rosa’s lede just how much the victory meant to him and to Boston. He wrote:

“Hey, Gorbachev, guess what happened at the Forum last night. You, too, Stan Jonathan, wherever you are. And Don Cherry. Guess what happened. Those magnificent Bruins with their skates barely touching the ice, with a tunnel-vision purpose that wouldn’t be deflected, and with their hearts bigger than the moon, took their fans to another planet last night. They defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, in the process telling everyone: ‘If there ever was a jinx, you can take it and.’”

Hey, Gorbachev! Can’t make up stuff like that, right?

But alas that’s where my scrapbook ends. I became a lawyer and moved away from Boston. I still follow the Canadiens religiously – but don’t collect newspapers-or heroes the way I used to.

The thing is: there are millions of fans like me out there, on both sides of this rivalry, who remember the games and the moments and the joy and the agony of much of what has gone before. It is a big part of the reason why it’s never really springtime anywhere in the world until Montreal and Boston skate in playoff hockey. Just ask Red Fisher. He’ll tell you.

Andrew Cohen is a Murrow Award–winning legal analyst and commentator. He covers legal events and issues for CBS Radio News and its hundreds of affiliates around the country and is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages of leading newspapers and online sites. From 2000-2009, Andrew served as chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News and contributed to the network’s coverage of the Supreme Court, the war on terrorism, and every high-profile civil or criminal trial of the decade. He is also an avid horseman, a Standardbred owner and breeder, and the winner of the 2007 John Hervey Award for distinguished commentary about harness horse racing.

Andrew Cohen can be followed at Twitter @CBSandrew.

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  2. smiler2729 says:

    Perfectly written!! I’m saving this one for my son to read when he’s old enough.

    Geez, Andy, us Townies sure are a sharp bunch! I can’t believe the Town of Mount Royal created a by-law 30 years ago outlawing street hockey!! I guess we made an impression on ‘em.

    “My second favourite team is whoever plays the Leafs”

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  5. Peter Young says:

    Thank you for the memories, Andy. I, too, had my sojourn in the Boston area, as I went to law school in Cambridge, just across the river, for three years in the mid-1960s. At least seven times a season I saw my Canadiens play at the Boston Garden from a seat in the front row of the first balcony over the blue line at the end the Canadiens attacked twice. The first two years the Bruins didn’t make the playoffs, even though they had Bobby Orr as a rookie in the second of those years, when I saw his first NHL goal, a screaming slapshot from the blue line that beat Gump Worsley. But in the third year, 1967-68, the first of the expansion era, Orr had begun to show signs that he would indeed become a superstar (although it wasn’t yet apparent that he would transform the game), and the Bruins finished third. Things were no different in the playoffs then, though; the first-place Canadiens swept them in four. Here’s to another Canadiens win in the series about to start.

  6. otter649 says:

    1971 series – Game two comeback I wish they could have included that game in the 10 pack of DVDS of Montreal’s greatest games series……..

  7. Curtis O Habs says:

    Great article.

  8. punkster says:

    Superb article.

    ***Subbang Baby!!!***

  9. Dorothy says:

    All I can say, Andy, is, “GO HABS, GO”!

  10. habitual says:

    Grade A stuff. We could use some more from Andrew, please.

  11. 24 Cups says:

    This thread is a must read.

    I realize there can be a bit of a generation gap on the site, but when it’s all said and done, it’s also the ties that bind when it comes to being Hab fans.

  12. HabFanSince72 says:

    Great stuff.

    I have almost the same memories as I am 2 years younger. I also left Montreal at roughly the same time, except I studied medicine not law, and I eventually came back.

    Since the Pacioretty incident and non-response by the league I’m a lot less excited about the rivalry in particular and hockey in general.

    The Habs are still great; it’s the game that’s got small.

  13. Timo says:

    Is it me or will this series end up being super overhyped?


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