Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pyramid Power: How It Helped Toronto, And How It Still Can!

The Leafs of the 70s weren't a great team, but they were an exciting team.

The lacked the depth to compete with teams like Boston in the early 70s, Philly in the mid 70s and the Habs in the late 70s.

Having made it to the quarter-finals in 1976, they faced the Flyers again. The Flyers were coming off their second straight Stanley Cup in 1975.

The two teams had met in the same round in '75 and the Flyers needed the minimum games (4), to oust the Leafs, who had surprised Los Angeles in the first round. So here the Leafs were, with some good goaltending by Wayne Thomas.

Darryl Sittler, fresh off his 6 goal, 4 assist game Feb. 7th vs. the Bruins, was the first Leaf to get 100 points in one season. Lanny McDonald had 93. Errol Thompson had 80.

And from the blueline, the Leafs were among the league's best. Borje Salming had 57 points and Ian Turnbull (who never could quite overcome the laziness) had 20 goals.

But the Leafs problem was in net. Thomas (who had once played for the Canadians) was 28-24-12 with a 3.19 GAA and a .900 S%.

Thomas was a strange one. He'd look brilliant one night and erratic the next. And when he got off to a slow start in 1976/77, he was on the way out. Mike Palmateer would be the man in Toronto for the next 4 seasons.

But Thomas suddenly was playing well and consistant in the playoffs. The Leafs defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2 games to 1 in the opening round. But if not for Thomas, the result could have been a lot different.

Stopping 35 of 36 shots in the opener, Thomas was the winner in a 4-1 Toronto triumph.

In game 2, Wayne was good again, but this time the Pens took it, 2-0. Thomas stopped 47 of 48 shots, allowing just a second period goal by the other star McDonald (MacDonald, that is!) in the league. But it was Lowell's goal (fresh off a fine 30 goal, 73 point season of his own) that would be the only puck that got by either goaltender that night. The Pens added an empty-netter to seal it. Michel Plasse stopped all 21 shots directed at him for the win. The Penguins were not going away quietly.

Plasse is a good story too, btw. For you trivia buffs, read along. For those that aren't, skip down a few paragraphs and miss out on some interesting stuff.

Plasse was the first professional goaltender to score a goal, if you can believe it. It wasn't in the NHL, though. That's why you haven't heard of this.

It was a Central Hockey League game on Feb 21, 1971. Plasse, playing for the Kansas City Blues (The baseball fan in me says that was also the name of the top minor league team of the New York Yankees from 1936-1954), scored a goal (into an empty net, of course) against the Oklahoma City Blazers.

The Leafs would prove to be too much for Plasse and Pittsburgh in game 3, alas.

Getting exactly 12 shots on goal in each of the 3 periods, the Leafs got 4 by Michel. The Pens couldn't get a thing by Wayne while all this was happening, and the Leafs were back in the quarter-finals.

But it was the Flyers who were too much for the Leafs. Thomas was looking at Bernie Parent from 200 feet away. And that's about how far in talent that Thomas was from Parent!

A decisive 4-1 win in game one (despite Thomas' 40 saves on 44 shots), and then a 3-1 win (despite Toronto outshooting the Flyers 32-27) found the Flyers up 2-0. That's 6 straight postseason losses to Philly, by the way.

Another sweep?

Not so fast!

Not so violent!

Well, it was certainly violent as the Leafs came home on April 15th. This game had it all!

The Flyers earned 28 penalties on this night, 26 in the first two periods alone! If you can believe it, Toronto scored 5 powerplay goals. And they needed all them, since the Flyers scored 4 goals themselves. Yeah, the Leafs failed to score a goal at even strength or short-handed. But a win is a win, right?

Well, Salming lost a one-sided fight to Don Saleski. Saleski so battered Salming that the Toronto police sought to charge Don with assault causing bodily harm! Joe Watson and Mel Bridgman were also nailed with criminal offences in this game. The Leafs used stuff like these to pepper Bernie Parent, coming off his second straight Conn Smythe award, with 52 shots!

Salming scored an inspirational goal in game 4, as the Leafs took this one, 4-3. Salming got an ovation that lasted 3 minutes. The Leafs had tied the Series.

But the Flyers untied it in game 5 as Saleski didn't do any fighting. In fact, he never even made it to the penalty box in this game. But what Donald did was more than enough!

He scored a hat-trick as the Flyers had 6 goals behind Thomas.  Gord McRae came in to play the final 13 minutes. It was all Flyers, 7-1.

So something had to be done in game 6 back at Maple Leaf Gardens. Something a tad bit desperate.

Red Kelly was the Leaf's coach one fine Leaf from the past. (Leaf fans will never forget the image of him passing the puck to Pulford, who dished it off to Armstrong. Armstrong then popped the puck into the unguarded Montreal net, May 2, 1967. It clinched the Stanley Cup for the Leafs) Kelly decided to try and invoke some kind of power into the Leafs dressing for this crucial game.

As in pyramid power.

Now I'll confess, this blogger knows jack about the powers that pyramids produce. But if you're one game away from calling it a year, I'm open to just about anything to prolong it.

Well, it was a game very similar to game 3. Violence, fan and police involvement. The Flyers of the 70s? You get the idea. But this night, it was Darryl Sittler who had a statement to make.

Did pyramids have anything to do with it? I guess they did.

Prior to the game, it was Kelly who put small pyramids under the Leaf bench. Red went one step further when he erected a bigger pyramid in the Leaf dressing room! Put your sticks under it for good luck!

While I'm writing this, I got my hockey stick in my lap. One problem, though. No pyramid. You can't win 'em all!

But Darryl Sittler was one of the Leafs who put his stick under the huge cone. And he went out and scored 5 goals. It was his 4th goal that was cool, I thought.

Taking a pass from Claire Alexander around center ice, Sittler went right through the Flyers' D and scored on a low shot. And this was after he was tripped.

Toronto went on to win the game, 8-5. But the Flyers again beat the Leafs handily in game 7.

But you might be interested to more about the pyramid man, Red Kelly.

Back in his playing days, Red was a tweener. A politician and a hockey player.

Kelly was elected to the House of Commons in 1962. After serving there for three years, it was back to just hockey. But during that time, he also played for the Leafs.

Now the thing about need to know something right now! Anyone here tired about Ford?

Well, this blogger played and old computer game called Civilization back in the early to mid 90s. This was back in the DOS age for all you computer tekkie nerds out there!

Anyways, pyramids played a huge part in Civilization. Indeed, they allowed a change in government without anarchy. A quick switch. Toronto needs a pyramid right now. It would solve everything.

Their hockey team doesn't, by the way. Bernier and Reimer are each playing with pyramid power already this season.

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