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Canadiens' loss in 1967 Cup Final still stings

Some Montreal fans haven't forgotten Toronto victory in decisive Game 6

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- If the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup in your lifetime and you don't see them do it … did it really happen?

I had zero bargaining power with my parents on May 2, 1967, the eve of my 10th birthday. As usual on a school night, I would be sent to bed at the end of the second period of the hockey game, no matter that this was Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final between my Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So it was a devastated kid, now proud to count his age in double digits, who awoke on May 3 to the crushing birthday news that the Maple Leafs had defeated the Canadiens 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup, the 13th championship in Toronto's history and the last won in the NHL's Original Six era.

It also was the most recent title won by the Maple Leafs. In 2017, barring extraordinary circumstances, they will mark a half-century since their last Stanley Cup triumph while celebrating the centennial of their franchise and the NHL.

Our suburban bungalow's rooftop antenna brought in Game 6 on Channels 2 and 7 in French and Channel 6 in English, hockey airing on almost half of the eight pre-cable channels available to Montreal viewers in Canada's 1967 centennial year. 

Joining the action for its 8 p.m. faceoff meant cutting away halfway through hour-long "Daktari," "The Girl from U.N.C.L.E." or "Combat!," beaming in on three U.S. border stations; "Star Trek," telecast by Montreal's CTV affiliate; or "Le Saint," in French.

With VCRs for home use still more than a decade away, this was a small sacrifice for any Montrealer who lived and died with the Canadiens, their team facing a must-win Game 6 at Maple Leaf Gardens to force a Game 7 back at the Forum.

Of course, history had other ideas for the Canadiens, who had won two consecutive Stanley Cup titles and were favored to defeat the Maple Leafs for a third.

Toronto, the NHL's third-place regular-season finisher, had stunned the runaway League-champion Chicago Black Hawks (as they were called then) in a six-game semifinal, eliminating a team that was 19 points superior during 70 games. The second-place Canadiens, meanwhile, swept the fourth-place New York Rangers to advance to the Final.

That the Canadiens and Maple Leafs had been very even through the regular season meant nothing to a young fan. In their 14 head-to-head games in 1966-67, Montreal and Toronto each went 6-6-2, though the Canadiens had a 47-40 edge in goals scored. Montreal (32-25-13) finished two points ahead of Toronto (32-27-11), scoring two fewer goals but surrendering 23 fewer.

All that this kid knew, apart from his worship of rookie goaltending sensation Rogie Vachon, was that the Canadiens were on their way to winning the Stanley Cup for the 15th time.

Montreal's 6-2 victory in Game 1 did little to suggest that wasn't going to happen, until Maple Leafs goalie Johnny Bower, 42, earned a 3-0 shutout in Game 2; worse, he defeated my hero Vachon, who was almost exactly half Bower's age.

Back on home ice, Toronto won Game 3 in double overtime, then were defeated 6-2 in Game 4. A 4-1 Maple Leafs victory in Game 5 put the Canadiens' backs to the wall, setting the stage for the finale.

With Bower nursing an injured leg, Maple Leafs coach Punch Imlach went with veteran goalie Terry Sawchuk. Montreal coach Toe Blake opted to use Lorne "Gump" Worsley, though he didn't announce his starter until shortly before the opening faceoff. This was typical of the gamesmanship that carried through much of the series, Imlach and Blake sparring as vigorously as their players.

It was 2-0 for the Maple Leafs when a young boy was sent to bed, though he heard his father shout from the down the hallway early in the third, the Canadiens drawing to within a goal. He was asleep when Maple Leafs captain George Armstrong hit the empty net that had been vacated by Worsley for a sixth skater, icing Toronto's championship with 47 seconds left.

Sawchuk, 37, was brilliant, making 40 saves for the Maple Leafs, a team of greybeard veterans (Toronto's average age was 31) who plugged long and hard to earn the Stanley Cup more with determination and guts than with well-oiled parts.

Blake called it "the toughest series I ever lost"; he had won seven Stanley Cup titles with Montreal, with another to come the following season.

Expo 67, Montreal's six-month world's fair, had opened five days earlier. In fact, space had even been prepared in the Quebec pavilion to display the Stanley Cup following what organizers believed would be the Canadiens' inevitable victory.

"You've got Expo, so let us have the Stanley Cup," Maple Leafs' Jim Pappin said in a joyful Toronto dressing room, Pappin's seventh goal of the playoffs, coming 36 seconds before the end of the second period, proved to be the Cup-winner.

This 10-year-old didn't see the trophy at Expo 67 that summer, the Maple Leafs having ruined that plan. Nor was he on Ste. Catherine St. in downtown Montreal in early May for the Stanley Cup parade he'd pretty much been promised by his father.

It might have taken another fistful of Canadiens championships, but I did forgive a good man who dutifully saw that his son got a full sleep on a school night in 1967. In hindsight, he also saved a young Canadiens fan the humiliation of seeing the archrival Maple Leafs spank his heroes and skate away with Lord Stanley's sterling trophy.

(A silver lining: the Canadiens led the Maple Leafs twice, trailed once and were tied once after two periods in the four games played on school nights.)

In his 1995 book "The Last Hurrah: A Celebration of Hockey's Greatest Season '66-'67," author Stephen Cole quoted Montreal's speedy forward and future captain Yvan Cournoyer: "When we lost to the Leafs, it was awful, eh?" he said. "I would remember that feeling in every Stanley Cup I played after that. Same with the other players on the Canadiens, I think. Next year we won. Year after that we won. We kept on winning because we didn't ever want that losing feeling again."

It was that crushing 1967 loss by the Canadiens that I remember most about turning 10. That and my parents' gift of a red wagon I would use for years on my paper route. More often than not I delivered happy hockey news to the neighborhood, the Maple Leafs cursed then, and still today, for having spoiled a kid's birthday.

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