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Centennial Moment

Canadiens dynasty made history 57 years ago

Montreal won Cup for NHL-record fifth straight time

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

By all accounts, the visitors dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto was a happy but relatively subdued place, not exactly a reflection of the history the Montreal Canadiens had written moments earlier.

It was April 14, 1960, and the Canadiens had just won their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup championship with a 4-0 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the minimum eight games, Montreal had disposed of the Chicago Black Hawks and then the Maple Leafs to sweep to yet another championship.

Of the modest celebration unfolding around him, defenseman Doug Harvey said, "Well, when you win 4-0, and win in four games, and after four Cup titles, you don't get too excited."

The Canadiens of the late 1950s were untouchable, a group of superstars and role players whose winning chemistry was both the envy and the frustration of the other five NHL teams. And you could back up, too: from 1951-60, the Canadiens played in the Stanley Cup Final 10 times, and won six championships in that decade (1953 being the other time).

Montreal's NHL-record streak of five straight titles has twice been challenged but never equaled. The Canadiens won four in a row from 1976-79, that run immediately followed by the four straight the New York Islanders won from 1980-83. But with greater parity in today's League, with freedom of player movement and the NHL salary cap, odds are heavily stacked against a team assembling such a dynasty.

Many argue the 1959-60 Canadiens are the greatest NHL team ever built. Montreal went 40-18-12 in the regular season under coach Toe Blake, then won two one-goal games against Chicago in the semifinals, the second in overtime, before goaltender Jacques Plante had two shutouts to complete the sweep.

Montreal then outscored Toronto 15-5 in the Stanley Cup Final to win its 12th championship, matching the 1952 Detroit Red Wings' run of eight straight playoff wins to the title.

With Frank Selke as general manager and Blake as coach, 12 players were members of each of the five consecutive Cup winners - future Hall of Famers Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jean Beliveau, Harvey, Plante, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore, Bernie Geoffrion and Tom Johnson, as well as Jean-Guy Talbot, Claude Provost, Bob Turner and Donnie Marshall.

It was the legendary Maurice Richard's final NHL season, and what better way for the captain to go out than by winning a fifth consecutive title, his eighth overall.

In the dressing room after sweeping to their fifth straight championship, Blake considered what might be next for this seemingly unbeatable team.

"I like odd numbers," he said. "After six comes seven."

It wasn't to be, of course; in 1961, the Black Hawks stunned the Canadiens in a six-game semifinal before defeating the Red Wings in a six-game Final for Chicago's first championship since 1938 and last until 2010.

Video: Memories: Canadiens win fifth consecutive Cup

The Maple Leafs would win the next three before the Canadiens claimed the Cup again in 1965. Montreal won again in 1966, 1968 and 1969, with Toronto's improbable championship in 1967 ensuring the Canadiens would not win five straight that time.

Blake was as impressed as anyone by the Canadiens' fifth straight Stanley Cup win in 1960.

"Quite frankly, I never dreamed we would knock off both Chicago and Toronto in straight games," he said. "Chicago had come along well through the second half of the schedule. They had good goaltending, [Bobby] Hull was hot and the Hawks had developed an aggressive spirit. I figured they'd get to us for at least one win, maybe two.

"I'm not taking a thing away from our players, but I feel we got every conceivable kind of break. Perhaps we made the most of the breaks through the fine teamwork. But the puck sure was rolling for us all the time."

Moments after NHL President Clarence Campbell presented the Stanley Cup to Maurice Richard, many began proclaiming this edition of the Canadiens the greatest team ever assembled.

"Ten or 15 years ago, teams had 13 or 14 men," Rangers GM Muzz Patrick said. "Before that, they had 10. This club has 18 or 20, and a third of them are superstars."

Former Maple Leafs sniper Gordie Drillon was dazzled by the Canadiens' demolition of his old team.

"They've been going for five years steady," he said. "And now they've got only one man even considering retirement, the 'Rocket.' Harvey has three more years the way he looks and the rest of them are good for several years. That little 'Rocket' (Henri Richard) is only 23."

But the praise of Montreal coming from the dressing room of their archrival Maple Leafs that night was muted.

"It was a great credit to the champions, that's all I've got to say," Toronto owner Conn Smythe said.

Said former Maple Leafs coach Clarence "Hap" Day: "They are certainly the best of this era but you can't make comparisons. My [Stanley Cup-winning] teams in 1947 and '49, and the Boston team in 1939, would give them a run."

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