Study in Violence: Leafs vs. Flyers 1976

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 20) – My Lord, was it a sweat-box in Maple Leaf Gardens. Thirty-six years and seven months ago, yet burned into memory.

Stanley Cup playoff games lasting more than 3½ hours. The battling, underdog Leafs against the brawling champions from Philadelphia. Sittler, Salming, McDonald, Turnbull challenging Parent, Clarke, Barber, MacLeish. Williams and Walker duking it out with Schultz and McIlhargey. Freddy The Fog countering Pyramid Power. The coward that was Mel Bridgman. Criminal charges from Roy McMurtry, the Attorney-General of Ontario.

And, the heat… that scorching, sapping heat.

You don’t have to be in your 50’s to know about the Leafs-Flyers war of April 1976. Its fable has stood the test of time; its memory superseding all but the Burns-Gilmour-Clark narrative of 1993. Games 3 and 4 in the ’76 series are of particular legend for all that happened on and off the ice.

After two banal encounters at the Philadelphia Spectrum in which Leafs were blatantly over-matched, enmity between the clubs erupted at Maple Leaf Gardens – unforeseen enmity, given how the visitors were so plainly subdued on the road. In the run-up to Game 3, no person would have anticipated a physical response from the Leafs, or an epic, seven-game quarrel.         

BORJE SALMING (LEFT) AND DARRYL SITTLER DURING TORONTO-PITTSBURGH BEST-OF-THREE PRELIMINARY PLAYOFF ROUND IN APRIL 1976. AFTER DEFEATING THE PENGUINS, LEAFS WENT ON TO RAUCOUS BEST-OF-SEVEN QUARTERFINAL AGAINST PHILADELPHIA.

Having acquired, thanks to my parents’ generosity, season tickets at the Gardens for 1975-76, I attended the Toronto-Philadelphia home playoff games – 17 years of age. Our seats were in the top row of the south-mezzanine Blues, behind the goal Leafs defended in the first and third periods. Given that heat rises – and a summer-like warmth had descended on our city – it was unbearably hot in the old building. Only at Boston Garden, during Stanley Cup finals of 1988 and 1990, do I recall such grievous discomfort.

Not since the ’76 clash had I seen the games as shown on television. Neither Hockey Night In Canada nor the group responsible for classic games on Leafs TV had replay copies in their domain. Only when a long-time pal notified me that he had the full telecasts (commercials included) from WTAF Channel 29 in Philadelphia, was I able to re-live the experience.

Now, I’d like to share it with you.

BACKGROUND

A DIFFERENT TIME: Hockey in the mid-1970’s was – to be polite – out of control. To counteract the up-start World Hockey Association, which began play in 1972, the NHL expanded too rapidly and the talent-base in North America could not sustain 32 professional teams. At the time, virtually all NHL players originated from Canada; less than a dozen were American-born. In 1973, a handful of newcomers began arriving from Sweden – pioneering the European melting-pot we have today. To fill out rosters, teams deployed countless unskilled players, many of whom compensated by fighting.

In the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers – pushed around during the early expansion years – seized on the pattern and assembled a group that became known as the “Broad Street Bullies”. Its rambunctious core – Dave Schultz, Jack McIlhargey, Don Saleski, Bob Kelly and occasionally Andre (Moose) Dupont – refined intimidation to an art and manhandled weaker opponents. A splendid nucleus of Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Reg Leach and Rick MacLeish led Philadelphia to consecutive Stanley Cup championships (1974-1975), enhancing the unruly core-element of the game and spinning off a cult-movie entitled Slapshot, which starred the late actor Paul Newman.

McMURTRY GETS INVOLVED: As the barbaric element of hockey increased – and neither the NHL nor WHA moved to adequately police the game – the Attorney General of Ontario took matters upon himself. In late-October 1975, Roy McMurtry warned that he would crack-down on hockey violence at all levels in the province – up to, and including, the NHL. When Detroit Red Wings forward Dan Maloney lost his temper in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens the following week (Nov. 5), McMurtry acted on his threat.

Covering the Leafs 7-3 triumph over Detroit for the Toronto Star, Rick Matsumoto wrote: Maloney went after [Brian] Glennie when the Leaf defenseman hit Red Wing forward Bryan Hextall with a crunching but clean hip-check at the Leaf blue-line. As play turned toward the Detroit end, Maloney appeared to hit the unsuspecting Glennie on the side of the head. Glennie sagged to the ice with Maloney on top of him – flailing away with his fists. Maloney then got to his feet and repeatedly pulled the Leaf player off the ice by the back of his sweater and then pushed him back down. Contacted later the same night, McMurtry said he would look at a tape of the incident and, “if charges are warranted, we will certainly lay them.”

DAN MALONEY OF DETROIT RED WINGS ATTACKS TORONTO DEFENSEMAN BRIAN GLENNIE DURING SECOND PERIOD OF GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS ON NOV. 5, 1975.

Less than a week after the incident with Glennie, Maloney crossed from Detroit into Windsor, Ont. and was handed a summons to appear in court, Dec. 1, on a charge of assault causing bodily harm.

LEAFS WERE DEVELOPING: Heading into Game 3 of the 1976 Toronto-Philadelphia quarterfinal, the Flyers had rolled over the Leafs – winning six consecutive playoff games by a combined score of 21-7. This included a four-game sweep in the same round the previous spring. Leafs, however, had noticeably improved over the final two-thirds of the 1975-76 schedule. Though the club’s record from Dec. 14 to season’s end was a modest 25-20-7, there were several important developments:

• Darryl Sittler blossomed into a front-line centre-man, becoming the first-ever Leaf to attain 100 points in a season.

• Lanny McDonald, drafted fourth overall from Medicine Hat in 1973, finally shook off the lethargy that marked his first two-plus seasons in the NHL, compiling 93 points – 37 of them goals.

• Sittler and McDonald combined brilliantly with left-winger Errol Thompson (43 goals) to form one of the most productive lines in the NHL. When on the ice with the defense pairing of Borje Salming and Ian Turnbull, Leafs boasted a top five equivalent to any in the league. On Feb. 7, with Boston Bruins in town, Sittler erupted for an absurd 10 points, still a single-game record.

        

• Unheralded Wayne Thomas provided Leafs stability in goal after being acquired from Montreal, where he had spent the entire 1974-75 season as a third-stringer behind Ken Dryden and Michel (Bunny) Larocque – not seeing a minute of game-action.

• After years of passivity, Leafs had become a bolder club – consistent with the times. Dave (Tiger) Williams, Kurt Walker, Scott Garland and Pat Boutette could stand up to all NHL heavyweights.

1976 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

LEAFS UPEND PENGUINS: Between 1975 and 1981, the Stanley Cup playoffs opened with a best-of-three preliminary round. First-place teams in each of the four divisions received a bye into the quarterfinals. The next eight teams, in order of points, squared off in the preliminary – No. 1 vs. No. 8; No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc. In 1975-76, Leafs finished fourth among that group and matched up – with home-ice advantage – against Pittsburgh. The clubs split the first two games and Leafs prevailed with a convincing 4-0 victory in the deciding match at the Gardens. The four division winners were then introduced into the quarterfinals to join the four preliminary-round survivors – again in order of regular-season points: 1 vs. 8; 2 vs. 7, and so on. Philadelphia, second only to Montreal in the 80-game schedule, drew No. 7 Toronto.

TORONTO STAR PHOTO FROM GAME 2 OF LEAFS-PENGUINS PRELIMINARY PLAYOFF ROUND – APR. 8, 1976 AT PITTSBURGH CIVIC ARENA. LEAFS WERE BLANKED, 2-0, BUT REBOUNDED THE FOLLOWING NIGHT AT HOME TO ELIMINATE PENGUINS AND MOVE ON TO QUARTERFINALS.

LEAFS/FLYERS ROUND 2: After demolishing Leafs in the 1975 quarterfinals, the Flyers again bolted to a 2-0 series lead with 4-1 and 3-1 victories at the Spectrum. Writers from Toronto that traveled to Philadelphia sharply criticized the Leafs for their lack of spunk and urgency – Sittler and Thompson, having combined for 84 goals in the regular season, were held without a shot at the Flyers’ net in the opener. Only McDonald (in Game 1) and Salming (in Game 2) were able to beat Bernie Parent as the lop-sided best-of-seven affair switched to Maple Leaf Gardens. 

HEADLINES IN THE TORONTO STAR OUTLINED HOW LEAFS WERE SOUNDLY CONQUERED BY FLYERS IN OPENING TWO MATCHES  OF ’76 QUARTERFINAL AT PHILADELPHIA SPECTRUM.

Game 3 of the series – in Toronto on Apr. 15, 1976 – is still embedded in Leafs and Flyers lore for a pair of violent episodes, both of which became purview of the Ontario Legislature. Having experienced, on numerous occasions, the Flyers’ bend toward pugnacity, veteran referee Dave Newell sought to control the game by dispatching the visitors to the penalty box upon every minor infringement of the rules. Predictably, it created the antithetical result: a smoldering rage that accumulated with each two-minute assessment.

When the penalty imbalance climbed to 17-8 in favor of the Leafs – Don Saleski being whistled for tripping at 12:18 of the second period – tumult began to erupt. It involved Saleski; a number of fans in proximity to the penalty box; Metro Toronto policeman Art Malloy and, ultimately, the entire Philadelphia team, which stormed off the bench to help defend Saleski.

The quality of video from Game 3 of the 1976 quarterfinal has dwindled through the years with each copy-generation. Still, it was more-than adequate for me to reproduce the following images:     

SALESKI–MALLOY INCIDENT 

AFTER LEAVING THE ICE TO SERVE A TRIPPING MINOR AT 12:18 OF THE SECOND PERIOD, SALESKI IS HECKLED BY LEAF SUPPORTERS – AT THE TIME, THERE WAS NO GLASS-PARTITION TO CORDON OFF PLAYERS FROM SPECTATORS IN THE GOLD SEATS. SALESKI TURNS AND BEGINS JAWING WITH FANS; HE THEN BRANDISHES HIS STICK (TOP PHOTO-SEQUENCE) TO DISSUADE PEOPLE SURGING TOWARD HIM. METROPOLITAN TORONTO POLICE-CONSTABLE ART MALLOY, SITUATED BEHIND THE PENALTY BOX, GRABS A HOLD OF SALESKI’S STICK. THE AGITATED PLAYER ATTEMPTS TO RETAIN IT, STRUGGLING BRIEFLY WITH MALLOY, WHICH PROMPTS HIS PHILADELPHIA TEAMMATES TO CHARGE ACROSS THE ICE FROM THE VISITORS’ BENCH. UPON REACHING THE FAR SIDE, DEFENSEMAN JOE WATSON – A FRANCHISE-ORIGINAL FROM THE SIX-TEAM NHL EXPANSION OF 1967-68 – INDISCRIMINATELY FIRES HIS STICK OVER THE GLASS (BOTTOM PHOTO-SEQUENCE), STRIKING THE LEFT SHOULDER OF MALLOY, WHO SNATCHES IT FROM WATSON TO PREVENT A SECOND BLOW. 

AS OFFICER MALLOY – IN BLACK POLICE-CAP – LOOKS ON, REFEREE DAVE NEWELL WARNS SALESKI TO CALM DOWN (TOP SEQUENCE). SALESKI THEN TURNS TO ARGUE WITH THE METRO CONSTABLE WHILE LINESMAN JOHN D’AMICO (9) ENTERS THE PENALTY BOX (BOTTOM SEQUENCE). ADMONISHED BY D’AMICO, SALESKI SITS DOWN TO SERVE HIS MINOR, AND A TEN-MINUTE MISCONDUCT FOR ENCOUNTERING THE SPECTATORS.

DAVE SCHULTZ OF PHILADELPHIA (ABOVE-LEFT) OBSERVES THE SCENE WHILE MALLOY CONFERS WITH REFEREE NEWELL. SALESKI AND TEAMMATE JACK McILHARGEY (29) THEN SETTLE IN THE PENALTY BOX (McILHARGEY AND LEAFS’ TIGER WILLIAMS WERE SERVING FIVE-MINUTE MAJORS FOR A FIGHT 52 SECONDS EARLIER). INCIDENTALLY, MAN IN THE FEDORA BESIDE McILHARGEY IS PENALTY-TIMEKEEPER IRVINE (ACE) BAILEY – THE LEAFS DEFENSEMAN NEARLY KILLED WHEN UP-ENDED BY BRUINS RIVAL EDDIE SHORE AT THE BOSTON GARDEN IN DECEMBER 1933 (BAILEY DIED AT 89 YEARS OF AGE ON APR. 7, 1992). LEAFS COACH RED KELLY (BOTTOM-LEFT) LOOKS ON FROM THE BENCH AS FLYERS COUNTERPART FRED SHERO ARGUES WITH NEWELL.

EMOTIONAL PITCH BUILDS: While attempting to kill the initial spate of penalties, the Flyers fell behind, 4-1 – all Toronto goals counted with the man advantage. During a rare span at even strength, midway through the second period, Gary Dornhoefer and Jim Watson scored 19 seconds apart for Philadelphia to narrow the gap. The Saleski-Malloy incident occurred just more than a minute after Watson’s goal. Andre Dupont and Reg Leach were then sent off consecutively by Newell, allowing Stan Weir to restore a two-goal advantage for the Leafs at 17:14 of the middle frame.

Fifteen seconds later, all hell broke loose.

As Salming carried the puck behind his own net, Flyers’ rookie Mel Bridgman roared in and hit the Swede with a flying elbow, knocking off Salming’s helmet. Newell immediately raised his arm to call the blatant penalty while an irritated Salming recovered; made a bee-line for the front of the goal, and knocked down Bridgman with a forearm smash. Bob Kelly of the Flyers attempted to score on a backhand wrap-around but Newell sounded the whistle. McIlhargey tried to get at Salming and was quickly intercepted from behind by Ian Turnbull, who wrestled the Flyers’ pugilist into the corner. Linesmen John D’Amico and Ray Scapinello quickly separated Turnbull and McIlhargey, and the incident appeared to be over.

Bridgman, however, could not stomach being knocked to the ice by a “chicken-Swede” – all players slowly migrating to the NHL from that part of the world were pigeonholed for their comparatively passive demeanor. To the right of Thomas in the Leafs goal, Bridgman found Salming in a cluster of players; yanked him forward by the jersey-collar, and completely lost his mind – flailing at the defenseman with a barrage of 11 consecutive right-handed blows. For whatever reason, Bob Neely – a terror during his junior hockey days in Peterborough – watched the attack before finally jumping on Bridgman. That allowed  Salming to squirm free and gain the upper hand (with Bridgman on his knees). Any other player would have returned fire, as Bridgman – restrained from behind by Neely – was clearly vulnerable.

But, Salming had not previously engaged in a fight during three seasons in the NHL and he simply held onto Bridgman’s jersey before the players were separated by Newell, who really tore into the Flyers’ rookie.

Here’s how the brawl played out on television:   

BRIDGMAN–SALMING INCIDENT

MELEE BEGINS TO THE RIGHT OF LEAFS NET AT 17:29 OF THE SECOND PERIOD (TOP SEQUENCE) – IAN TURNBULL (2) GRABBING McILHARGEY (29) FROM BEHIND AND WRESTLING HIM TO THE CORNER. ANNOYED AT BEING KNOCKED TO THE ICE SECONDS EARLIER BY “CHICKEN-SWEDE” SALMING, WHO HAD NEVER-BEFORE FOUGHT IN THE NHL, FLYERS’ ROOKIE MEL BRIDGMAN (10) CORRALS THE TORONTO DEFENSEMAN AND ADMINISTERS A BEATING WITH A FLURY OF 11 RIGHT-HANDED BLOWS (BOTTOM SEQUENCE). 

AFTER ABSORBING THE PUNCHES, SALMING WIGGLES FREE AND REGAINS HIS FOOTING (TOP-LEFT). ANY OTHER PLAYER WOULD HAVE EXACTED REVENGE, BUT SALMING – HAVING NEVER FOUGHT IN THE NHL – ALLOWS BRIDGMAN TO RISE, WITH BOB NEELY (3) STILL HANGING ON FROM BEHIND. BRIDGMAN IS THEN YANKED AWAY FROM THE PILE BY REFEREE NEWELL (LINESMEN D’AMICO AND SCAPINELLO WERE STILL TIED UP IN THE CORNER WITH McILHARGEY AND TURNBULL). CLEARLY ASTONISHED THAT BRIDGMAN WOULD GO BERSERK ON A PASSIVE OPPONENT, NEWELL GIVES THE ROOKIE AN EAR-FULL.

OBVIOUSLY CONCERNED FOR THEIR TEAMMATE, DARRYL SITTLER AND LANNY McDONALD LOOK ON FROM THE LEAFS BENCH (TOP-LEFT) AS A BATTERED SALMING SKATES AROUND AND CHATS WITH GOALIE WAYNE THOMAS.

BRAWL AFTERMATH

GARDENS’ WORKER SCRAPES SALMING’S BLOOD OFF THE ICE AMID STICKS AND GLOVES (TOP PHOTO-SEQUENCE) WHILE GOALIES WAYNE THOMAS AND BERNIE PARENT RELAX AT OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE RINK.

SALESKI AND BRIDGMAN STAND IN THE PENALTY BOX (TOP SEQUENCE) WHILE LEAF TEAMMATES JIM McKENNY (18) AND BOB NEELY CONFER ON THE ICE. NEWELL SORTS OUT THE MYRIAD PENALTIES, AS CAPTAINS DARRYL SITTLER AND BOBBY CLARKE AWAIT INFORMATION (BOTTOM-LEFT). MAPLE LEAF GARDENS SCORE-CLOCK (ABOVE CENTRE-ICE) SHOWS INITIAL PENALTIES TO BRIDGMAN AND DEFENSEMAN LARRY GOODENOUGH (5).

GAME 3 CONTINUES IN STIFLING HEAT

AS THE 3½-HOUR MARATHON DRAGS ON PAST 11 P.M., FOG IN SWELTERING MAPLE LEAF GARDENS RISES FROM THE ICE (TOP-LEFT). CLARKE AND PARENT TAKE A BREATHER LATE IN THE SECOND PERIOD (RIGHT). BILL BARBER OF PHILADELPHIA SCORES LONE GOAL OF THE UNEVENTFUL FINAL FRAME AND MAPLE LEAFS GET BACK INTO THE SERIES WITH 5-4 TRIUMPH.

McMURTRY ACTS AGAIN: In the wake of the Game 3 violence, Roy McMurtry levied criminal charges against Saleski, Watson and Bridgman. Saleski and Watson were charged with possession of an offensive weapon – their hockey sticks – for the penalty box incident. Bridgman was charged with assault causing bodily harm for his beat-down of Salming. Bob Kelly was later charged with assault for throwing his glove and striking an usherette at ice level during Game 6 of the series at Maple Leaf Gardens.

ROY McMURTRY: ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ONTARIO 1975-85

The four players (pictured below in later team photos) were ordered to appear in Ontario provincial court on Nov. 8, 1976 – one night after a Flyers game in Buffalo – to have trial dates set. All were acquitted.

SALMING’S REVENGE

All these years later, I remember watching the supper-hour sports on CBLT Channel 5 the day between Games 3 and 4 of the Leafs-Flyers series in 1976. It was a Friday and Brian Williams – still covering local sports here in Toronto before going on to become the most acclaimed and recognizable broadcaster in our country – spoke about Borje Salming. “I was in the Toronto dressing room after practice today,” Williams said, “and I’ll tell you folks: Salming was black and blue from head to toe.”

Williams then introduced a clip from an interview he’d conducted with Flyers’ coach Fred Shero. “I spoke to Shero today and asked him if there was anything – I mean, anything at all – that bothered him about the game last night.” Shero then appeared on the screen and flatly replied: “No. This is best-of-seven hockey; there’s much at stake and emotions must be high. Sport like this goes back to the Roman days.”

For Shero, success against the Leafs was almost entirely dependent on roughing up Salming. “The Swede never gets tired – he can skate all night,” Shero explained. “We have to keep dumping the puck into his corner and forechecking aggressively. It’s the only effective way to counter him.”

The following day – Apr. 17, 1976 – Salming turned 25. Little did Shero realize how brilliantly he would exact revenge on Bridgman and the Flyers.

PHILADELPHIA at TORONTO – GAME 4 

BORJE SALMING STANDS FOR NATIONAL ANTHEM PRIOR TO GAME 4 OF THE LEAFS-FLYERS STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINAL AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, APR. 17, 1976. IT WAS SALMING’S 25th BIRTHDAY. REFEREE LLOYD GILMOUR THEN DROPS THE PUCK BETWEEN BOBBY CLARKE AND JACK VALIQUETTE.

TV BIAS

The belligerence that marked Game 3 was absent in the first period of Game 4. Errol Thompson and Bridgman exchanged goals and referee Lloyd Gilmour assessed only 12 minutes in penalties – a brief shoving match between Scott Garland and Gary Dornhoefer with 1:44 to play the only hint of animosity.

On the Philadelphia telecast, ex-Detroit Red Wings pugilist Ted Lindsay had been retained as a guest-analyst for the playoffs, joining regular broadcasters Gene Hart and Don Earle. It was custom for Hart to state – before the opening face-off – that he and Earle were paid by the Flyers for calling games on WTAF Channel 29. No such admission was necessary on these telecasts as the Philadelphia crew whined voraciously and censured the Maple Leaf Gardens audience for its “unruly” demeanor (conveniently overlooked were the blood-thirsty denizens of Broad St. – fans at the Philadelphia Spectrum – who eagerly anticipated mayhem from their “bullies”).

Clearly aghast over McMurtry’s decision to bring charges against Saleski, Watson and Bridgman two nights earlier, Hart, Lindsay and Flyers’ general counsel, Gil Stein (who would, years later, serve a fairly disgraceful term as NHL president), launched into a carefully scripted discussion:      

HART: Gil, the obvious question if you go over the legalese of the past 24 hours: Clarify the situation with the province of Ontario; [its] Attorney General and Messers Bridgman, Watson and Saleski.

STEIN: Well, in case any of the fans hadn’t seen it, the official charges that were laid against our three players were assault against Mel Bridgman for allegedly assaulting Mr. Salming without provocation. There was also a charge levied against Joe Watson for allegedly striking a police officer… and several charges against Don Saleski [that] he allegedly assaulted someone, although we’ve seen the films [and] we haven’t yet seen who he assaulted. We don’t treat it as a laughing matter but I want to ensure [players wives] there is no need to worry; everything will be alright. The Attorney General here is on a campaign and he found the perfect parties in our Flyers to move ahead with this campaign. The entire Flyers organization as well as the fans in Philadelphia I’m sure believe totally in our players. We know they are innocent; we know they have done nothing wrong and we’re hopeful and satisfied that everything will work out alright.

LINDSAY: Gil, these two teams go back to Philadelphia Tuesday and I think maybe you might have some advice for fans and what we can avoid.

STEIN: You know, I’m glad you mentioned that. Each of our players, without exception, has really mentioned it and asked me to transmit the message back. Number one, they’re so proud of the class that Philadelphia fans show, especially as contrasted with the behavior here in Toronto – formerly an area where fans supposedly had class – and the players are extremely hopeful that the fans in Philadelphia will not let them down and will not resort to any conduct, when we come back on Tuesday, that would make them ashamed. They are just so darned proud of the fans of Philadelphia, so let’s show our class Philadelphia – okay?

HART: Gil, just to clarify, a charge was issued earlier in the season by Roy McMurtry for similar offenses against Brian Glennie of the Leafs. I want to point out – since this crusade has begun – how many Leafs have been so charged and how many fans here in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens have received similar penalties?

STEIN: Well, I pointed out to the Crown-Attorney who I spoke to just the other day that a fellow like Tiger Williams must not have gotten [his] reputation based upon how he plays on the road because the way we’ve seen him on the road, he’s more like Pussycat Williams. And, obviously, he must have done something in Maple Leaf Gardens that would at least be on the substance of this very flimsy stuff they’re charging our players with and there’s been no Toronto player arrested yet.

FLYERS BROADCASTER GENE HART INTERVIEWS HALL OF FAMER TED LINDSAY (ABOVE-LEFT). FLYERS’ GENERAL-COUNSEL GIL STEIN THEN JOINS DISCUSSION (RIGHT) FOR OBVIOUSLY SCRIPTED COMMENTS ABOUT PLAYER CHARGES RESULTING FROM GAME 3 VIOLENCE.

It was understandable that the Flyers’ broadcast crew would bend toward the visitors in this game, but the shot at Williams by Stein was absurd for a practicing lawyer. Gene Hart is in the Hall of Fame media wing for good reason. He was an excellent play caller and did not hesitate to point out – for example – how brilliantly Salming performed in the 1976 series. Gene died at 68 years of age in July 1999. His daughter, Lauren, is well-known as the anthem singer at Flyers home games, a post she has held since 1997-98.

   

GENE HART LATE IN HIS LIFE AND DAUGHTER LAUREN.

THE LOUDEST CHEER: With Toronto and Philadelphia still in a 1-1 deadlock late in the second period came the turning point of Game 4 – and one of the most remarkable, enduring moments in Leafs playoff history. It began innocently with a cross-ice feed from Salming to Sittler in the Toronto zone. But, it ended spectacularly when Salming – on his 25th birthday – whipped the puck past Bernie Parent on a clear breakaway, avenging the Bridgman incident from Game 3 and touching off what remains the loudest, most spontaneous eruption of noise I have ever heard in a Leafs home game… at the Gardens or Air Canada Centre. It provided Leafs a 2-1 lead at 16:12 of the middle frame and sparked a 4-3 victory, evening the best-of-seven series at 2-2. I was in a terrific location for Salming’s goal as it was scored directly beneath my vantage-point in the south mezzanine Blues.

Here’s how it looked on TV:  

THE GOAL

DARRYL SITTLER RISES IN FRONT OF COACH RED KELLY TO COME OFF THE BENCH. AS FLYERS CENTRE OREST KINDRACHUK MOVES TOWARD SALMING IN THE LEAFS ZONE (TOP-RIGHT), THE DEFENSEMAN PASSES TO SITTLER AND THEN HEADS STRAIGHT UP THE MIDDLE OF THE ICE. SITTLER TURNS IN FRONT OF PENALTY BOXES (MIDDLE IMAGES); FINDS SALMING STREAKING BETWEEN DEFENDERS, AND HITS HIM WITH A PERFECT PASS ON THE FLY…

SALMING BREAKS IN ALONE; LEANS ON HIS INSIDE SKATE AND SNAPS THE PUCK PAST BERNIE PARENT HIGH TO THE GLOVE-SIDE AT 16:12 OF THE SECOND PERIOD – TOUCHING OFF BEDLAM AT THE GARDENS…

AS FANS ERUPT, AN ECSTATIC SALMING JUMPS INTO THE ARMS OF TEAMMATE ERROL THOMPSON (12) BEFORE LANNY McDONALD (7) AND PLAY-MAKER SITTLER ARRIVE ON THE SCENE…

THE GARDENS IS IN AN UPROAR AS LEAFS CELEBRATE SALMING’S BREAKAWAY GOAL. I WAS STUNNED WHILE WATCHING A VIDEOTAPE OF THE TELECAST FROM CHANNEL 29 IN PHILADELPHIA WHEN THE CAMERA ZOOMED IN ON SEC. 30 OF THE SOUTH MEZZANINE BLUES – WHERE I HAD SEASON-TICKETS BEGINNING IN 1975-76. IN THE UPPER-ROW (TOP-RIGHT), THERE ARE TWO PEOPLE SITTING DIRECTLY BELOW THE “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” SIGN. MY LIFE-LONG PAL, DAVID SILVERMAN, AND I ARE STANDING TO THEIR IMMEDIATE RIGHT (YOUR LEFT IN THE TV IMAGE). THAT’S ME, CLAPPING, NEXT TO MAN IN A WHITE COAT BENEATH A WALL-VENT. I WAS 17 YEARS OLD…

LONG STANDING OVATION FOR SALMING MORPHS INTO A CHANT OF “B.J.! B.J.!” AS HAPPY LEAFS DEFENSEMAN RETURNS TO BENCH. TICKER-TAPE MESSAGE BOARD (ONE AT EACH END OF GARDENS, ABOVE MEZZANINE-BLUES) FLASHES SALMING’S NAME AND IS SUPER-IMPOSED ON THE FLYERS’ TELECAST…

END VIEW OF SALMING’S GOAL

REPLAY SEQUENCE OF THE BREAKAWAY MARKER FROM TV CAMERA IN NORTH-WEST CORNER OF MEZZANINE BLUES AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS. PHILADELPHIA DEFENSEMEN TOM BLADON (3) AND JOE WATSON (14) – IN UPPER-RIGHT IMAGE – CONVERGE ON SITTLER NEAR CENTRE ICE, ALLOWING SALMING TO TAKE SITTLER’S PASS WITH NO ONE CLOSE TO HIM.

TORONTO STAR SPORTS FRONT ON APR. 18, 1976 AND FRANK LENNON’S PHOTO OF SALMING’S BREAKAWAY GOAL THE NIGHT BEFORE. THE LATE JIM PROUDFOOT WROTE COLUMN (BELOW) ON THE UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT.

      

            1976

FLYERS PREVAILED: Philadelphia eliminated Toronto in the maximum seven games – each club holding serve on home ice. Leafs provided more magic in Game 6 at the Gardens (Apr. 22, 1976) when Darryl Sittler tied an all-time playoff record with five goals in an 8-5 victory, equaling the mark established by Maurice (Rocket) Richard of Montreal 32 years earlier (Mar. 23, 1944). Prior to Game 6, Leafs coach Red Kelly had a number of small pyramids brought into the dressing room, believing they emitted powerful charges. When Sittler placed his stick-blade under one of the devices and went on his record-tying splurge, the concept of PYRAMID POWER briefly flourished. It expired, however, after Philadelphia routed the Leafs, 7-3, in the deciding match at the Spectrum. Flyers went on to face Boston in the Stanley Cup semifinals. Incredibly, Reggie Leach equaled Sittler’s accomplishment against the Bruins exactly two weeks later – scoring five times on May 6, 1976. Flyers knocked off the Bruins, then had their string of consecutive championships broken by Montreal, which swept the 1976 Stanley Cup final to begin its own dynasty of four straight titles.  

      

IMAGES (ABOVE AND BELOW) FROM TORONTO SUN AND TORONTO STAR THE DAY AFTER FLYERS BEAT LEAFS IN GAME 7 OF THE 1976 STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINALS.

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