Wednesday, May 18, 2016
For the first time in 23 years, the 1969-70 Montreal Canadiens missed out on the playoffs, despite a 38-22-16 record for 92 points. They finished with an identical record to the New York Rangers, but lost out on the final day of the season when the second tiebreaker, after number of wins, total goals scored, went to the Rangers 246-244 when the Rangers outscored Montreal 9-2 on the final day of the season.
So dominant was the East Division, which was comprised of the Original 6 teams, over the West Division's 1967 expansion clubs, that fifth place Montreal's 92 points were 6 more than the West Division winning St. Louis Blues 86 and 28 more than the second place Pittsburgh Penguins.
Changes were made for the 1970-71 season when the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks were added to the league and placed in the East Division, while the Chicago Black Hawks were moved to the West.
Montreal started their campaign with 4 wins and 8 of their first 12. By the end of December they were 16-11-8, having lost just once in their last 10. After an indifferent January, where the Canadiens were 6-5-3, Montreal found their game in February, finishing the month 10-1-1.
The Canadiens cooled off a bit the rest of the way, which saw the quiet debut of a rookie goaltender named Ken Dryden on March 14th.
Dryden, an unusual case, having been drafted back in 1964, had elected to attend Cornell University in the United States rather than immediately devote himself full time to hockey. After having won 76 of 81 starts, including an NCAA national championship in 1967 at Cornell, Dryden had been playing for the Montreal Voyageurs of the AHL that season while working toward his law degree from McGill University by day.
He won his first game over the Pittsburgh Penguins, allowing just one goal and making 35 saves. Phil Myre would start the next game, allowing 6 goals in a loss to St. Louis. Dryden got the next stars, defeating the rival Toronto Maple Leafs after holding them to just one goal on March 18th.
March 20th saw history made, as Rogie Vachon started the game for Montreal, but was inured during the second period and replaced by Dryden. Once he entered the game, Punch Imlauch of the Buffalo Sabres, with a sense of history, inserted Ken's brother Dave Dryden into the Sabres lineup, the first time two brothers had faced each other in goal during an NHL game. Ken was the eventual winner among the four goalies who saw the ice that night, despite the two brothers having an identical 12 saves on 15 shots!
Ken and Dave meet at center ice following a game where
they faced each other, as was their custom
Dryden then defeated the Rangers the following day 6-2. Vachon got the win on March 24th followed by Myre winning on the 27th. Dryden's turn came next on the 28th and he out dueled the Chicago Black Hawks Tony Esposito 2-1. March 31st saw the Bruins shell Vachon for 6 goals in a loss prior to Dryden winning 7-2 against the Rangers on April 3rd before it was Myre's turn to get hammered by the Bruins, 7-2 on the final day of the season.
After going 10-6-1 to finish the season, the Canadiens final record of 42-23-13 gave them 97 points in the standings (fourth overall) and returned the Canadiens to their familiar place in the playoffs, but it left Montreal coach Al MacNeil with a decision to make, as the rookie Dryden clearly had the hot hand, going 6-0-0 with a 1.65 goals against average entering the playoffs after just having watched their first round opponent Boston tear apart his two veterans.
Dryden lost Game 1 by a score of 3-1, and gave up 5 in Game 2, only Montreal scored 7 of their own to even the series. Back in Montreal for Game 3, Dryden held the Bruins to just 1 for the win. Boston again came back strong to win Game 4 by a score of 5-2. The Bruins were even strong back in Boston for Game 5, a dominant 7-3 win. Still, MacNeil stuck with Dryden for Game 6 back at home, where 8 goals by the Canadiens were more than enough to stay alive for a Game 7 back in Boston. Dryden responded to the pressure like an established veteran, not a rookie playing in only his 13th game, as he made 46 saves to out duel Gerry Cheevers 4-2 and eliminate the first overall Bruins in a seventh game on the road.
Dryden, still wearing his "pretzel style" mask early in his career
After eliminating the Minnesota North Stars in six games, including two wins on the road, Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals to take on the West Division winning Chicago Black Hawks, who finished 10 points ahead of the Canadiens in the regular season standings.
Montreal versus Minnesota in the second round
Game 1 of the finals in Chicago went to overtime tied at 1-1 before Chicago won a minute into the second overtime. The Black Hawks won Game 2 at home 5-3 but Dryden held Chicago to 2 goals in Games 3 and 4 as Montreal evened the series 2-2.
Esposito shut out the Canadiens back in Chicago to put Montreal on the brink. A dramatic Game 6 saw the Canadiens trailing 3-2 when Frank Mahovlich tied the game at 5:10 from captain Jean Béliveau and Peter Mahovlich saved the day with a shorthanded game winner from brother Frank at 8:55. Dryden made 27 saves on 30 shots while Esposito only faced 16 shots from Montreal.
Once again, the rookie Dryden was facing a Game 7 on the road against a higher seeded team, only now in a winner-take-all 60 minutes with the Stanley Cup going to the survivor on this date in 1971. Dennis Hull scored a power play with 48 seconds remaining in the first period from his brother Bobby Hull and Cliff Koroll. Chicago's lead was extended to two with Danny O'Shea's goal from Pit Martin at 7:33 of the second.
Jacques Lemaire got Montreal on the board at 14:18 from Jacques Laperrière followed by Henri Richard tying the game at 18:20 from Lemaire, sending the game into it's final 20 minutes even.
At 2:34 of the third period, Richard put Montreal ahead for the first time in the game with an even strength goal from Réjean Houle and Guy Lapointe. Dryden would hold Chicago off the board for the entire second half of the game, making 31 saves in all to lead Montreal to the Stanley Cup championship despite only having six regular season games of experience.
The win for Montreal on the road was the only game in the series not won by the home team.
It was quite a turnaround for Montreal, who had failed to even qualify for the playoffs the previous season and even more of a surprise considering their unsettled goaltending situation heading into the playoffs. Also of note, winning the championship was a fine way to go out in style for the Canadiens captain Béliveau, who had just played in the final game of his career, going out as a champion with the Stanley Cup in his arms, the 10th of his career.
Béliveau accepts the 1971 Stanley Cup following the final game of his career
The 23-year-old rookie Dryden would be named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He played all 20 of Montreal's postseason games, finishing with a 12-8 record and a 3.00 goals against average, with five of those wins coming on the road and two of those being in Game 7's.
Remarkably, Dryden would go on to win the Calder Trophy the following season as Rookie of the Year, despite already having won the Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup, something no player had ever done before or since.
Today's featured jersey is a 1970-71 Montreal Canadiens Ken Dryden jersey from the season in which the Canadiens would capture their 17th Stanley Cup championship during Dryden's first season with the club and Béliveau's 20th and last.
This style jersey dates back to 1941 and, aside from a version with a blue stripe around the chest for three years in the late 40's, has remained essentially unchanged ever since.
Today's video section starts with highlights of Game 7 of the Canadiens first round series against Boston. Two pad stack!
Next, the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals, scored with the always funky 1970's background music. Be sure to note the old Chicago Stadium scoreboard with it's clock dials!
Here is fellow goaltender John Davidson narrating a look at the career of Dryden, highlighting the incredible beginning of Dryden's career before summarizing the remainder of his career.
Here is Dryden, telling about his career from his point of view, as part of the Legend of Hockey series.