The Maple Leafs will be back on Garden ice this coming week against the Bruins to begin the 2019 playoffs, the second year in a row these Original Six franchises will meet at the start line of the Stanley Cup’s grueling two-month marathon.
Long ago, in April 50 years ago to be precise, their paths also crossed in Round 1. It was a series turned infamous at 18:03 of the second period when Pat Quinn, then a truculent 26-year-old rookie defenseman for the Leafs, crushed 21-year-old phenom Bobby Orr with a menacing check along the boards in Boston’s end.
Orr, the most exciting player the sport had seen, was in the initial strides of winding into one of his patented, breathtaking rushes up the right side. Quinn eyed him from a couple of steps inside the blue line and closed on Orr, who momentarily dropped his head to recollect the puck.
The play, immediately whistled as a five-minute elbowing major, knocked Orr cold. Teammate Ken Hodge, first on the scene with Orr flat on his back, gently tucked one of his gloves under Orr’s head to keep it propped.
Some 15,000 fans inside the Garden, near silent over the gruesome scene, triggered to full-on crazy when Orr finally showed signs of consciousness. Lumbering to the penalty box, Quinn ducked a fan’s hurled shoe, was doused with drinks upon entry, and then came under further attack as fans clawed to scale the glass in an attempt to seek revenge.
“Boston Garden turned into a lunatic bin,” wrote Toronto columnist George Gross. “The only thing missing was the straitjackets.”
The Leafs, wrote the Globe’s Tom Fitzgerald, were “a parody of a major league club” and “a vengeful gang.”
As Quinn fended off the attack, tussling with a finger-wagging penalty box attendant, he accidentally broke a pane of glass with his stick. For his own protection, he promptly was escorted to the Toronto dressing room.
In a city just awakening from an agonizingly long hockey dormancy, without a Cup title since 1941, it . . . was . . . glorious.
Keep in mind, as of that April 2 night, the Bruins had not won a playoff game in 10 years. In fact, they went from the spring of 1959 until April of 1968 without qualifying for the postseason. They finally made the cut in ’68, Orr’s second year, only to be dealt an all-too-familiar sweep (4-0) at the hands of the sainted Canadiens.
The Leafs, officially beyond their “use by” date in ’69, still sported the proud logo emblematic of four recent Cup titles over six springs (1962-67).
At the point Orr got clocked — quickly ushered to Massachusetts General Hospital for X-rays and overnight observation — the Bruins had a 6-0 lead and were on their way to 10-0 humiliation of the once-mighty franchise. In family rooms as far as the TV-38 UHF signal could reach, enraged fans circled around their black-and-white sets, hollered, and fired punches in the air as the fracas unfolded.
Before the night’s pasting was finished, ex-Bruins forward Forbes Kennedy went full-goose looney, including a stick-swinging affair with Bruins goaltender Gerry Cheevers. Benches emptied (standard fare at the time) and even mild-mannered backup goalie Eddie Johnston mixed it up with Kennedy. Ultimately, the crazed Leafs forward was pummeled into submission by Johnny “Pie” McKenzie and was led off the ice, never again to play in the NHL. His antics included taking a swipe at one of the on-ice officials.
The clubs returned for Game 2 the next night at the Garden (back-to-backs also were standard playoff fare), and a stuffed dummy, sporting Quinn’s No. 23, hanged by the neck from the second balcony.
Orr checked out of MGH in the afternoon, grabbed a nap at the nearby team hotel, and suited up, less than 24 hours after being knocked cold. The Bruins well on their way to a 7-0 win in Game 2, Orr sat out the third period with a lingering headache.
“I don’t remember the dummy hanging there,” recalled Derek Sanderson, who a little more than a year later fed Orr the pass that clinched the 1970 Cup title. “But I remember one of me that someone hanged at Madison Square Garden . . . all stuffed with straw. Someone set it on fire. A real mess for the folks down below.”
The hit on Orr, in Sanderson’s opinion, wasn’t dirty.
“But it was unnecessary,” Sanderson recalled. “Bobby was the best player in the game. I mean, c’mon . . . talk about biting the hand that feeds you, right?”
No surprise, said Sanderson, that Orr was in the lineup the next night.
“No problem,” said Sanderson. “There was so much to talk about with Bobby, I think people overlooked how tough he was. I mean, really tough. And, don’t worry, he took care of Paddy down the road.”
The Bruins soon made a clean sweep of the series, 4-0, with wins of 4-3 and 3-2 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Players in both rooms were still stripping off their sweaters when word from the Leafs’ front office came that Punch Imlach, their coach and GM, was fired. The same press release announced John McLellan as the new coach, Jim Gregory the GM. No need for a press conference.
“All he did was win the Stanley Cup four times in eight years,” said Bruins defenseman Teddy Green, stunned by Imlach’s quick dismissal.
The series dominated sports talk in Boston for weeks, despite the fact the Habs knocked the Bruins out in Round 2, 4-2. The brawl around Kennedy, which had one Garden patron punching him from the seats, branded their image as the Big, Bad Bruins.
They were tough. They were characters. They were talented. They went on to win the Cup twice over the next three years. And though they didn’t have Quinn or the Leafs to thank, per se, it was that series, and the rally around Orr the wunderkind, that provided the Bruins with their greatest growth spurt in that era.
More than 40 years later, Orr wrote in his book, “My Story,” of the moment he checked into the team hotel upon leaving MGH prior to Game 2 of that series. A “rather tough-looking gentleman,” noted Orr, walked up to him in the lobby.
“He asked, in a very low voice, ‘Do you want me to take care of Pat Quinn?’ ” wrote Orr. “It was kind of a scary moment because the look in his eyes and his general demeanor made me think the guy meant to do some serious damage. I looked back at him and said, ‘No thanks . . . I’ll take care of him myself.’ He walked away and that was the end of it.”
CUP RUNNETH OVER
Plenty to ponder with the playoffs
The NHL will release its 16-team playoff schedule Sunday morning, with the Bruins and Maple Leafs inked in to play their first two games at the Garden on Thursday and Saturday.
A few of the matchups will open Wednesday — never a consideration here because of a Muse concert at the Garden. Game 5 (if necessary) likely would be the following Saturday night on Causeway as nourishment for the voracious “Hockey Night in Canada” crowd.
As we await the schedule maker’s machinations, 10 story lines to ponder as the greatest playoff season in all of sports is about to unfold:
■ Will Brad Marchand hold his tongue? Absolutely. The Li’l Ball o’Hate whistled by the front door of the NHL Department of Player Safety all season and in so doing became the fifth guy to reach the 100-point mark in 2018-19. Duly contrite over his kissing/licking antics last season in the Toronto and Tampa Bay series. Lived up to his promise to be a better Ball o’Hate in 2018-19.
■ The Capitals finished third in the East and have all the resources to repeat as Cup champs. But history alone says it’s unlikely. Some 30 years post the Oiler dynasty, we’ve seen only three back-to-back titles: Pittsburgh (1991-92), Detroit (1997-98), and Pittsburgh (2016-17). History aside, the view from here is Tampa Bay is just too good.
■ Can the Golden Knights outdo themselves in their second Cup appearance in their two-year history? Talk about setting a high bar. Anything short of a trip to the Final would be a letdown. Proved anything is possible last year, but appears they lack the firepower to last more than a round or two this time.
■ Canada hasn’t banked a Cup title since the Canadiens in 1993. Not a good look, is it? It’s not going to be Toronto this year. But the Flames and Jets have a good shot. Interesting that leading scorers on both squads are Yanks: Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary and old friend Blake Wheeler in Winnipeg.
■ How ’bout them Sharks? Well, how ’bout ’em? A month ago, they looked fit for a deep run. Not so of late (2-7-1 in their last 10 as of Friday morning). No deal for next year yet in place for Joe Thornton. Would be great to see Jumbo Joe get his name on the Cup. Doesn’t look like it will happen this year. Again.
■ The Hurricanes are back in the dance and that’s a good thing. And they did it without finding new owner Tom Dundon’s desired sniper. Mostly they did it because of an evolving star forward, Sebastian Aho, who reached the 30-goal plateau and led the scoring beat. Subject of some ridicule for their postgame “Storm Surge” antics, but all part of a much-needed franchise rebirth. All good.
■ Like the Knights, the Islanders seem to lack the scoring punch for more than a guest appearance. Yet a solid comeback for the Fish Sticks, who looked like they were dead on double runners when John Tavares bolted for Toronto. Now they’re just a Tavares-like player from believing they can be legit contenders.
■ Well, the Stars finally made the show, though not with much breathing room. CEO Jim Lites ripped into them midway through the season and maybe that helped. It feels like something big will happen this summer, such as Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn or Alexander Radulov surrendering his no-move clause for a change of scenery.
■ Hard to think of the Penguins as a sleeper, with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel still leading the scoring parade in Steel Town. Truth is, they have a lot of the goods to clinch a third title in four seasons. Just not sure if they’ve got the goods in net with Matt Murray and/or ex-University of New Hampshire Wildcat Casey DeSmith.
■ Do the Blues finally come marching in? Could be. As of the Monday after US Thanksgiving, they had 19 points (two more than the dead-last Kings). They canned the coach (Craig Berube in for Mike Yeo), found a new goalie (Jordan Binnington), and, shazam! I’m going with a Tampa Bay-St. Louis final.
Minnesota seems wild about Sturm
Good “get” this past week by the Wild, who locked up coveted college free agent Nico Sturm, a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound forward out of Clarkson. He made his debut Thursday night vs. the Bruins in St. Paul and looked smart and strong on the puck.
Sturm, no relation to ex-Bruin Marco Sturm, signed only a one-year, entry-level deal (prorated $925,000) that included a 10 percent signing bonus.
The more typical deal would have a college free agent signing for two or three years. In this case, Sturm will reach restricted free agent status as of July 1, after playing a total of two NHL games. The lack of numbers won’t give him much leverage in talks, but it likely will induce Wild general manager Paul Fenton to tag Sturm with a qualifying offer, likely pushing Sturm over the $925,000 mark.
The math aside, Sturm, a lefthanded shot, looks like he could develop into a stud. He led Clarkson in scoring (14-31—45 this season) as a junior and his agent, Matt Keator, said he had inquiries from all 31 franchises.
The Wild, who in February traded for Ryan Donato as part of their remake, were able to entice Sturm with a legit shot at making the varsity come October. They also have some other young forwards — Jordan Greenway (ex- of Boston University), Luke Kunin, and Joel Eriksson Ek — who provide some hope that the St. Paulists might reverse their DNQ fortunes.
“We think it’s a good fit for Nico,” said Keator, who is also Donato’s agent. “He’ll only get the two games in this year, obviously, but it allowed him to get in there, meet the guys, and get a little taste of what the NHL life is all about. He was ready. Not all these college kids are ready, but he’s got the size and the skills now to move to the next level.”
Keator is also family adviser to Adam Fox, Harvard’s exceptional defenseman, rumored to be headed to the Rangers. Keator declined comment, noting standard NCAA protocol.
Fox, 9-39—48 this season for Ted Donato’s Crimson, was chosen No. 66 by the Flames in 2016 and saw his rights flipped last June to Carolina in the swap that also brought ex-Bruin Dougie Hamilton to the Hurricanes. Born in Jericho, N.Y., not far from Charlie McAvoy’s beloved Long Beach, word around the Cambridge rink is that he would prefer to play for the Rangers.
Fox, 21, has the option to play out his senior year at Harvard and then claim unrestricted free agency late next summer (2020). You can bet the Rangers would be interested — along with everyone else in the Original 31. The Hurricanes are well aware of his alleged Blueshirt affections, all of which should convince GM Don Waddell to strike a deal with Rangers boss Jeff Gorton and get something in return for Fox’s rights rather than see him bolt for bupkus next summer.
The Wild’s DNQ left coach Bruce Boudreau out of the NHL postseason for the first time in his 13 seasons (Washington, Anaheim, Minnesota) as a bench boss. He also may not be back in St. Paul next season, given the fairly recent GM change (Fenton hired in Chuck Fletcher’s wake) and the ongoing roster remake. Likely successor: ex-Whalers pivot Dean Evason, promoted to the varsity staff a year ago from AHL Milwaukee . . . With ex-Bruins forward Glen Sather stepping down as Ranger president, speculation has John Davidson leaving Columbus to return to Broadway to fill the spot. If so, GM Jarmo Kekalainen, another ex-Bruins forward, possibly moves up, opening the door for top assistant Bill Zito, Tuukka Rask’s former agent, to be the club’s clerk of the works . . . As a kid growing up in Ottawa, the playoffs for Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy usually meant watching the Canadiens on TV. “ ‘Hockey Night in Canada,’ typically Saturday, it was always Montreal — they were always good, always on TV, and it always bothered me,” he said. “But that’s what we had to deal with. Toronto was not very good, so they weren’t on TV much. Ottawa didn’t exist. So that was it for us.”
The Hurricanes, Knights, Penguins, and Blues all made the playoff cut. All four were not among the league’s top 16 point-getters as of Nov. 26, the Monday after US Thanksgiving — historically a strong indication of who does/doesn’t make it to the postseason.