Top News

May Days of notable NHL playoff games


With hockey on hold this spring, the Toronto Sun combed the files for some of the NHL’s most unusual/eventful playoff games.

Today, a look at the merry and often hairy month of May:

PICTURE FROM ORR-BIT

May 10, 1970

The great Bobby Orr’s legend had a small assist from Ray Lussier.

You won’t find the latter in the NHL Guide and record Book, but try the staff photographers list of the old Boston Record-American . As Game 4 of the final went to overtime and the Bruins took aim at their first Cup since 1941, Lussier changed from his roomy position near the Zamboni door in the Bruins zone, figuring the money shot would be in the crowded Blues’ end with other lensmen.

Luckily, the competition had vacated his key rinkside spot — for the beer stand according to legend — so it was Lussier snapping Orr in mid air directing in Derek Sanderson’s puck as Noel Picard tripped him. The Cup-winning pic came to symbolize the Bruins rise to power and was the template for Orr’s current statue outside TD Garden.

“A spectacular goal by a spectacular player,” summed up Boston coach Harry Sinden.

AU REVOIR JEAN

May 18, 1971 – This exit by a multi Stanley Cup winner will be hard to top.

Jean Beliveau carried the trophy into the visitors room in Chicago Stadium after a Game 7 win, as the Canadiens franchise scoring leader and as the league’s all-time playoff points holder in his record-tying 12th year in the final. From the first Habs player to sign a $100,000 contract in 1953, he retired a few months shy of his 40th birthday, his No. 4 immediately put away by the club.

“I always believed a public person should retire early rather than too late,” Beliveau said. “Some are not in position to do this, but 1971 provided me with the perfect time.

“I wanted to retire the previous season, but (manager) Sam Pollock asked me to play another year to help the team through a transition to younger players (who would help secure five more Cups in the decade).”

But ‘71 was not a smooth ride. The Hawks led the final 2-0 and when anglophone coach Al McNeil benched Henri Richard for a Game 5 loss, the latter called him incompetent and even death threats against the coach ensued. The team seemed to be falling apart, but Beliveau said later “a few words” in the room settled things for game 7. He didn’t get a point, but had one in every Montreal win in the series.

BATTING 1000

May 20, 1975

In mentioning the Buffalo Sabres here, it was tempting not to include Rick Jeanneret’s frantic 1993 ‘May Day!’ overtime goal call against Boston. Except that happened April 24.

So let’s go with Jim Lorentz’s ‘Batman’ bop in Game 3 of the ‘75 Cup final, which happened in less than a second, yet stayed in fans’ collective memory for decades.

A haunting mist was already forming at the humid Buffalo Auditorium, when a lone bat began dive-bombing the Sabres and Flyers. Lined up at left wing for a faceoff, Lorentz saw it coming and despite the erratic flight path, he brought it down with one high swipe of his stick. It landed dead at the feet of Flyer Rick MacLeish in the centre dot, who took off his glove and dumped the bat at his bench.

It wasn’t the only spooky moment of the evening. As the intense game dragged on in a rink with no air conditioning, the temperature reached around 30C. The fog intensified so much that timeouts were called for players to skate around to break it up, joined by arena workers, some wearing skates and business suits and waving bed sheets.

Late in the first OT period, Rene Robert scored the 5-4 winner, goalie Bernie Parent claiming he couldn’t see the puck through the pea soup. It was Buffalo’s first win of the series and Lorentz wound up being hailed by the locals for his deed, though criticized by some animal rights activists.

The rattled Flyers lost Game 4 as well, but returned to the Aud to win the Cup in another fog-bound Game 6. Incredibly, eight years later Lorentz would be present the next time an athlete got in hot water for killing an animal during a game. He was in the Exhibition Stadium crowd the night Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield was charged for beaning a seagull.

CROSSING THE LINE

May 24, 1980

The late Pat Quinn’s frequent pot shots at officials goes back to this game.

Two New York Islanders goals against his Philadelphia Flyers might have been called back for offside and even retracted if today’s video technology was in place. At stake was the Cup in Game 6 of the final at Nassau Coliseum.

With the game at 1-1 early, a Clark Gillies drop pass to Butch Goring happened quickly at full speed, but with naked eye evidence the puck was likely back over the blue line as Gillies kept going and Brent Sutter eventually scored.

Then in overtime, John Tonelli bobbled the disc at the line just enough that Bob Nystrom might have  taken a step offside before receiving the pass on his 5-4 Cup-winning goal. The Flyers had trailed 4-2 in the game and fought back.

Conjecture on whether the match would’ve gone to OT had the first offside been examined or if the Flyers would’ve won a Game 7 continued for years. A Flyers win might also have mis-aligned the stars  in what was the first of New York’s four straight Cups.

“Getting stiffed in Game 6 … how could you ever forget that?,” Quinn said as coach of the Leafs during the 2002 Toronto-Isles conference semi-final at Nassau.

“It’s why I’ve developed such a paranoia about officiating come playoff time.”

SWEET SURRENDER

May 1, 1982

The inspiration for Towel Power actually happened on April 29, but the cloth caper  carried until May and into Canucks lore.

In Game 2 of the conference final between Vancouver and Chicago at the Stadium, perceiving a disallowed goal and minor penalties called against them meant the zebras were conspiring against them, the Canucks bench went ballistic.

Tiger Williams suggested that coach Roger Neilson throw a bushel of spare sticks on the ice in protest, but the cerebral Neilson had a better idea. He stuck a white player sweat towel on the end of a stick and waved it in the direction of referee Bob Myers in mock surrender, a move emulated by a few of his players.

Neilson was ejected for the night and the team fined by the NHL, the irony being Neilson was already replacing Harry Neale when the latter was suspended for going after a fan in the crowd in Quebec City a month earlier.

When the Canucks flew home, citizens came out in droves to greet them with white towels. Forward Marc Crawford said he’d never forget the sight of pilots of a jet parked at the gate beside the Canucks charter waving theirs from the cockpit.

“And I remember people lined up way down Renfrew Ave. for tickets,” Crawford said.

With the white rags everywhere at PNE Coliseum, many sold by hawkers stamped with the team logo, Game 3 looked like a Steelers football game. Vancouver won 4–3 and never never looked back in the series.

DO’S AND DONUTS

May 8. 1988

Yellow Sunday gave the NHL a black eye on Mother’s Day, with three 50-something officials in ill-fitting skates and garish coloured jerseys thrown into the middle of a bitter playoff series.

It began when Devils coach Jim Schoenfeld had a post-Game 3 run-in with referee Don Koharski at the Meadowlands. Schoenfeld, bitter about the officiating in 6-1 loss to Boston, was waiting for Koharski and linesmen Ray Scapinello and Gord Broseker to come off the ice. Knowing the coach would be hot, the zebras stayed out until they thought it was safe. But Schoenfeld blocked Koharski with assistant coach Doug McKay getting in between. In the exchange, the ref tumbled to the floor.

Whether Koho was pushed or his skate blade caught something on the mat was debatable, but he got to his feet warning Schoenfeld he was through in the NHL. That’s when Schoenfeld uttered the infamous “have another donut, you fat pig”.

The inability of anyone to find NHL president John Ziegler at that critical time, itself an embarrassing sidebar, resulted in VP Brian O’Neill suspending Schoenfeld for Game 4 over the phone without a proper hearing. The Devils went to court and had that overturned, prompting the officiating crew to refuse to work Game 4.

So an hour before puck drop, Devils goal judge Paul McInnis, a 52-year-old ice rink manager and amateur ref, was told by the league to find a whistle and his blades. Jim Sullivan, a 50-year-old cop, and Vic Godelski, a 51-year-old sales manager, also off-ice officials, also donned their yellow practice pinneys as linesmen.

When Jersey won a fight-filled game, 3-1, and the replacement officials were slow to keep up, the Bruins protested the result. That failed, though tempers eased and Koharski worked Game 7, a 6-2 Boston win, without incident.

Koharski has noted Schoenfeld’s many public apologies since, as well as a letter of regret to his family. Years later, donut-loving ‘Officer Koharski’ was a minor character in Mike Myers’ first Wayne’s World movie.

BOSTON BLACKOUT

May 24, 1988

Craig Simpson’s goal was lights out.

As in the lumination at Boston Garden died just after the Oiler forward scored with 3:23 to go in the second period of Game 4 of the final. What became the last Cup championship game at the old Garden was delayed two hours, then eventually replayed in Edmonton, a four-game sweep that took five games.

After Simpson made it 3-3, a 4,000-volt switch overloaded on a transformer outside the 60-year-old rink, triggering the blackout. With viewers puzzled at suddenly watching graphics, Mike Emrick eventually came back on the ESPN broadcast to describe an eerie scene with dim lighting and traces of fog evident earlier in the hot evening.

With no power to the p.a., arena officials physically waved the 15,000 fans out for safety reason while Ziegler met with agitated GMs Sinden and Glen Sather on whether to finish the gane, re-stage it in Boston or return to Edmonton. League by-laws and a Celtics playoff game the next night eventually gave Ziegler no choice but send everyone to Alberta.

“I’m not saying we’re happy with it, but we must live with it,” Sinden said. “It seems (the by-law) was probably put in by some of the old-timers in the league to prevent someone from pulling a switch (deliberately).”

A STICK IN TIME

May 7, 1993

Before delving into why Wayne Gretzky wasn’t called for high-sticking Doug Gilmour in the conference final later in the month, credit to the Great One for potting his 19th game-winning playoff goal on this night against the Canucks. The unassisted tally came in the third period of a 7-4 Game 3 win over the Kings in the division series, giving L.A. a lead it never relinquished, as Gretzky broke Maurice Richard’s record.

Three weeks late in the conference final, a trip to the final against Montreal for the winner, the Kings and Leafs were late in a tied and tense Game 6. Gretzky came out for a power play with Glenn Andersen in the box for Toronto. Swiping at a puck, No. 99 struck Gilmour’s chin in the follow through and drew blood, an automatic major and misconduct if verified. But referee Kerry Fraser and his linesmen huddled and decided none had a definitive look. Gretzky stayed around for the overtime winner, igniting the Great Western Forum in more ways than one.

“Either Gretzky’s stick hit Doug or the puck was fired up through the bottom of the ice,” Leafs executive Bill Watters fumed after.

That goal and a hat trick in Toronto two nights later, Gretzky’s eighth in post-season play, added to his game-winning goal record, but ended hopes of a classic Leafs-Canadiens final. At the home of Fraser’s parents in Sarnia, Ont., an irate Leafs fan drove 160 kilometres from Kitchener to vandalize the family camper in the driveway until Fraser’s father chased him away with an axe.

Kerry acknowledged the mistake and for years later did interviews to explain the circumstances and urge fans to move on.

MESS DIDN’T MISS

May 25, 1994

New York’s rich sports history is full of bold predictions such as Babe Ruth’s called home run shot to Joe Namath’s Super Bowl boast.

So Mark Messier guaranteeing the Rangers would come back to beat the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final wasn’t going to be ignored.

Losing two games to fall behind 3-2 with the ghosts of a 54-year Broadway Cup jinx rattling their chains at MSG, Messier enlivened the off day with his guarantee that the Rangers would stave off elimination on the road. Every newspaper up and down the Hudson River led their sports pages with his  ‘we’ll win’ quote.

“I might have gone over the top this time,” Messier chuckled to teammate Kevin Lowe when they drove away from that practice.

Messier said he was trying to show the Rangers their captain believed in them, but it still took him scoring the tying, winning and empty netter in the third period. New York won Game 7 and then beat Vancouver for the Cup.

Another Ranger, Joey Kocur, said Messier’s famous line was actually meant for him in the dressing room as a confidence booster and a reporter overheard it. But once it was out there, Messier backed his words to the hilt.

NICK OF TIME

May 10, 2016

“Bonino, Bonino, Bonino!”

Hockey Night Punjabi broadcaster Harnarayan Singh yelled the overtime winner’s name as loud as possible and a good thing he did to be heard over the goal horn and din in Pittsburgh. His delivery fit the dramatic goal, which eliminated the Washington Capitals in round two and came after Bonino thought he might have cost his team that Game 6 with a delay of game penalty not long before. In fact three Penguins had inadvertently put pucks in the crowd, but it was during Bonino’s middle sentence that Washington completed its three-goal come back to forced OT.

“It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had in hockey,” Bonino said of his gaffe. “Then (Ian Cole and Chris Kunitz) did it. That’s something you’ll never see.”

But in the fourth period, Bonino buzzed the net to bury a rebound and clinch the series. He also had an OT goal for Anaheim three years earlier and 18 playoff goals overall for four different teams. But this one sent the Pens to the first of their consecutive Cups.

Singh and his game crew were invited to be in the Pens’ championship parade where he replayed the famous Bonino goal call.

lhornby@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories