Jim Pappin backhanded a pass towards Pete Stemkowski at the front of the Montreal net. Canadiens defenceman Jacques Laperriere had Stemmer tied up, and the puck caromed off Laperriere and past goaltender Gump Worsley. Pappin got credit for the Cup-winning goal on May 2, 1967, in Game 6 of the final.
It was Canada’s centennial year and the last season of hockey’s Original Six.
All these years later, Pappin, Stemkowski and most of their teammates will be honoured during pre-game ceremonies at the Edmonton-Toronto game Saturday night. Another reunion will take place March 22 at a dinner at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The Leafs weren’t expected to get past Chicago in the semifinals, let alone win it all in the last season of the Original Six. The Blackhawks, led by league scoring champion Stan Mikita and 52-goal scorer Bobby Hull, had finished first and were 19 points ahead of third-place Toronto at the end of what was then a 70-game schedule.
Yet the Leafs made it to the final. Dave Keon’s checking job on Mikita and Terry Sawchuk’s goaltending were key factors in the upset.
The Montreal Canadiens, aiming for a third straight championship to put a feather in the city’s Expos ’67 cap, were overwhelming favourites in the final.
Leafs coach George (Punch) Imlach, who was disliked by many of his players and by Frank Mahovlich in particular, stirred the pot when Montreal opted to go with rookie Rogie Vachon ahead of the veteran Worsley in the nets when the championship series started. Imlach bragged to any reporter within earshot that the Canadiens could not win with a Junior B goaltender.
The Leafs lost the opener 6-2 with a battered Sawchuk in goal, and they won the next game 3-0 thanks to a shutout by Johnny Bower, his nose dripping blood after John Ferguson’s crease-crashing.
The series shifted to Toronto and Bob Pulford’s goal 8:26 into a second overtime gave the Leafs a 3-2 win. Bower got the win again.
Imlach was getting cockier.
“There’s no way we can lose to them if this team plays the way it has,” Imlach said.
Sawchuk, as the story goes, figured that with the way Bower was playing he probably wouldn’t get another start. He found a bar stool.
“He ordered a drink, another drink, a third drink, a couple of dozen drinks,” Jack Batten wrote in “The Leafs” in describing the championship run. “He sat at the bar bending his elbow until the place closed at one o’clock in the morning.
“The next night, a Saturday, at the Gardens for the fourth game, Sawchuk was so hung over his hair hurt, his vision blurred, his body felt like lead. But, what the heck, he was only along as a spectator that night. Bower would play goal.”
When Bower pulled a thigh muscle during the pre-game warmup to Game 4 in stretching to stop a shot by teammate Larry Hillman, Sawchuk was sent into the crease. He got bombed 6-2. The series was knotted 2-2.
Sawchuk was uncommunicative on game days.
“You couldn’t talk to him,” recalls Bower, who is 82 now. “(Defenceman) Marcel Pronovost told me, ‘Just leave him alone because he’s a loner.’
“I never knew where his mind was, whether it was on hockey or his personal problems.”
It looked like curtains for the Leafs.
Sawchuk, reverting to top form, led the Leafs to a 4-1 win in Montreal to grab a 3-2 series lead. Vachon let in long shots by Pronovost and Pappin, so the Canadiens lifted him after two periods and went back to Worsley.
Imlach delivered an inspirational speech before Game 6. He emptied a bag of 1,000 one-dollar bills on a table in the centre of the dressing room to impress the players with the rewards that were heaped on Stanley Cup champions. Imlach reminded his players that if they didn’t win on home ice that night they’d be kissing the title goodbye because chances of another win in Montreal were slim and none.
“Everybody stood up and guys were saying, ‘Come on, we’re going to beat these guys,”‘ Bower recalls.
Goals by Ron Ellis and Pappin, who would lead all playoff point-getters that spring, had Toronto up 2-0 at the second intermission. Dick Duff made it 2-1.
The minutes ticked away and there was a faceoff in the Leafs’ end with 55 seconds remaining. Montreal coach Toe Blake pulled Worsley and sent out an extra attacker.
Allan Stanley, a spry defenceman who was 41 at the time and whose nickname was Snowshoes because of his lack of speed, went head to head with Jean Beliveau. Stanley won the draw. The puck went to Red Kelly, a rather youthful 39, and he fed Pulford who relayed the puck to captain George Armstrong for a long shot into the open net.
Sawchuk was outstanding in making 40 saves as the Leafs won 3-1 to take the title. The party was on. Slumped in his dressing room stall, the fidgety Sawchuk sucked on a cigarette.
“My greatest thrill,” he mumbled. “Absolutely the greatest.”
Keon, who played bigger than his five-foot-nine size, was named playoff MVP.
“We beat the Canadiens the only way we can win – playing tough hockey,” he said. “We let them come at us then we counter-punched to get a goal or two we could protect.”
Armstrong summed things up.
“In past years we maybe had teams with more ability, but we’ve never had a team that had more fight, more desire or determination,” Armstrong said. “We did it with the old fellows and a bunch of younger guys who meshed in beautifully.”