If you’ve ever watched Hockey Night in Canada and wondered why Don Cherry winces a little with every mention of the Habs, we may have the answer.
For the vast majority of their extensive tenure in the NHL, the Canadiens have had a special affinity for beating the pants off the Boston Bruins when it matters. As any Habs fan worth their salt knows, the late ‘70s was a golden era for the team with the Canadiens, bursting at the seams with talent, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups to close out the decade – often at the expense of the Bruins.
After steamrolling the Beantowners in the 1977 and 1978 Stanley Cup Finals to win their second and third-straight championships, it looked like Cherry’s Bruins might finally have the Habs’ number by the time Game 7 of their semifinal series rolled around in 1979.
“That was definitely one of those nights you’re never going to forget,” shared Yvon Lambert, who would go on to become the undisputed hero of the night by the time the game had played out. “Boston was leading for almost the entire game. We managed to score two big goals in the third to tie it 3-3, and then they scored their fourth goal. I remember I was sitting next to Mario [Tremblay] and Douggie Risebrough, and we looked at each other, then looked at the time – there were about six or seven minutes left – and you could tell we were all just hurting so bad at that point.”
With two-and-a-half minutes left to go in the deciding game and the Habs down by a goal, Boston looked to have punched its ticket into the Finals. That is, of course, until Cherry suffered a miscommunication with his bench that changed the course of the game. With too many confused Bruins climbing over the boards and into the play and an abundance of black-and-yellow scrambling to find order on the ice, it didn’t take long before the ref’s arm shot up to signal a bench penalty for the visiting team.
“Boston was so confident going into the end of that game, but they lost a little bit of control with the time running down,” continued Lambert. “Apparently the ref was yelling at them, ‘There’s too many men, there’s too many men,’ but after five, six, seven seconds he had to call it.”
The Canadiens pounced on the opportunity. With goalie Gilles Gilbert at the top of his game, coming up with clutch saves for the Bruins all night, the Habs knew it would take a perfect shot to beat him and send the game into overtime. Luckily, their arsenal came complete with Guy Lafleur who had made a career out of taking perfect shots and potting big goals. With only 74 seconds left in the game, Flower wired one off the inside of the post behind Gilbert to catapult the Canadiens into overtime. On the ropes seconds earlier, the Habs now had all the momentum in their corner.
After trading chances at both ends in the extra frame, the Habs finally capped off the comeback, putting the game on ice in front of a home crowd.
“[Serge] Savard started off the play in our end and then the puck got out to Mario,” recalled head coach Scotty Bowman, who won five Cups behind the Habs’ bench in the 70s. “Mario got by his defenseman and fed a perfect pass in front of the net to Yvon. Yvon was the kind of player that was capable of scoring those kinds of goals because he always went right to the net and he had a huge heart.”
Thanks in no small part to the Bruins’ gaff, the Habs downed their perennial rivals for a third consecutive year in spectacular fashion and went on to bulldoze the Rangers in five games to hoist their fourth Stanley Cup in as many years.
“It was incredible,” finished Lambert with a grin. “One of those moments I’ll always remember. For the 24 hours after that game, I actually got to be more popular than Guy Lafleur!”
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