It’s spring 1979. The Montreal Canadiens reign as the most dominant team in NHL history. They’ve won the past three Stanley Cups. The squad is loaded with future Hall of Famers, from Guy Lafleur up front to Larry Robinson on defense to Ken Dryden in goal. Poised to win a fourth straight title, the Canadiens breeze through the quarterfinal, sweeping the Toronto Maple Leafs. The semifinal poses a legitimate threat. The Habs draw the Boston Bruins, their most hated rival, whom they beat in the previous two finals.
STEVE SHUTT: (Montreal left winger) We knew it was going to be a battle and, really, when we went into that series, we knew us or Boston, no disrespect to the New York Rangers, but we were better teams than the Rangers, who were waiting for us in the final. Basically, this series was going to win the Stanley Cup.
SCOTTY BOWMAN: (Montreal coach) If you look at the ’76-77 season, where we set the record for 60 wins, eight losses, 12 ties, we lost one game at home, and it was to Boston. Also, of the eight losses, we lost three games to them. When you look back at those four seasons, ’76, ’77, ’78 and ’79, they were our closest rival. There’s no question about that.
LARRY ROBINSON: (Montreal defenseman) When I first came into the league, we had to play Boston in training camp. There were a lot of guys that came up with the ‘Boston flu.’ I’d never realized it until I went out on my first shift as a 19-year-old rookie. Never having played them before, I really found out why nobody wanted to go play in Boston, because even the exhibition games were wars. That’s just the way these two teams played.
The series sets up a clash of team identities and styles. The rugged Bruins represent a physical, bloody brand of hockey on its way out. The Habs boast the most breathtaking skill of any team ever assembled and foreshadow the explosion of dynastic finesse that will take off in the 1980s.
DON CHERRY: (Boston coach) If you used to go into Montreal and look over the lineup, you were dead. Because Steve Shutt had 60 goals one year, Jacques Lemaire could score 35, and I think Lafleur had 52 goals in 1979. Can you imagine today, trying to check a line like that? And then you had Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson on the defense. You had all-stars, Hall of Famers…I think there were 10 Hall of Famers on that club. Ten!
REJEAN HOULE: (Montreal left winger) Boston had a good, solid team that we would call in French, “col bleu,” which is like blue collar, yeah? Blue-collar players. Pretty tough, pretty tight and all that. So they had that part of the game that they were pretty good at.
SHUTT: It’s a little bit of a misconception. Don’t forget, they had some great skill players. And we had some pretty tough players, too. So there wasn’t really that much difference between the two teams. Yeah, they might’ve been a little bit tougher than us, and we might’ve been just a little bit faster, but if you go through the lineups of both rosters, you’ll see that there are skill guys on each team. And believe me, there were tough guys on each team as well.
RICK MIDDLETON: (Boston right winger) Don liked to portray the Bruins as a lunchpail gang, that we work hard but we’re not all that talented, just to play it down. In reality, you don’t go the final three years in a row if you’re not talented. Everybody knew we had a tough team, but you’ve got to score, too, and get goaltending. We had a balanced lineup those years in the late ’70s, and a very inspirational coach in Don Cherry.
BRAD PARK: (Boston defenseman) We were in Montreal, and (Cherry) called a defenseman’s meeting, and we went for a few beers. I think he was just expressing his confidence level in us. I’m not saying we had any certain strategy he was making us aware of. They had 10 Hall of Famers, and we had three. Gerry Cheevers and Jean Ratelle were 38. But we knew that we had a good year, and we were not going to be able to match their finesse.
MIDDLETON: Don tried to structure the team around more defense than offense. By the late ’70s, the team had changed so much from that offensively powered team of the early ’70s to more of a defensive team under Don. We joke about it now, but he always said he had to introduce me to the goalie at the end of the year, because I didn’t know how to play defense at all.
PARK: Two years before that, they knocked us out in four straight in the final. The year after that, they knocked us out in six games in the final. That was a positive note for us, that we were better the second year than the first, that we went six games with them. We knew they were a powerhouse. I’m thinking, “Anything’s possible.”
A major storyline to watch in the series: the battle of wits between coaches. Bowman is the mysterious puppetmaster with total control over his players. Cherry is the charismatic talker. Both enjoy battling each other using the media.
CHERRY: I respected him as a coach. Who couldn’t? We were good friends.
BOWMAN: In the ’76 Canada Cup, I had Bobby Kromm and Al MacNeil and Don Cherry and myself as coaches. And Don Cherry was the “father” up in the press box. He made the big call down to the bench. He called Al MacNeil and mentioned about the Czech goalie, Vladimir Dzurilla, coming out to challenge all the time, before Darryl Sittler scored the winning overtime goal. My wife gave birth to twins in October of ’76. The next year, our teams met in the playoffs, and Don gave me a gift for my wife. He bought two silver cups. We’ve been friends for a long time.
CHERRY: But we really did have a thing going for the newspapers. He got up at eight o’clock in the morning. The referees used to speak at eight o’clock before anybody got to the rink, and he used to give them heck all the time: “You won’t make calls on Boston.” One time he called in the press to show them. He had a video guy set up all the penalties we should’ve been called on. He was using every means of his power, and I respected that. I didn’t mind that.
ROD LANGWAY: (Montreal defenseman) Scotty was the king of the team. He kept you on your toes. My first year in Montreal, in training camp, he saw me standing around and came up and said, “Hey, I’m Scotty Bowman. Keep working hard. Oh, by the way, you played golf at Wentworth Country Club in New Hampshire, and I knew your head pro, Tony Locke.” Then he walked away. I said, “How do you know Tony Locke?” I went back to the country club the following summer, and Tony said, “I’ve never met Scotty Bowman.”
CHERRY: I came to the customs guy in Canada before the series started, and they said, “What’s your reason for…” They knew why we were there. So I said, “To beat the f—in’ Montreal Canadiens.” And it was really good for the press. Scotty and I were friends, but that didn’t matter. He tried to get me as much as he could, and I tried to get him.
LANGWAY: Scotty did a lot of coaching through the press. The press would say something about what Scotty said the night before, and he would do the opposite during the game. Glenn Cole was the English reporter for the Canadiens, and he would write about myself and Brian Engblom or one of the defensemen, saying, “Yeah, he’s going to play you the next three games.” And the next night, you think you’re playing, and your shirt wasn’t hanging up there. You’d be sitting in the stands.
A key matchup that will define the series: Bruins shutdown center Don Marcotte vs. Lafleur. It is Marcotte’s job to shadow the Habs superstar.
They both got cut. The trainers were touching the blood up. It was big-boy hockey.
– Don Cherry, Boston Bruins
CHERRY: Marcotte could skate as good, as fast as Lafleur, and that’s why Marcotte was on him. It’s a shame he didn’t win the Selke. That was ridiculous. He got 20 goals, and he still checked Lafleur.
BOWMAN: If you look at defensive forwards in the game at that time, Bob Gainey was certainly there, won the Selkes, but if there was no Gainey playing in those years, Marcotte might have won a Selke.
CHERRY: I remember once during a shift, Marcotte and Lafleur both got cut. They were on the bench, and they were looking at each other. The game was on, and I looked over, and there was Marcotte looking at him, and there was Lafleur looking back. The trainers were touching the blood up. It was big-boy hockey.
The series begins, and it’s business as usual for the Canadiens, who win Games 1 and 2 in Montreal by a 9-4 margin. Bruins starting goalie Gerry Cheevers, nearing the end of his career, struggles to the tune of an .800 save percentage in the defeats. With the series shifting back to Boston, Cherry benches Cheevers for 29-year-old Gilles Gilbert.
GILLES GILBERT: (Boston goalie) Before the series, I was playing regularly. But when we started the playoffs, Don Cherry came up with the idea to go with Cheevers. They used to call Gerry Cheevers “the winning goaltender,” because they won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. We lost the first two games in a row, and all of a sudden I get the call from Don. I was surprised, but ca va, I was ready. And I was well-prepared, mentally and physically, to face the Montreal Canadiens.
CHERRY: I’m not saying that Cheevers played bad, which he didn’t, but he didn’t play great. And I knew ‘Gilly’ was a French-Canadian, and he was coming up for a contract, and he was fantastic.
GILBERT: It was extra special because in Montreal, like Quebec City, I had so many uncles and aunts. My dad used to bring a lot of brothers and sisters, because he was the third-oldest in a family of 24. So it cost me a lot of money to get tickets for every frickin’ game in Montreal or Quebec City. But I was not nervous. I was wishing to beat Montreal so bad. Or if I lose a game, I didn’t want to look bad. Because what you hear all summer, at the golf course, they don’t tell you all the great saves you made.
MIDDLETON: ‘Gilly’ was a great goalie and a great competitor. He was very passionate person on and off the ice. But on the ice he was tuned in. We always had the confidence in ‘Gilly’ that when he was in net, he could do the job.
SHUTT: At that time, ‘Cheevesy’ was an older goalie who came out and played his angles, whereas Gilles Gilbert was a younger goalie, more active. He was going to go out and make a save, he played a great series. He really, really played well.
CHERRY: The reason we went seven games was because of ‘Gilly’ Gilbert.
Buoyed by Gilbert’s outstanding play, the Bruins take three of the next four games. The series goes to Game 7 after each side wins three times at home. The Bruins have their best chance yet to topple the Habs dynasty.
CHERRY: When we were down 2-0, we got on the plane, and I asked the stewardess if we had any champagne and plastic glasses. I said, “That’s for the seventh game. We’ll be back for the seventh game.” I had a feeling we’d be back. And we were. These guys had a lot of heart.
PARK: By the time we get to Game 7, this was as physical a series as we could muster. We knew we weren’t going to be able to skate with them. We were going to be as rude, crude and unattractive as we could be, but without taking dumb penalties, because of the quality of the players they put on the power play.
The Bruins are apprehensive heading into the Forum on May 10, 1979, for Game 7. They fear a conspiracy designed to give Montreal more power plays.
CHERRY: Let’s remember, this is Montreal, and people don’t understand it now, but they ran the league. And it was (GM) Sammy Pollock. They were the glamor team of the NHL. That’s the way I felt. And I still feel that to this day.
LANGWAY: It was pretty tough for any referee to come into the Montreal Forum and go against the Canadiens. I think both teams had a typical home-rink advantage with the referees. I don’t think that we had great calls in Boston, and the same thing for the Bruins in Montreal.
MIDDLETON: You always felt that, somehow, Montreal ended up getting the call, because their fans would moan so much that the referees had to blow the whistle. (laughs)
HOULE: We never had the referees on our side. Come on! What are you guys talking about? (laughs)
The puck drops for Game 7 before a frenzied crowd at the Forum. The Bruins and Habs trade goals in the first period, with Middleton converting from the slot and Lemaire finishing off a scramble in front of Gilbert. The Bruins take over in the second, with consecutive goals by captain Wayne Cashman. They reach the second intermission with a 3-1 lead. The experienced Habs aren’t worried yet.
SHUTT: Going into the second intermission, we were just thinking, “Maybe this is it. We’re playing against a really good team, and maybe this is going to be it.” But one of the fallbacks we had on our team was, when we were down or not playing well, everybody would go in the dressing room and say, “Listen, everybody just do your job. Do what you’re good at, and we’ll be OK.”
LANGWAY: I don’t think we were pushing the panic button. The way we looked at it, we were the best team. We should’ve won. We were the best team in the league. Wayne Gretzky and Edmonton had that run, and the Islanders, they had the best team, and you just had a funny feeling that they were going to pull it out even when they played bad.
Despite the two-goal lead, the Bruins can’t shake their nerves over the officiating after a jarringly controversial hooking call on center Jean Ratelle in the second period. Ratelle, a four-time Lady Byng Trophy winner, had no prior penalties this post-season. The call doesn’t result in a Montreal goal, but it leaves the Bruins rattled.
CHERRY: I’m not going to knock (referee) Bob Myers, because he’s dead now…but I guess I will. If they go through the records, I don’t think you’ll find too many times that ‘Gentleman Jean Ratelle’ ever had a hooking penalty. It was the strangest thing.
PARK: Ratelle had the puck, and he made a pass, and Bob Gainey was moving on him in the neutral zone. ‘Raty’ had passed the puck, and Gainey had hit him with a late hit. ‘Raty’ was so surprised and so upset that he chopped him on the pants. Jean Ratelle, for years, I’d try to get him to slash people, and he would never slash people. I’d say, “I’ll fight ’em, Jeanny. Just please slash somebody!” He chopped Gainey on the pants, and they called him on a penalty. I went over and said (to the ref), “What are you doing? That’s Jean Ratelle. Do you think he would slash somebody without a reason?”
At 6:10 of the third, Mark Napier one-times a perfect feed from Lafleur to beat Gilbert, narrowing the lead to 3-2. Shortly thereafter, Bruins defenseman Dick Redmond hauls down Lemaire, earning a hooking penalty. Believing Lemaire sold the call, Cherry mockingly gestures to the Forum crowd like an orchestra conductor, as if to say, “Happy now?”
CHERRY: I said to myself (about Myers), “This guy. This guy is trying to get them back in the game.”
ROBINSON: The way ‘Grapes’ tried to coach…whenever there was a big game, he tried to get the officials and the press feeling sorry for their team. “Oh, it’s the Montreal Canadiens, and they’re going to get all the calls.” I’m sure it was just a ploy to try to get the upper edge, because that’s what coaches did and still do. ‘Grapes’ was very dramatic.
On the ensuing power play, Lafleur circles the net and spots defenseman Lapointe, who blasts a snap shot through traffic past Gilbert. Tie game, 3-3. But the Bruins don’t back down. After Lapointe exits the game with a knee injury, Middleton collects the puck behind Montreal’s net and tries a wraparound. He banks the puck off Dryden and in. Boston takes a 4-3 lead with 3:59 remaining in Game 7.
LANGWAY: Middleton was, you know, ‘Nifty.’ When he had the puck behind the net or in the offensive zone, he was a threat all the time. Ken Dryden pointed every time Ricky was around. He was always yelling, “Watch him! Watch Middleton!”
MIDDLETON: We had a third goalie dressed in street clothes. His name was Jim ‘Seaweed’ Pettie, his nickname was ‘Seaweed’ because of his hair. He came down to me in between the second and third, and he said, “I’ve been watching Dryden. He likes to put his paddle down, his stick straight across. If you get a chance, fire it in the far side. It’ll go in under the knob.” If you look at the goal, I was in the opposite corner, and I started going behind the net, and it must have flashed in my mind, because I did fire it to the far side. I didn’t have the angle, but the puck hit the inside of Dryden’s blocker and went in. I would have given Jim Pettie all the credit in the world if we’d have won that game 4-3.
PARK: When Ricky Middleton scored, I’m saying, “We got ’em. We got ’em. We finally got ’em.” Because everybody knows their job, and we’re not going to give them an opening. We know that we can afford to dump it out and ice it just to protect that lead with three-and-a-half minutes to go.
With Montreal pushing for the tie, Bowman double-shifts Lafleur. Marcotte, still deployed as Lafleur’s shadow, follows him off the ice. When Lafleur jumps back on quickly after a shift, Marcotte jumps on, too, honoring his assignment, and the Bruins get confused. The result is two lines worth of Boston forwards on the ice at once – and a call from linesman John D’Amico: too many men on the ice.
BOWMAN: Marcotte often gets criticized but, to me, players know when they have to get on. As soon as Lafleur got on, if Marcotte wasn’t on the ice, somebody would come off right away, and then Marcotte would come on. When Lafleur was double-shifted, that’s when Boston had two left wingers on, Stan Jonathan and Marcotte.
CHERRY: Marcotte was on the ice every time Lafleur was on. And the left wingers got mixed up. Young guys we had got mixed up.
SHUTT: We got off the ice, Marcotte’s line went off the ice and then, about 30 seconds later, Scotty called Lafleur to go back on the right wing. And as he jumped on the ice, Boston was making a change. Marcotte saw Lafleur going on the ice, so he jumped on the ice, and then Marcotte’s linemates saw them, they jumped on the ice, but so did the line that Cherry had just called to go on the ice. So now, you’ve got six guys jumping on the ice, and away they go.
CHERRY: I remember John D’Amico looking at me with those big, brown eyes, saying, “I’m sorry, Don, I have to call it.” And I knew. I saw it right away, I think if somebody came near the bench, he would’ve let us off.
LANGWAY: They had too many men on the ice for almost 10 seconds. And the linesman didn’t want to call it. It just seemed like they kept going and going.
GILBERT: They should’ve never yelled from the bench, “Hey, we’ve got too many men on the ice!” Probably D’Amico just heard it, went “Oh,” then he blew the whistle.
MIDDLETON: I didn’t watch it for, like, 15 years. When I did, I saw my No. 16 on the ice, and I have no memory of being on the ice. I was surprised to see myself. Then I started thinking, “S—, maybe it was me, maybe I jumped.” (laughs)
Both teams sense a palpable shift in momentum after the too-many-men call.
SHUTT: We said, “OK, we’ve got a chance here.” We knew that this was our last chance. And we could just feel it go right through the bench.
CHERRY: It was tough in the sense that fans were right on you. They could reach out and touch you. And they were throwing batteries. You know the square batteries? The rectangle? So it was a little different than it is now. It was really something. The crowd was into the whole deal.
GILBERT: It’s a booster to them. From that penalty, too many men on the ice, those guys got so much confidence. We were winning, and all of a sudden, we played so tight.
PARK: I said, “We’re going to kill this sucker, and we’ll get the guy back with 30 seconds to go. At some point they’re going to pull their goalie, and…” The last thing I was thinking about was whether it was a good call or bad call.
With a little more than a minute remaining in the third period, Lafleur circles back into Montreal’s zone and begins a rush up the ice. He feeds Lemaire, who strides into Boston territory, dekes, then leaves a drop pass for Lafleur.
PARK: When Lafleur shoots, right away I say, “Uh, oh. This thing’s an inch off the ice and half an inch inside the far post.” I call it a one in a 1,000. You give him a 1,000 shots again, and I don’t think any of them go an inch off the ice and inside the post in that situation. It was a perfect shot. It was stick side on Gilles, and, well, it’s a tie ballgame.
ROBINSON: Today’s goalie might have stopped it. But back then, goalies didn’t do the butterfly. ‘Flower’ could do that shot again, because what made him so great is he went out and practised the shots.
GILBERT: So many, many times, I will tell people, “Did you ever stop a bullet? No?” I mean, it was a bullet. It was pretty, too. Hell, I don’t know what you want to call it. But it was a hard shot. People say, “Oh, you could’ve stopped that.” Yeah. Sure, sure.
HOULE: Flower had one of the best shots as a right winger when he was coming down the boards into the other team’s zone. He always had a very good low shot right by the post. It was not the first time I saw him score goals like that, because I was privileged to be playing with that team and be on the third line, so I could sit on the bench and look at Flower skating by us and shooting the puck. Our bench was always on his side at home, for two periods. So we had the best seat in the place. (laughs)
GILBERT: I always said to coaching staffs, “If I was coaching in the NHL, throughout the year, I would put a player in goal. A forward, defenseman, whatever, he has to play one practice in goal and realize how tough it is.” This little thing, sometimes it’s the size of a pea, and sometimes it’s three times the size of a basketball. You can see it sometimes, and other times, my god, it’s like a doorknob, it’s so little.
MIDDLETON: If there’s one guy I felt sorry for in that series, it was ‘Gilly,’ because he played his heart out and just got beat on a shot that only two people in the league could’ve made, Guy and maybe Mike Bossy.
Tied 4-4, the Bruins and Habs head to overtime. Next goal wins the series. The teams exchange heart-stopping chances.
BOWMAN: We’d lost Guy Lapointe. He had a knee injury, and he couldn’t go anymore. So in overtime, I said to Robinson and Savard, “I want one of you on the ice at all times. Sometimes I might have both of you. So, if I have both of you, one of you has to stay on.” But I don’t know how long we could do it.
GILBERT: My wife asks me, “You must be nervous when you go in the overtime?” No. You don’t even think about it. What you want is to win the game for the players.
D’Amico looked at me with those big, brown eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Don, I have to call it.’
– Don Cherry, Boston Bruins
LANGWAY: Gilbert was playing incredible, incredible hockey. He could’ve gotten the MVP of the series, for sure. We bombarded him. It was like watching Slap Shot. A couple of saves, when he got up, he couldn’t even breathe. He was cussing in French like in the Slap Shot movie.
CHERRY: We had our chances in overtime. I remember Terry O’Reilly had the puck, and Dryden was down on his knees, and he’s so tall that it just grazed the top of his shoulder. We were on the bench, and you know how
everybody jumps up? We thought it was in.
ROBINSON: I’m looking at it, I’m going, “Oh my god, no!” And Terry fired the puck right over the net.
Later in the overtime period, Middleton stickhandles into Montreal’s zone, but Savard strips him and head-mans the puck to Houle.
MIDDLETON: I tried to beat Savard 1-on-1 with one of my patented moves, outside-inside. And he’d probably seen it so many times that he got me easily with it. When he robbed the puck from me, he fired it up pretty quick. Montreal always transitioned well. He got it up to the forwards to break out so quickly that Brad, I think, got a little flat-footed, and Yvon Lambert was able to get, like, one step on him.
YVON LAMBERT: (Montreal left winger) Serge made a hell of a play on defense, passed it to Rejean Houle, Rejean Houle passed it to Mario Tremblay. Me and Mario, we played seven years together, so I knew that if I was able to get free going to the net that for sure I would have the puck, and that’s exactly what happened. Because the play went so fast, I caught Brad Park off guard.
PARK: When Mario passes the puck, he’s almost at the goal line. As the pass is coming through, I can see that it’s going to go through the top of the crease. In slow motion, I think, “If I reach into the crease to get this puck, I could deflect it in the net.” My second thought was, “It’s going to the top of the crease.” I never had this conversation with ‘Gilly,’ but my feeling was that anything going through the crease is the goalie’s puck, and everything that’s outside the crease is my puck.
GILBERT: I still remember the pass from Mario Tremblay to Lambert. I should have had the opportunity to pokecheck, but it happened so quickly. I was going to use my stick to cut the pass in front of the net, but he could have shot the puck right between my legs. Then who’s gonna look stupid? Me.
PARK: As soon as I saw that ‘Gilly’ wasn’t going to deflect it, I said, “Oh f—.”
Lambert redirects the puck past Gilbert. It’s a goal. Game over. Series over. Habs win 5-4.
LAMBERT: I grabbed Mario. I said, “Oh my god!”
LANGWAY: We just went crazy. We were on the ice in two seconds flat.
ROBINSON: Everybody came jumping off the bench. I felt bad for Lambert because he was at the bottom of the pile. Everybody was coming, jumpin’ on top of him.
HOULE: Oh f—, we were just so happy to make it happen. We didn’t talk. We were just, “Ahhh! Ahhh! Unbelievable! We made it!” (laughs)
LANGWAY: Lambert was a spokesman on the team. When he talked, everyone listened. He had a great series, and the guy just never stopped working. To see him get the overtime goal, as a teammate and a friend, it was great.
ROBINSON: Lambert scored 90 percent of his goals in that area around the net. Not a great skater, but he was a big man, and he’d just plunk himself in front of the net, and he was good at tipping pucks in.
YVAN COURNOYER: (Montreal right winger) I don’t think Yvon Lambert ever came back from that goal. (laughs) I think he’s still sleeping on it and dreaming about it. But it’s guys like that you need in the playoffs. People ask me why the playoffs are better, and it’s because everybody makes the same money after the playoffs are over. The best guy on the team and the fourth-line guys on the team make the same money. So you have to do your job, and that’s why the playoffs are so exciting. Because you never know who is going to come out in the playoffs and do very well.
LAMBERT: It didn’t change my career. But I felt like I knew then how a kid like Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky felt. Because I was the king in downtown Montreal for at least 24 hours. Top man for 24 hours. It was a hell of a feeling. Everywhere I was going, people wanted to touch me, they wanted a picture, they wanted an autograph. But after 24 hours, everything came back to the same reality.
GILBERT: So many times since then, Lambert asked me to go to his house for dinner, because he has his picture when he scored his goal against me. And I said, “No. Forget it. I will never, ever show up to your house.” (laughs)
The Canadiens are jubilant, off to compete for the Stanley Cup. The Bruins are devastated, having blown two third-period leads in the Game 7 defeat.
CHERRY: After the game, I knew I wasn’t going to let the reporters in right away. I fielded questions for 15 minutes so the guys could compose themselves, because I don’t think there was ever an overtime as devastating as that one, because they played so well.
MIDDLETON: It was the most emotional and physically grinding game of my career, regular season or playoffs. Especially so because, when we flew back to Boston, there were a couple thousand people at the airport. Even though we’d lost, they were there to greet us. I’d never seen that before. The fact they were still there to support us, that’s emotional to me.
LAMBERT: Every time I see Terry O’Reilly or Brad Park…those guys, they worked so hard. Brad Park played 17 years and never won a Stanley Cup. So that must have been very hard for them.
Emotionally and physically drained, the Canadiens must host the Rangers in the Stanley Cup final three days later.
ROBINSON: After Game 7, the next day, there was maybe a handful of guys capable of going back on the ice, that weren’t banged up in some manner, that didn’t need a day off. We heard reports that five or six guys on Boston went under the knife to repair something, whether it was a knee or a shoulder or whatever. It was a gruelling series.
PARK: During that series I was playing with a partially separated shoulder. I was getting shot up with novocaine before the game and between periods. It was probably the most physical series I’ve ever been in. After I got back, I called my friend Walter Tkaczuk in New York, and I said, “Walter, I am so beat up you won’t believe it. And if I’m beat up, they’re beat up. You’re going to win the first game in Montreal. But you’ve got to physically punish them.”
BOWMAN: John Davidson was superb in net for the Rangers. And New York had a good team. Anders Hedberg, Phil Esposito, they had a good, experienced team. Fred Shero was the coach. So we had our hands full.
The Rangers stun the exhausted Canadiens 4-1 at the Forum in Game 1. Afterward, the Rangers savor their win a little too much, poking the bear.
ROBINSON: I think somebody found it in the newspaper. It was pretty hard not to. There were about 15 papers in Montreal with cover-to-cover hockey. I want to say it was Carol Vadnais and somebody else, and it showed the Rangers players with beers and cigars. I think one of the reporters had written a caption on top, “Next Stanley Cup” or something like that. We took that picture and posted that up on the bulletin board, and that was our motivation for the rest of the playoffs.
COURNOYER: A couple of teams did that to us. Detroit did that one year. They beat us the first two games at the Forum, and they all come out with the big cigars, and we beat them in four straight after that. So you have to be careful, especially in the playoffs. Anything you can say to help the other team is a problem. You have to be very, very humble. You have to have confidence you’re gonna win, but you have to be scared to lose.
Montreal steamrolls New York to win the next four games, cruising to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, putting the exclamation point on a dynasty. It marks the end of an era. Cherry never coaches the Bruins again, Bowman leaves Montreal to coach Buffalo, and the NHL/WHA merger revamps the team and player pool for the 1979-80 season. The ’79 semifinal between Montreal and Boston will always be remembered as the “real” Cup final that season. Game 7 lives on as one of the NHL’s most memorable moments – especially for the Bruins. The Habs had won a fourth straight title, but many Bruins saw their best and only chance at a championship die.
CHERRY: I always felt sorry for the players. The Bruins were never quite the same. We should’ve won that game, and that’s it. If we hadn’t had too many men on the ice, we would’ve. I will never, ever say the name of the guy who jumped. You can guess at it, but you’ll never know.
MIDDLETON: Even though it’s 40 years, some of it seems like yesterday.
GILBERT: I wish we could play that frickin’ game tomorrow. I don’t think Montreal will touch that frickin’ puck once, they’ll be so afraid of us.
PARK: It’s a great story for Montreal Canadiens folklore. It’s not so good for the Boston Bruins folklore.
CHERRY: Tie Domi, when he was playing for the Maple Leafs in the 2000s, said the team got in late one night. They always stay on the same floor of the hotel, and every one of them switched on the TV, and it had the 1979 game on. The whole team was watching, and they couldn’t believe how fast it was, what a great game it was. Still today, I walk along in airports, and I talk to people that say, “I’ll never forget that game.”