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Original Issue

Flying blades, rising ire

As New York stumbled and Montreal struggled in Stanley Cup warfare, passions off the ice were becoming as heated as the action on it

In the heat of the chase for the Stanley Cup, these men were extremely angry last week: Billy Reay, Emile Francis, Eddie Giacomin, Brad Park, Pat Stapleton, Scotty Bowman, Fred Shero, Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz, Pierre Bouchard and Henri Richard. Meanwhile, two goaltenders were extremely happy: Tony Esposito of the Chicago Black Hawks and Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens.

First the happiness boys. Esposito has been accused of playing at his worst in cup competition, and with good reason. He still shudders when reminded how he fanned on Jacques Lemaire's seemingly harmless shot from center ice in the final game of the 1971 playoffs, which the favored Black Hawks lost to the Canadiens. When the Black Hawks opened their semifinal series with the New York Rangers a fortnight ago, Esposito again seemed to be at the bottom of his form as he whiffed on Vic Hadfield's long shot from a bad angle to give up the goal that beat the Hawks and misplayed another soft save into another easy New York goal. "I blew the game," Esposito glumly admitted. Since then, though, Phil's Kid Brother has been outstanding.

He secured Chicago's 5-4 victory in the second game with an exceptional save on Bruce MacGregor in the late moments, and last week in Madison Square Garden Esposito backstopped the Hawks to a commanding 3-1 advantage in the series by repelling 75 of New York's 77 shots as the Black Hawks wrung 2-1 and 3-1 victories from the frustrated Rangers. In a typical nerve-racking sequence Esposito would 1) jump to block a long shot with his chest; 2) flop to cover the rebound; 3) split to kick out a shot headed for the corner; and 4) dive into a crowd of players to cover the loose puck with his body. "He was our stumbling block," conceded New York Coach Emile Francis.

Dryden was the stumbling block for the Philadelphia Flyers. Although they refused to be awed by the Canadiens and handled the Lemaires and the Cournoyers with almost casual disdain, they found disdain a useless tool against Dryden; you must put the puck past him. This the Flyers did in overtime in the first game in the Forum, but after that Dryden did his Gibraltar number. The Canadiens won the second game in overtime 4-3, and despite many Flyer opportunities Dryden calmly preserved Montreal's 2-1 decision in the third.

In a nationally televised matinee Sunday, the Flyers stormed Dryden and scored an early goal on Bobby Clarke's deflection during a power play. But after that Dryden was magnificent, particularly during one siege when the Flyers had a two-man advantage for nearly two minutes and later when Larry Robinson spent five minutes in the penalty box for cutting Clarke with his stick. And so the Canadiens achieved a 4-1 victory and 3-1 series lead.

Now for those angry men. Let's begin with Reay, the coach of the Black Hawks, who always seems to be angry, and Francis, the normally tight-lipped boss of the Rangers. All season long Reay had tossed verbal darts at New York's million-dollar lineup. "They're trying to buy first place and the Stanley Cup," he would say. "If they don't win the East Division by 15 points, they all ought to give back half their salary." Hearing of Reay's remarks, Francis responded: "What we pay our players is none of his business. Besides, what about those years when Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita made more money than our whole team?" Francis thought for a moment. "We beat Chicago last year before we paid all that money to our players," he said. "We'll beat them again."

Reay and Francis managed to keep their tempers in check through the first two playoff games, but Reay did a little media-muzzling after Tuesday's game in New York, even though the Hawks had won. "My designated talker will be J.P. Bordeleau," Reay announced outside the Hawk dressing room. Everyone laughed. Surely Reay was making light of the fact that Bordeleau, a rookie who had played less than one minute that night and had spent most of the season on the bench, had complained about his lack of activity during games. Inside the room, though, all the Hawks were quiet—except for Bordeleau. "Boss's orders," Esposito mumbled, "I can't say anything." Defenseman Pat Stapleton, normally garrulous, tucked his lips into his mouth. "Alsighbh kexys sqrpy," he said. Translated, this meant Stapleton did not like the idea of being gagged. Bordeleau, meanwhile, was surrounded by interviewers. Unfortunately, he does not have complete command of the English language, so most of his remarks were limited to five-word sentences, all of which started with "We had very good..." and concluded with vivid things like forechecking, passing, backchecking, goaltending, penalty-killing, power play, coaching, etc. Later, to make certain that no one could reach the players at their hotel, Reay closed off phone service to their rooms.

Two men with better reason to be wrathful were Ranger Goaltender Eddie Giacomin and Defenseman Brad Park. Giacomin had spent most of his working moments in that third game stopping two-on-one and three-on-one breaks, and with the score tied 1-1 late in the final period of the fourth game here came Jimmy Pappin on another breakaway. Giacomin made an outstanding save, though, to keep the Rangers in the game. "I thought I had done my job," he said. "It would have been nice to finish regulation time with a 1-1 tie, go off for 15 minutes and then come back for overtime." But minutes after Pappin's move Park lost the puck to Stapleton at center ice—and there came Stapleton and Pit Martin on a two-on-one. Stapleton passed to Martin, who has a deadly shot, and he beat Giacomin cleanly for the winning goal. Giacomin fumed in his crease, and a few minutes later gave up a goal to Dennis Hull. All Park could say was, "I'm so bleeping mad I don't know what to do."

If Chicago's unexpectedly rude treatment of the favored Rangers was surprising, Montreal's difficulties with the Flyers were startling. True, Philadelphia had broken even with Montreal in the regular season by disrupting the Canadiens' disciplined game, but this was the Stanley Cup, these were men of dynasty and destiny. From the start the Canadiens expected that the Flyers would again play roughhouse hockey and try to intimidate some of their swift but hardly heroic forwards. The Flyers had been the most-penalized team in the NHL all season—for a total of 1,754 minutes. The peaceable Canadiens, on the other hand, had logged only 783 minutes, or some 16 hours and 11 minutes less than Philly's Mad Squad.

However, besides the butcher boys the Flyers have two of the highest-scoring lines in hockey. One is centered by Bobby Clarke, who probably will be named the NHL's most valuable player, and the other by 50-goal scorer Rick MacLeish. "In the playoffs," said Philadelphia Coach Fred Shero, "you must play tight hockey. If we run at the Canadiens and get penalized, they'll kill us with their power play. I'm afraid we'll have to play it straight against them."

So there was no bloodbath. But, surprise, surprise, the Flyers, skating way over their heads, played it straight just about as well as the Canadiens. They won the first game on MacLeish's overtime goal and they actually outplayed the Canadiens in the second game last Tuesday night, although losing in overtime. These games were interrupted by only two fights, a record low for the Flyers. But after Montreal's first victory Coach Scotty Bowman started the temper war by suggesting that a mistake by Gary Dornhoefer had cost Philadelphia the game and that Shero was not very bright if he thought Dave Schultz, a plodding skater, could check his speedy Yvan Cournoyer.

"Bowman's too smart to be a coach," Shero said. "He ought to be a foreign diplomat. In Russia, maybe. The farther away the better. I feel sorry for Bowman. It's hard to coach a team with 20 stars. They're not happy with him. He's not happy with them. The press isn't happy with him. The public's not happy with him. I guess the only one who loves him is his wife and maybe his dog." Schultz was more explicit: "Bowman says I can't check Cournoyer. I can check him. I can spear him, too."

Clarke, the captain of the Flyers, was incensed. "They couldn't win the first game with Bowman's brilliant coaching," Clarke said. "Who's he to talk about our players? He's got enough trouble with his own." Bowman was having trouble with his players, some of whom seemed to be skating in a fog. "There's zilch spirit around here right now," complained one Canadien.

As the teams squared off for the third game of the series in Philadelphia Thursday night, it was immediately obvious that the Flyers were resuming their muscle-bending tactics. Schultz had a talk with Marc Tardif early in the game and advised Tardif, one of the more rugged Canadiens, not to be a hero. "Leave my guys alone or else you'll get it," Schultz told Tardif, approximately. And soon there was a fight. Schultz vs. Pierre Bouchard. Two good heavyweights meeting for the third time this season. Schultz won the first fight, and they battled to a draw in the rematch. "I knew we'd go at it," Bouchard said. "He told a couple of guys around Montreal that he wanted to get me. And he said he wasn't going to use the Marquess of Queensberry rules either."

Schultz had 19 fights during the season; he can't recall any defeats. "I probably wouldn't be here at all if I couldn't fight," Schultz said, twitching his Fu Manchu mustache. "The first thing I do is grab for the other guy's right shoulder with my left hand. He probably gets in a few punches, but then I'm ready to take off. I start slow, but I usually finish strong in the late rounds."

This time, though, Bouchard immobilized Schultz' right arm with his left hand, and then he started to pop Schultz in the face with his own right hand. Round One went to Bouchard, so did Rounds Two and Three. In Round Four, Bouchard and Schultz began to butt heads like two rams, and then the linesmen stepped in and called it off.

More important, the rest of the Flyers lost their aggressiveness, and by the time the game reached the third period the Canadiens were in control. So much so that a frustrated Flyer fan tore down a banner taped to the wall that read: "Help Stamp Out Air Pollution, Scotty—Keep Your Mouth Shut."

Bowman did. His players kept their mouths shut, too. Except for Henri Richard, who had nullified Clarke's effectiveness with persistent checking. "Tell me," Richard said, shaking his head, "will it ever be easy? Will we ever have an easy game in the playoffs?"