fb-pixelForty years ago, Bruins’ misfortune was Ken Dryden’s saving grace - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

Forty years ago, Bruins’ misfortune was Ken Dryden’s saving grace

Stan Jonathan ends up behind Canadiens goaltender Ken Dryden during Game 6 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals.Frank O’Brien/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

The May 10 date all Bruins fans clutch dear to their hearts is in 1970, that steaming, glorious Mother’s Day afternoon when Bobby Orr banged home his overtime winner at the Garden to clinch the club’s first Stanley Cup in 29 years.

The “Flying Bobby” statue, depicting the moment Orr knocked Derek Sanderson’s feed by Blues goalie Glenn Hall, stands proudly along Causeway Street now almost a half-century later.

“I’m a Boston kid, I certainly followed the team,” recalled Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who was an 11-year-old Concord schoolboy at the time. “I think that goal had an impact on everybody in hockey. And just the way the game was played back then . . . that’s when hockey . . . that’s when the game was played.”


There are no statues, or the slightest fond Hub memories, for the game the Bruins played precisely nine years later, May 10, 1979, at the Montreal Forum. Quite to the contrary. Here at the cusp of its 40th anniversary, the infamous “Too Many Men on the Ice” game remains the deeply imbedded thorn in the minds of most Bruins fans.

To recap, painfully:

Without a playoff series win over the Habs since 1943, the Bruins were on the verge of clinching Game 7 of the Cup semis and advancing to face the Rangers for the championship. Rick Middleton’s goal with 3:59 remaining in regulation snapped a 3-3 deadlock and brought the hallowed Forum to a stunned silence. The Bruins were on the verge of the unimaginable, sinking the Flying Frenchmen, breaking the curse of the Forum, and clipping Montreal’s streak of Cup titles that then stood at three years.

Bruins fans through the decades have heard what transpired next through a narrative usually cobbled together from the various Boston voices involved that night.

But here it is now from the viewpoint of Ken Dryden, the then-age 31 Montreal netminder, who had informed Montreal management that he would retire at the end of the ’79 playoff season. When Middleton scored to make it 4-3, Dryden’s career timeline stood at less than four minutes.


“I’d actually told them the year before,” said Dryden, speaking this past week from his home in Toronto. “And we sort of worked out that I’d play an additional year. So right from the beginning of that season, I knew that was going to be my last year. It’s why that game, and the playoffs that year, were so difficult for me. I wasn’t playing well. We won our first series, fairly easily, against Toronto, and I think I was sort of OK. But then we were playing the Bruins . . . and I always played well against the Bruins. I loved playing them and I loved the games in Boston Garden . . . and so this would be the way to right myself through the series, knowing it would be my last year.”

The Habs opened with a pair of wins at the Forum. The Bruins pulled out the next two with one-goal edgings at the Garden. They each won on their home ice again, setting up the Game 7 closer at the Forum on May 10.

“That’s not what was supposed to happen,” said Dryden, now 71 years old, chuckling as he recalled the surprise he felt that the Bruins evened the series, 2-2. “They maybe were going to win one, but they certainly weren’t going to win two. And I didn’t play very well, and I’m thinking, ‘Geez, what’s going on here?’ ”


Into Game 7, Dryden still didn’t have command of his game.

“I’ve lost all my guideposts,” he recalled. “I have no idea where to find my game now. So we go into this seventh game . . . ”

A pair of Wayne Cashman goals, scored early and late in the second period, brought the Bruins into the third with a 3-1 lead. Then in a span of 2:06, off feeds from Guy Lafleur, the Habs knotted it on strikes by Mark Napier and Guy Lapointe with 11:44 to go in regulation.

As he recalled the final twists and turns in the final minutes that night, Dryden initially did not remember it was Middleton who popped in the go-ahead goal for the Bruins at 16:01, with Jean Ratelle and Al Sims getting the assists.

“I think that’s right,” Dryden said. “I think that’s who it was. I mean, at that particular time, when in doubt, guess Middleton.”

What made the goal unique and also infuriated him, noted Dryden, was that it came off a pass attempt, Middleton dishing out from behind the net with a setup feed intended for the slot.

“It went off my skate . . . and . . . went . . . in,” he said, still sounding miffed the puck found the back of the net. “A goal from behind the net, off my skate. The Bruins are ahead, 4-3, and this is my last game, only four minutes to go in the game. And to this moment, I remember [Habs defenseman] Serge Savard was on the ice, right in front of the net, and I can remember the sound he made when he realized the puck had gone in . . . it was just an, ‘Uhhhhhhhhh!’


“It’s four minutes to go and I’ve ruined everything.”

From a Boston fan’s perspective, the night then quickly flipped to theater of the absurd when play was halted with 2:34 remaining in regulation, the Bruins bench caught for having too many men on the ice. The extra player: Don Marcotte, under orders from coach Don Cherry not to leave the ice if the great Lafleur was out there. Marcotte followed orders, linesman John D’Amico spotted the infraction, and only 1:20 later, Lafleur rocketed home the 4-4 equalizer. Devastating from the Black and Gold perspective.

“Now we are going into overtime and I am still like at this loss,” recalled Dryden. “I don’t know what I’m doing, why this isn’t working right, what I need to do next. I thought I had the answer 12 times and 12 times I didn’t have the answer.”

Ultimately, all was made right for Dryden and the Habs when Yvon Lambert connected for the 5-4 winner, with help from Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle 9:33 into OT.

Still vivid for Dryden, though, was a moment earlier in the OT when in a flash he was convinced the Bruins would clinch it. The winning goal would be off the stick of Marcotte, who had the puck alone in the slot.


“A Bruin guy passed it out in front of the net,” said Dryden. “And Don Marcotte was wide open. And I’m just out to lunch. He shoots and . . . it hits me right in the chest. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ If it had been anywhere else, it would have gone in, because I wasn’t going to stop it. I knew going in, win or lose, that was going to be my last year, and that too-many-men-on-the-ice goal saved me.”


Knights bounced in painful fashion

A year after reaching the Stanley Cup finals in their first season, the Vegas Golden Knights were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in this season’s first round.Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images/Getty Images

Vegas Golden Knights fans this past week were dealt a Bruins 1979-like mule kick to the gut when they saw a 3-0 lead over the Sharks in the third turn into an identical 5-4 OT loss that eliminated the Knights from the playoffs.

“Different circumstances, but the end result sure felt the same,” said Dave Goucher, the superb Knights TV play-by-play announcer who grew up a Bruins fan in Rhode Island. “I was just a kid in ’79, but I remember, in that instance, everyone felt the call on the ice was correct — but it seemed the officials almost didn’t want to call the too many men. This was similarly painful — and maddening — but the call . . . ”

The call was utter and amateur craziness, and the immediate fallout bizarre. The officiating crew, led by referees Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt, whistled play dead after Sharks center Joe Pavelski was injured amid a faceoff against Vegas’s Cody Eakin. As the puck went back toward the Sharks’ point, Eakin smacked an aggressive cross-check across Pavelski’s chest. Eakin linemate Paul Stastny, attempting to charge the point off the faceoff, collided with Pavelski, triggering a fall that sent the latter tumbling to the ice and injuring his head.

The proper call: maybe a two-minute minor against Eakin. Maybe.

The call that was made: a five-minute cross-check and a game misconduct for Eakin. Out of the game, and a five-minute power play for the Sharks.

“Cody went to the box right away,” noted Goucher. “Before the penalties were announced, one of the officials came over to the box and Cody thought they’d figured it was no penalty. Instead, it was ‘No, you’re all done.’ ”

Gerard Gallant, the Knights coach, was informed by one of the referees that Eakin had cross-checked Pavelski to the face. Video of the incident clearly showed the cross-check was smack dab to Pavelski’s chest. The four on-ice officials, unable to consult video replay in such circumstances, took a guess. They guessed incorrectly, by a good 10-12 inches.

Minus Eakin, arguably their top penalty killer, the stunned Knights then were eviscerated by the Sharks’ power play, with Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Couture again, and then Kevin Labanc all connecting for power-play goals in a span of 4:01.

San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski lies on the ice after being cross-checked by Cody Eakin.Jeff Chiu/AP/Associated Press

Hard to believe, but it has happened before — and only once, according to the NHL, per the league’s record keepers. On April 27, 1998, Kings vs. Blues in the playoffs, Los Angeles backliner Sean O’Donnell was tossed for jumping and fighting Blues forward Geoff Courtnall when the latter charged Kings goaltender Jamie Storr. The Blues then delivered four power-play goals in a span of 3:07 (Pascal Rheaume, Brett Hull, Pierre Turgeon, and Terry Yake) and finished with a 4-3 win.

The league, according to Knights owner Bill Foley and general manager George McPhee, called the next day to apologize for the officiating blunder. It’s believed NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made the apology.

McPhee, in the hour of bitter disappointment, delivered a quote that all managers and owners should clip and save in their wallets: “There will be no pity parties,” he said. “Stuff happens in games. We’re going to take the rearview mirror out and put a real good team on the ice next year. We’re not going to carry around a big suitcase full of yesterdays.”

There is no “make good” here for Vegas. The guys in stripes blew it. Badly. The league needs to think seriously about allowing referees and linesmen the ability to review tape on five-minute major calls. If not, then take away their ability to review calls such as ticky-tack offsides and goalie interference. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

“I can tell you, it’s the second time I’ve called a Game 7 where one team overcomes a three-goal deficit in the third,” noted Goucher, who handled the radio call when the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs in similar circumstances in the 2013 playoffs. “The first one was a lot more fun.”


Kuraly grateful for Blue Jackets

Sean Kuraly grew up in Ohio and was six years old when the Blue Jackets entered the NHL in 2000. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Bruins forward Sean Kuraly grew up in Dublin, Ohio, some 15-20 miles northwest of downtown Columbus, and jumped on the Blue Jackets bandwagon with both feet as a grade schooler when they entered the NHL in 2000.

“Personally, I think I was going to play hockey regardless,” he said. “But I was at games from the day they played their first game until I left to play in the USHL [at age 17]. I grew up on guys like Rick Nash, and it was always a dream of mine to play.”

Among the keys to growing the sport in Columbus, true of most expansion cities, is the club’s involvement in engaging area youth to take up the sport.

In Columbus, ownership invested immediately in area rinks, helping to deliver ice sheets for kids to get out there with skates and sticks. In Columbus, the team-sponsored rinks are called Chillers, a network of eight indoor rinks in the city and immediate suburbs — including one in Kuraly’s hometown of Dublin.

“They’re beautiful,” said Bill Zito, the Blue Jackets assistant GM who was once the agent for Boston goalies Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. “One of them in the suburbs has a shooting range with all this advanced, unbelievable technology. First time I saw it I was like, ‘Hey, let’s get this to Columbus.’ ”

Kuraly is in large part a product of the Chillers network. The Dublin rink has two sheets, making plenty of ice time available for kids in and around Kuraly’s neighborhood. As is always the case, more rinks lead to greater youth participation, and for Kuraly that meant being able to develop his talent close to home instead of constantly being on the road for out-of-town practices and games.

Part of his growth curve, prior to the USHL, included playing for the AAA Blue Jackets, their home games played on Chiller surfaces, including the practice rink housed inside the NHL club’s Nationwide Arena.

“I would have gotten into hockey,” said Kuraly, “but I wouldn’t have had the support system around Columbus without the NHL team there. We wouldn’t have had other kids interested and it wouldn’t have made it as possible for me to continue. I played in Columbus from the time I could skate until I left for the USHL. I played in the Triple A program. Without the NHL team, I would not have had the support and it would not have been possible without the Blue Jackets.”

Loose pucks

Ex-Bruin Joe Thornton was suspended for one game in San Jose’s series with the Golden Knights for a hit he delivered to the head of the Vegas forward Tomas Nosek. “I think my son hits me like that six times a day,” Jumbo said in his defense. “It was just a weird position [Nosek] put himself in.” It was only the second suspension of Thornton’s career. Based on league record keeping, he thus became the oldest player in NHL history to be served a suspension. The Hall of Fame-bound Thornton will celebrate his 40th birthday on July 2 . . . The Bruins recently cut ties with oft-concussed prospect Jesse Gabrielle, the club’s fourth-round pick (No. 105) in the 2015 draft. “It didn’t work out for either side the way it was intended,” said John Ferguson, Jr., GM Don Sweeney’s top lieutenant and GM of AHL Providence. “Both sides are moving forward.” Gabrielle, who said recently that he suffered three concussions this season, beginning in training camp with the WannaB’s, is now free to seek employment as an unrestricted free agent . . . The Philadelphia Flyers scurried to cloak and remove the long-standing statue of singer Kate Smith last weekend after learning of 1930s recordings of songs with disturbingly racist lyrics. Smith became a Philly icon in the 1970s with her performances of “God Bless America” prior to Flyers games. Her statue had been outside the Flyers’ home rink since 1987, erected the year after she died at age 79. Flyers president Paul Holmgren: “We cannot stand idle while material from another era gets in the way of who we are today.”

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.