On the eve of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, this country does not have to be reminded that the last Canadian-based team to have won the Stanley Cup was 21 years ago.
It also has been well documented recently that the last time that the NHL post-season opened its doors with only one Canadian club participating, as is the case this season, was back in 1973.
Of course, the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1992-93. Twenty seasons earlier, the lone Canadian participant in the playoffs also was the Habs as the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs found themselves on the sidelines when the regular season had concluded.
As he does with all things relating to the Canadiens history, legendary Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Irvin Jr. remembers all the details from that season 41 years ago, when Montreal marched to another Stanley Cup championship.
In the 16-team league back then, the Maple Leafs and Canucks finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Eastern Conference (yes, the Canucks used to be situated in the Eastern Conference). Montreal finished with the best regular season record at 52-10-16.
"That's a team that some of us historians and those who write books have kind of ignored," Irvin said. "We tend to concentrate on the team that won four years in a row [in the late 1970s], especially because that 1976-77 team lost only eight games. But the 1972-73 team lost only 10 games in a 78-game season.
"They had 120 points and Boston was next with 107, and that was in the [Bobby] Orr and [Phil] Esposito era. That [Montreal] team had a terrific record. That was Scotty Bowman's first Stanley Cup as a coach and the Canadiens' first time they won the Stanley Cup without Jean Beliveau in many years because he had retired [in 1971]."
Final Stanley Cup
The Stanley Cup championship also was the final one for Henri Richard, his record 11th as a player, one more than Beliveau. Larry Robinson, who was promoted from the American Hockey League's Nova Scotia Voyageurs in Halifax halfway through the season, and Steve Shutt were rookies.
While Robinson fit right in upon his promotion, there was no indication that Shutt would become the wonderful player he did later in his career. This also was the second NHL season for Guy Lafleur and he had yet to make an impact.
"I remember I wasn't that impressed with Steve Shutt and I talked about him with Scotty, he said, ' you wait, you wait, just wait,' Irvin said. "He didn't play much. After that year I remember [Shutt] told me he went home wondering whether he should keep playing hockey. He made up his mind that he was going to make that team, 'to the heck with Scotty Bowman and everybody else,' and the rest is history.
"Lafleur was not a factor that year and he really wasn't a factor after his third year. Of course, with Lafleur there was the famous story Scotty tells about Sam Pollock calling in Scotty and his assistant coach Claude Ruel after [Lafleur's] third season and asked 'should we trade him?' He was down on Lafleur, and they talked him out of it. The next season he came out, without his helmet, and scored 53 goals."
The 1972-73 Canadiens beat the Buffalo Sabres four games to two in the first round and got by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games in the semifinals.
The Habs faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final, pitting the two Team Canada goalies Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito from the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union eight months earlier.
Dryden recorded a 4-0 shutout in Game 4 to push the Habs to a 3-1 series lead. Irvin recalled it was a dominant performance that night in Chicago with Montreal only yielding 12 shots on goal.
Years later, Robinson told Irvin that the Canadiens were so sure they were going to win Game 5 they had booked a ballroom at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel to celebrate a Stanley Cup championship. Dryden and Esposito, however, gave up a combined 15 goals in the Blackhawks' 8-7 win to send the series back to Chicago for Game 6.
Montreal prevailed in a come-from-behind 6-4 win thanks to a game-winning goal from Conn Smythe Trophy winner Yvan Cournoyer.
As all eyes turn to this year, the focus will be on Canadiens goalie Carey Price and how well he performs against Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Irwin noted that one constant in Montreal's history has been goaltending, from Georges Vezina to George Hainsworth to Bill Durnan to Jacques Plante to Dryden to Patrick Roy and now to Price.
"This team has been blessed with such marvelous goaltending," Irvin said. "There have been some dips. But now here's Carey Price, who slowly, not dramatically like Dryden or Patrick did, has established himself among the best goalies in the National Hockey League.
"It's amazing how they have been able to keep that trend going in that important position."
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