It was a wacky week for all of them—for de Maisonneuve Butch and the Czech with the friable finger, for Le Bras and Lou-Lou, for the Roadrunner and the rookie named Frig, and for the King of the Empty Nets. But as the days dwindled down in the frantic Stanley Cup finals it was becoming increasingly evident that at least one axiom held true: speed kills. Montreal had it, and it was killing the gutty but outmanned Chicago Black Hawks.
In the opening game, remember, the supercharged Canadiens came from behind to rout the Black Hawks 8-3, scoring four goals in the third period. Late in the game Montreal's Jimmy Roberts twice rammed Stan Mikita into the boards, obviously hoping to airmail the remains of that superior center back to his native Czechoslovakia. The middle finger of Mikita's right hand soon was swollen to the size of a dill pickle. It was latticed with stitches, painted an ugly burnt orange and encased in an aluminum splint. "It's not broken," he said, "but I can't bend it or hold my stick."
So Mikita became Chicago's cheerleader when the teams squared off in Game No. 2 at the Forum. His replacement was little Lou-Lou Angotti, a bouncy fourth-line forward who gets his five o'clock shadow at 9 a.m. "People are always ready to condemn you in a spot like this," Angotti said. "Sure, I can't tie Mikita's laces, but neither can a hundred other guys in this league."
Fearful of a game-long blitz similar to the third-period shelling in the opener, Chicago Coach Billy Reay altered his defensive strategy in an attempt to defuse the swifter Canadiens. Rather than continue the aggressive forechecking tactics that had failed so miserably, Reay instructed the Hawks to concentrate primarily on backchecking; in other words, they were supposed to skate side by side with the Canadiens all night.
Sound thinking, perhaps, if the opposition is the New York Rangers. But who can skate alongside Yvan (Roadrunner) Cournoyer or Jacques Lemaire or Guy Lafleur or Frank Mahovlich for more than two or three seconds without getting lost in transit. Rookie John Marks, who was assigned to trail the elusive Cournoyer, contemplated the hopelessness of his job. "One step," he said, "and Cournoyer is gone. I thought I'd be able to skate with him the way I skated with the Rangers, but he's something else. He just disappears on you."
Nevertheless, for half the game Chicago's new approach stifled all the Canadiens except Pierre Bouchard—de Maisonneuve Butch, as the affable bachelor restaurateur is known around Montreal. In his ugliest nightmares Reay never imagined that Bouchard would score against the Black Hawks. Neither did Bouchard. Pressed into regular service when Defenseman Jacques Laperriere broke his nose, Bouchard gave the Canadiens an early 1-0 lead as he moved up from the blue line, took a passout from Claude Larose and fired a 25-foot wrist shot past a bewildered Tony Esposito. "How many goals did you score all year?" Bouchard was asked. He began to count on his fingers, then looked up and said: "That was my very first. And I think it was my 12th shot on goal, but it may have been my 16th."
Angotti, meanwhile, was sparking Chicago's revival. Lou-Lou seems to run, not skate, and the Canadiens were penalized twice for their illegal attempts to stop him. Angotti helped set up Cliff Koroll as the Hawks tied the score midway through the game. But unfortunately for Chicago, the Roadrunner went beep-beep and singlehandedly ruined Reay's strategy. By then Marks had left Cournoyer's vicinity to play defense because Doug Jarrett injured his ribs. Cournoyer, the game's fastest skater, scored twice after disappearing behind the Chicago defense, and later Frank Mahovlich got his fifth empty-net goal of the season as Montreal won 4-1 and took a 2-0 lead in the series.
After the game Reay criticized the officiating of Referee Lloyd Gilmour. "What we could use in this league is one good American referee once in a while," Reay shouted. "All I want is a fair shake." He was particularly incensed over what he described as "a Canadian call" on Chicago's Pit Martin in the closing minutes when the Hawks were pressing a two-man advantage, and the diplomatic immunity Claude Larose seemed to enjoy as he shadowed Dennis Hull around the rink.
Returning home Thursday night, the Black Hawks obviously needed more than a fair shake to stop the Canadiens. "About the only thing we have going for us now,' said Pat Stapleton, "is that the Canadiens usually skate a little slower on the road than they do at home." Then help arrived. Mikita's swollen finger softened considerably, and the doctors rigged it with bandages and sponge rubber. "The only thing they won't do is shoot the finger with pain-killer," Mikita said. He told Reay he could play, and Jarrett, presumed to be lost for the rest of the series, decided he could work, too.
There also was a new face in the lineup: 22-year-old Defenseman Len Frig, up from Dallas and dressing for his first NHL game. "You'll work on our power play," Reay told the nervous rookie.
As Reay had hoped, his comments on the officiating in Montreal paid immediate dividends when Larose, affectionately known as Le Bras—the arm—because he seems to have a dozen of them wrapped around his rival at all times, was penalized for bothering Hull after only 45 seconds of play. "Reay begged for help and got it," protested Montreal General Manager Sam Pollock. Without Larose's arms to worry about, Hull planted himself about 20 feet in front of the Canadiens' goaltender, Ken Dryden, and blasted a shot past him. Aroused, the Hawks at last abandoned the cautious approach that had failed in Montreal and began to storm Dryden. They beat him for three more goals in less than three minutes. One came on another power play, the others when the Canadiens supposedly had their own power play going.
J. P. Bordeleau surprised Dryden and the Canadiens with the first goal of the blitz—old Chicago style. The antique clock at Chicago Stadium is practically impossible to read. "You'd think they could afford a digital clock like they have in all the other rinks," said one Canadien. Unable to figure out when a penalty to Bordeleau would expire, the Montreal defensemen temporarily forgot about him—and there he was taking a pass from Mikita, bearing down on Dryden and flipping the puck over the goalie's glove. Moments later, with Hull in the penalty box, Bill White beat Dryden with a seeing-eye backhander from a bad angle, and then Mikita swatted his own rebound past Dryden to give the Black Hawks a startling 4-0 lead.
Frig helped Chicago increase it to 5-0 early in the second period when his shot from the blue line deflected off Marks and through Dryden. And the rookie personally prevented a Montreal goal a few minutes later by sprawling across the goal mouth and deflecting a Mahovlich shot out of the rink. "I had the whole net for a couple of seconds," Mahovlich said, "but I waited too long." Mahovlich did score against a guarded net later in the period to destroy Esposito's shutout, but the Canadiens—as the Black Hawks had suspected they would—were still moving about 10 mph slower than they had at the Forum. "It was like we were skating uphill," admitted Chuck Lefley.
Maybe so, but it was strictly downhill in the third period for the Canadiens as they quickly scored three goals against Esposito, missed at least a dozen more excellent scoring chances and had the Hawks clinging to a 5-4 lead in the final minute. Dryden came out of his net and was replaced by a sixth skater. Then, suddenly, there was Mahovlich—King of the Empty Nets—at the edge of the crease, 15 inches from the goal line, with the puck squarely on his stick and Esposito nowhere to be seen. "Overtime," Stapleton thought.
Incredibly, Mahovlich rolled the puck through the crease and into the corner of the rink, where Dennis Hull recovered it and fired it 150 feet down the ice and into the Canadiens' empty net. A few seconds later Jim Pappin also scored on a long-distance drive into the same empty net, and the Hawks escaped with a 7-4 victory. "I could kiss Frank," Mikita said. "I don't know how he missed."
Mikita unpuckered Sunday as the Canadiens kissed off the Hawks 4-0 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. (Over in the WHA finals, by the way, a former Black Hawk, Bobby Hull, was losing too: New England snuffed out his Winnipeg Jets) By flashing in to net a pass from Marc Tardif, Cournoyer scored his 13th goal in 1973 cup play to come within a goal of Frank Mahovlich's 1971 record. "Speed," said Tardif, "will do it every time."
Having sped to a lethal attacking position, Montreal's Cournoyer awaits goal-mouth pass.