Leafs of 1977-78 – Part 3 [Playoffs]

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Sep. 9) – During the 1970s, Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament in all but two seasons (1969-70 and 1972-73). Leafs competed in 60 playoff games and were absolutely slaughtered in overtime. On four occasions – all at Maple Leaf Gardens – opposition OT goals eliminated Toronto:

* Ex-Leaf Bob Nevin scored the series winner for New York Rangers in Game 6 of the 1971 Cup quarterfinals, beating veteran Jacques Plante with a long, low shot.

* Forward Ken Hodge completed a four-game sweep for the Boston Bruins in the 1974 quarterfinals with a goal on Doug Favell at 1:27 of the first overtime period.

* Defenseman Andre (Moose) Dupont sent Leafs packing in 1975 with a slap-shot from inside the blue-line at the Gardens that beat goalie Gord McRae and capped a four-game quarterfinal sweep by Philadelphia (Flyers repeated as Stanley Cup champion).

* Larry Robinson bounced Leafs from the Cup quarterfinals in a 1979 sweep for Montreal, scoring a powerplay goal on Mike Palmateer with Dave (Tiger) Williams in the box. Robinson then helped restrain Williams from attacking referee Bob Myers.

In 10 playoff overtimes between Apr. 15, 1971 and Apr. 25, 1978, Leafs were a dreadful 2-8 – their lone victories courtesy of Jim Harrison (Game 2 of the 1972 quarterfinals at Boston Garden; Bruins would win series in five) and Blaine Stoughton (at Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 2 of a 1975 best-of-three preliminary against Los Angeles Kings, enabling Leafs to avoid elimination and prevail in California the following night).

Two of the eight overtime defeats had occurred against New York Islanders in the 1978 quarterfinals, off the sticks of Mike Bossy (in Game 2) and Bob Nystrom (Game 5).

You can thus imagine the euphoria that swept through Leafs Nation on Apr. 29, 1978 when the table briefly turned at Nassau Coliseum. In fact, you don’t have to imagine the excitement; you can re-live it here as Leafs supporters partied through the night – a delirious throng greeting the club when it arrived in the wee hours at Pearson International Airport after eliminating the Islanders in Game 7.

Leafs had clawed back from 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits. When Lanny McDonald fired a low shot to the far side on Glenn (Chico) Resch at 4:13 of overtime in the deciding match (photo and Toronto Star headline below), this city erupted.   

SPORTS HEADLINE IN TORONTO STAR ON APR. 30, 1978 – THE NIGHT AFTER LANNY McDONALD’S OVERTIME GOAL IN GAME 7 ELIMINATED THE FAVORED NEW YORK ISLANDERS.

During an unexpected, sustained free-fall in the final month of 1977-78 (not unlike the catastrophic nosedive this past spring), playoff enthusiasm in Toronto all but evaporated. Leafs had essentially clinched a Stanley Cup invite with a dazzling first-third performance: a 19-6-3 record, their best-ever mark after 28 games. But, a 2-10 slump to end the regular schedule cast the early pace as something of a mirage.

It turned out that Leafs were posturing.

Under rookie coach Roger Neilson – and sparked by such front-liners as McDonald, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull and the brash goalie Palmateer – Leafs flicked on the light-switch and demolished Los Angeles in a best-of-three opener, outscoring the Kings 11-3. That set up the brilliant, seven-game showdown with the Islanders that put Leafs in the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since their 1967 championship. Almost forgotten – though not in these pages – was a prompt sweep by the dynastic Montreal Canadiens, motoring toward a third consecutive title.

As part of this blog, I have posted TV images from several games – as shown originally on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, and broadcast in recent years by Leafs TV.

Enjoy, now, this review of Leafs 13 playoff encounters in the spring of 1978:

BEST-OF-THREE PRELIMINARY 

      

GAME 1: LOS ANGELES at TORONTO – TUE. APR. 11, 1978

LEAFS BREEZED IN THEIR PLAYOFF OPENER, TAKING A 4-0 LEAD INTO THE THIRD PERIOD AND PULLING AWAY ON A NATURAL HAT-TRICK BY GEORGE FERGUSON, WHO SCORED BUT SEVEN GOALS IN THE REGULAR SEASON.

CBC IMAGES FROM PLAYOFF OPENER – WITH LEAFS IN THEIR HOME WHITE UNIFORMS AND KINGS IN THEIR ORIGINAL PURPLE-AND-GOLD JERSEYS. THAT’S BORJE SALMING (BOTTOM-MIDDLE) HEADING TO THE PENALTY BOX AND COACH ROGER NEILSON (BOTTOM-RIGHT) LOOKING ON FROM BEHIND THE LEAFS BENCH.

GAME 2: TORONTO at LOS ANGELES: THU. APR. 13, 1978

A GOAL BY RON ELLIS JUST 1:12 AFTER THE OPENING FACE-OFF WAS ALL LEAFS NEEDED TO SWEEP THE KINGS. TELEVISION VIEWERS IN TORONTO AND SOUTHERN-ONTARIO DID NOT SEE THE PLAY LIVE. THE GAME STARTED AT 11 P.M. EASTERN AND CBC DID AN ABBREVIATED 15-MINUTE NEWS-CAST BEFORE THROWING TO BILL HEWITT AND BRIAN McFARLANE AT THE FORUM IN INGLEWOOD, CALIF.

CBC IMAGES FROM GAME 2 AT LOS ANGELES FORUM, WITH KINGS IN THEIR ALL-GOLD HOME UNIFORMS AND LEAFS WEARING ROAD BLUE. THAT’S RON ELLIS JUMPING FOR JOY (TOP-MIDDLE) AFTER SCORING FIRST GOAL ON A KNUCKLING SLAP-SHOT THAT FOOLED ROGIE VACHON LIKE A PITCHER’S CHANGE-UP.

      

TORONTO STAR HEADLINE SAID “LEAFS IN FEARSOME FORM” AFTER SWEEP OF KINGS.

BEST-OF-SEVEN QUARTERFINAL

GAME 1: TORONTO at NEW YORK ISLANDERS – MON. APR. 17, 1978

OPENING GAME OF QUARTERFINAL AT NASSAU COLISEUM WAS OVER AFTER 20 MINUTES – ISLANDERS BOLTING TO A 3-0 LEAD ON GOALS BY MIKE KASZYCKI, BOB NYSTROM AND MIKE BOSSY. DARRYL SITTLER SCORED LEAFS ONLY GOAL JUST PAST MIDWAY MARK OF THE SECOND PERIOD.

GAME 2: TORONTO at NEW YORK ISLANDERS – WED. APR. 19, 1978

LEAFS ARGUED MIKE BOSSY’S WINNING GOAL AT 2:50 OF OVERTIME BUT THE ISLANDERS CARRIED A 2-0 SERIES LEAD TO TORONTO. LEAFS HAD TO WIN FOUR OF FIVE REMAINING MATCHES TO MOVE ON.

GAME 3: NEW YORK ISLANDERS at TORONTO – FRI. APR. 21, 1978

GOALS BY RON ELLIS IN THE SECOND PERIOD AND IAN TURNBULL IN THE THIRD PUT LEAFS BACK INTO THE SERIES WITH A 2-0 WIN ON HOME ICE – MIKE PALMATEER TURNING ASIDE 19 SHOTS TO EARN THE SHUT-OUT.

CBC IMAGES FROM GAME 3 SHOW THE FLAG-BEARING EXTENSION THAT WAS LOWERED FROM THE MAPLE LEAF GARDENS SCOREBOARD DURING NATIONAL ANTHEM (TOP-LEFT) AND A MONSTER COLLISION BETWEEN BRYAN TROTTIER AND LANNY McDONALD (BOTTOM-RIGHT).

FROM CBC: LEAFS OWNER HAROLD BALLARD (SEATED NEXT TO KING CLANCY) LEANS OUT OF HIS FAMOUS “BUNKER” AT NORTH END OF GARDENS; ISLANDERS COACH AL ARBOUR PACES BEHIND BENCH; CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER PIERRE ELLIOTT TRUDEAU SMILES FROM HIS PERCH IN BACK OF THE LEAFS BENCH – ALLEN ABEL OF GLOBE AND MAIL WRITING (BELOW) ABOUT TRUDEAU’S POST-GAME VISIT TO LEAFS DRESSING ROOM.

GAME 4: NEW YORK ISLANDERS at TORONTO – SUN. APR. 23, 1978

IN THE ’70s, WHEN WARRANTED, THE TORONTO STAR WOULD ADORN ITS FRONT PAGE WITH AN ORANGE HEADLINE-BANNER. SUCH WAS THE CASE AFTER A VIOLENT FOURTH GAME OF THE LEAFS-ISLANDERS PLAYOFF – DURING WHICH THE BENCHES EMPTIED AT THE END OF THE FIRST PERIOD, AND LEAFS DEFENSEMAN BORJE SALMING NEARLY LOST AN EYE TO AN ACCIDENTAL HIGH-STICK BY LORNE HENNING. TWO YEARS EARLIER, ONTARIO ATTORNEY-GENERAL ROY McMURTRY LEVELED ASSAULT AND WEAPONS CHARGES AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE PHILADELPHIA FLYERS AFTER AN UNRULY PLAYOFF ENCOUNTER AT THE GARDENS. McMURTRY THREATENED TO FOLLOW SUIT IF THE TORONTO-NEW YORK CLASH DETERIORATED.

BEFORE HE WAS INJURED, BORJE SALMING OPENED THE SCORING FOR LEAFS EARLY IN THE SECOND PERIOD. TEAMMATE STAN WEIR MADE IT 2-0 JUST 16 SECONDS LATER WITH EVENTUAL WINNING GOAL.

      

GAME 5: TORONTO at NEW YORK ISLANDERS – TUE. APR. 25, 1978

LEAFS’ OVERTIME MISFORTUNE OF THE 1970s CONTINUED IN THE PIVOTAL FIFTH GAME AGAINST THE ISLANDERS. LITTLE DID ANYONE REALIZE HOW THAT WORM WOULD TURN FOUR NIGHTS LATER.

GAME 6: NEW YORK ISLANDERS at TORONTO – THU. APR. 27, 1978

THIS WAS THE MOST LOP-SIDED GAME OF THE QUARTERFINAL, AS ISLANDERS – WITH A CHANCE TO WIN THE SERIES – SEEMED INTIMIDATED BY LEAFS PHYSICAL EDGE. RESULT WAS IN AFTER THE FIRST PERIOD WHEN EARLY GOALS BY DARRYL SITTLER AND JACK VALIQUETTE; THEN LATE GOALS BY LANNY McDONALD AND STAN WEIR PUT LEAFS AHEAD 4-0 AND SET UP A DECIDING SEVENTH MATCH TWO NIGHTS LATER.

CBC IMAGES OF GAME 6, SHOWING LOP-SIDED RESULT IN LEAFS FAVOR. THAT’S DAVE (TIGER) WILLIAMS STANDING IN PENALTY BOX (BOTTOM-LEFT) NEXT TO PUGNACIOUS TEAMMATE KURT WALKER.

FROM CBC: THOUGH GLENN RESCH WAS STILL THE ISLANDERS’ NO. 1 GOALIE, HOCKEY FANS WERE TREATED TO THE COMBATIVE BILLY SMITH (TOP, LEFT-TO-RIGHT), WHO ENGAGED TIGER WILLIAMS IN A THIRD-PERIOD SCRAP. SMITH WOULD TAKE OVER FROM RESCH AND BACK-STOP ISLANDERS TO THEIR FOUR CONSECUTIVE STANLEY CUP TITLES (1980-83). TV CAMERAS CLOSED IN ON A YOUNG RANDY CARLYLE (BOTTOM-RIGHT).

THERE WAS A FRIGHTENING MOMENT IN THE SECOND PERIOD WHEN ISLANDERS ROOKIE MIKE BOSSY WAS NUDGED INTO THE BOARDS FROM BEHIND BY LEAFS’ JERRY BUTLER AND REMAINED ON THE ICE WHILE DOCTORS WERE SUMMONED. HE WAS CAREFULLY REMOVED ON A STRETCHER AND TAKEN TO HOSPITAL. THANKFULLY, BOSSY SUFFERED ONLY A SPRAINED-NECK AND WAS ABLE TO RETURN HOME WITH HIS TEAMMATES.

GAME 7: TORONTO at NEW YORK ISLANDERS – SAT. APR. 29, 1978

PINNACLE OF THE HAROLD BALLARD ERA OCCURRED ON THIS NIGHT IN UNIONDALE, N.Y. AS LEAFS MOVED PAST THE ISLANDERS ON LANNY McDONALD’S OVERTIME GOAL AND INTO THE STANLEY CUP SEMIFINALS AGAINST MONTREAL. LEAFS WOULD NOT EQUAL THAT ACCOMPLISHMENT FOR 15 YEARS – UNTIL THE SPRING OF 1993.

CBC IMAGES OF SECOND PERIOD ACTION (ABOVE) AS IAN TURNBULL SCORES AT 3:42 – OFF-SETTING FIRST-PERIOD GOAL BY DENIS POTVIN, TURNBULL’S DEFENSE PARTNER IN JUNIOR WITH OTTAWA 67s.

VISUAL CONTRAST AS GLENN (CHICO) RESCH LEAVES ICE WHILE LEAFS GO WILD.

 

  HOW IT LOOKED ON TV  

   

LANNY McDONALD OVERTIME WINNER…

TELEVISION SEQUENCE FROM CBC AS LANNY McDONALD BEATS GLENN RESCH LOW TO GLOVE SIDE WITH THE SERIES-WINNING GOAL AT 4:13 OF OVERTIME AND LEAPS INTO ARMS OF TEAMMATES.

LEAFS CELEBRATION…

WHILE JUBILANT LEAFS CELEBRATE THE CLUB’S FIRST STANLEY CUP SEMIFINAL BERTH SINCE 1967, DEJECTED ISLANDERS CONSOLE RESCH AND LEAVE THE ICE AT NASSAU COLISEUM.

POST-SERIES HAND-SHAKE…

LEAFS GENERAL MANAGER JIM GREGORY IS ALL SMILES (TOP-LEFT) AS LEAFS AND ISLANDERS SHAKE HANDS AT CENTER-ICE. LANNY McDONALD GREETS DENIS POTVIN (BOTTOM-MIDDLE).

PEARSON AIRPORT CELEBRATION…

A EUPHORIC MOB OF LEAF FANS GREETED THE CLUB UPON ITS RETURN FROM NEW YORK.

BEST-OF-SEVEN SEMIFINAL

GAME 1: TORONTO at MONTREAL – TUE. MAY 2, 1978

MUCH OF THIS SEMIFINAL WOULD BE NO CONTEST – MONTREAL DEFENSEMAN SERGE SAVARD ESTABLISHING THE SERIES TONE WITH A GOAL JUST 23 SECONDS AFTER THE OPENING FACE-OFF.

GAME 2: TORONTO at MONTREAL – THU. MAY 4, 1978

LEAFS MADE THIS GAME CLOSE WHEN IAN TURNBULL AND DAN MALONEY SCORED IN THE SECOND PERIOD, BUT HABS PREVAILED ON A GOAL BY GUY LAFLEUR.

CBC IMAGES FROM GAME 3 AT THE MONTREAL FORUM: LANNY McDONALD AND BOB GAINEY COLLIDING (TOP-MIDDLE); IAN TURNBULL COMING TO LEAFS BENCH (TOP-RIGHT); THE “ROADRUNNER – YVAN COURNOYER (BOTTOM-LEFT) AND THE OLD FORUM SCOREBOARD.

FROM CBC: SITTLER AND McDONALD (LEFT); DRYDEN AND PALMATEER (RIGHT).

GAME 3: MONTREAL at TORONTO – SAT. MAY 6, 1978

THIS GAME SIGNALED – BEYOND QUESTION – THE DOMINANCE OF THE LATE-’70s CANADIENS AND JUST HOW FAR MAPLE LEAFS WERE FROM THE STANLEY CUP PINNACLE. TO BE FAIR, THE ENTIRE NHL WAS DWARFED BY BOWMAN, DRYDEN, LAFLEUR, SHUTT, ROBINSON AND CO.

RARE COLOR PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE TORONTO STAR WITH BENEFIT OF STROBE-LIGHTING AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. DAN MALONEY OF THE LEAFS AND GUY LAFLEUR OF MONTREAL.

GAME 4: MONTREAL at TORONTO – TUE. MAY 9, 1978

TORONTO STAR SPORTS HEADLINE (ABOVE) SAID IT ALL AS LEAFS’ SEASON ENDED AT THE GARDENS.

SAYING GOODBYE…

 

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