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From the Archives: Defeat Not Easy for Habs During 1951 Stanley Cup Final

The 1951 Stanley Cup final was memorable for many reasons, but for the Montreal Canadiens, it wasn't an easy pill to swallow.
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One of the most publicized Stanley Cup games ever played took place on April 21, 1951 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Many aspects of the Montreal-Toronto Final series were rare. For example, every one of the five games went into sudden-death overtime. Another spectacular event featured Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko literally flying through the air while watching his shot fly over Canadiens goalie Gerry McNeil for the championship.

Furthermore, Toronto coach Joe Primeau completed a mentor's hat trick of sorts having coached a Memorial (Junior) Cup-winning team and an Allan (Senior) Cup-titlist. These feats were in addition to his latest NHL accomplishment, annexing Lord Stanley's mug.

What turned that particular Cup crusade into an eternal story for many Canadians was its aftermath.

Barilko, otherwise known as Bashin' Bill, became a national Canadian hero that summer of 1951. He later would become legendary after he and a comrade disappeared on a fishing trip in Northern Ontario. Ten years went by before the plane wreckage -- and the bodies -- could be found.

All of these events tended to obscure the fact that another club was involved in that fateful 1951 series. It was a Montreal team with prominent players who had been intense competitors and now were mentally crushed by the five-game defeat.

As a 19-year-old Leafs fan, I was overjoyed by the victory which was well-covered in my edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail. But, at the same time, I thoroughly respected the vanquished. And so did, Al Nickleson, one of the Globe and Mail's leading hockey writers.

While Al's boss, Jim Vipond, covered the champion Leafs side of things, it was Nickleson's job to report on the losing Canadiens, which he did very eloquently and with feeling..

His story -- still in my scrapbook -- ran shoulder to shoulder with two views (front and back) of Bill Barilko's dramatic overtime goal

DEFEAT NOT EASY FOR GREAT HABS ran the headline with the subhead, CUP AFTERMATH. Nickleson's reportage was touching to both Canadiens and Maple Leaf fans. Listen up:

"A few feet off the ice from where the Leafs were shouting and embracing, there was a death-like silence broken only by the silence of strong men wearing sweat-soaked Canadiens uniforms. That few feet difference between laughter and tears represented the closeness of the thrill-filled and fantastic five overtime games of the finals."

Nickleson pointed out that while Toronto may have enjoyed the better of play in regulation time, Montreal's heroic little goalie, Gerry McNeil, kept getting in the way of triumph.

Nickleson: "We thought that the Leafs could have won by two or three goals in regulation time but for one thing. The thing was the marvelous mite, Gerry McNeil, who cried as did Rocket Richard in the dressing room while the roars for the victors rang and rang outside."

In his column, Nickleson noted that Toronto left wing Harry Watson prevented an open net goal for Montreal with a well-timed stick thrust that relieved the Habs Ken Mosdell of the rubber. Tod Sloan then scored Toronto's tying goal that sent the game into overtime. The curtain came down on the series with Barilko's memorable score achieved while in full flight.

Meanwhile, another Globe reporter caught up to the Leafs beaming boss Conn Smythe. The Little Major capsulized his franchise's victory in just four words: "We just out-Irished them!" shouted Smythe.

Then, Conn was handed a telegram of congratulations -- signed by none other than another Irishman, Father H. Murphy.

"See what I mean," a smiling Smythe concluded. "Pure Irish luck!"

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