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Beware the watchdogs at Old Folks Home
Pete Axthelm
May 15, 1967
Montreal's Canadiens learned that lesson painfully as the good, gray Toronto Maple Leaf goalies, Terry Sawchuk (above) and Johnny Bower, led hockey's oldest warriors to an unexpected Stanley Cup triumph
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May 15, 1967

Beware The Watchdogs At Old Folks Home

Montreal's Canadiens learned that lesson painfully as the good, gray Toronto Maple Leaf goalies, Terry Sawchuk (above) and Johnny Bower, led hockey's oldest warriors to an unexpected Stanley Cup triumph

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The two goalies complemented one another perfectly against Montreal. Sawchuk, possibly worn out after his sensational showing against the Black Hawks, couldn't make up for his team's overall deficiencies in the opener. So Imlach started Bower in the second game, and he was brilliant in the 3-0 victory. "Our club must play good defensive hockey to win," said Imlach. "And this was pretty close to a perfect defensive game."

In the third game, their first at home, the Leafs were less than perfect, but Bower saved them. With the score tied 2-2 after two periods, Bower had to make a series of extraordinary saves in the third. He and rookie Rogatien Vachon—who also played very well until Coach Toe Blake replaced him with the veteran Gump Worsley late in the fifth game—matched superb saves in the first overtime. Pulford finally scored at 8:26 of the second overtime. "Bower's saves gave the whole team a tremendous lift," said Pulford. "Pulford's goal gave me a pretty big lift, too," smiled Johnny. "I love to play hockey, but a game like that one can hardly be called fun."

Bower's season ended in the warmup before the next game, when he kicked out at a puck and got the muscle pull. Sawchuk was rushed in—for his worst game of the playoffs. On four of the Canadiens' six goals he seemed almost immobile. The delighted Habs returned to Montreal envisioning two more high-scoring wins and their third straight cup.

Although he denied any conscious change, Sawchuk was a different player in the fifth game. "We talked before the game," said Imlach. "I told him he had brought us this far, and he had the records to prove he was a great clutch player. He was entitled to one bad game. I knew he could win for us as long as he played aggressively in goal. In other words, he had to go out and challenge the guys taking the shots." The Leafs started so slowly that Sawchuk had to challenge almost every Canadien forward during the first period. He kept moving out of the net, scrambling to the ice, and somehow stopping almost everything. The Leafs, who might easily have trailed 4-0, went off the ice with a 1-1 tie. In the second period they got going, and a magnificent breakaway goal by Pronovost seemed to deflate the Canadiens. Tightening up their well-drilled defensive game, the Leafs coasted through to a 4-1 win.

Sawchuk was even better in the final game, blocking 17 shots in the first period to keep the game scoreless until Kelly could set up young Ron Ellis for the first goal at 6:25 of the second. Half a dozen unbelievable saves later, Sawchuk was presented with another goal, by Pappin, just before the period ended. Once again the Leafs clamped down, checking diligently and concentrating only on stopping the Canadiens. Dick Duff scored for Montreal early in the third period to make it 2-1, but Sawchuk held off the Canadien charge the rest of the way. When Blake pulled Goalie Worsley with 55 seconds left, Imlach characteristically fielded a defensive platoon made up of four of his old men and the slightly younger Pulford. Eight seconds later Armstrong scored on the open net to clinch it.

With the exception of the wildly exciting, wide-open overtime game, the Toronto wins were typical masterpieces of rugged checking, defense and superb goaltending. "It's like a poker game," said Imlach. "You've got to drop out of a lot of hands to protect yourself. If you try to score on every play, you get killed." Cynics around the NHL have often said that this cautious philosophy produces boring hockey. Imlach, who is never boring himself, laughed when the objection came up. Resting an elbow comfortably on the large silver Stanley Cup, he wondered, "Were the Toronto fans bored with us this spring?"

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