Original Six rivalry dies lonely death
BY RED FISHER, THE GAZETTE JANUARY 9, 2009
Are you as tired of reading and/or hearing as I am about the Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry? What rivalry? Are you kidding me?
File and forget it. It’s dead, unless you’re among those who in some twisted way imagine that the non-stop nonsense you watched in last night’s Canadiens’ 6-2 laugher over the Maple Leafs is the real deal … that it’s an extension of the Original Six rivalry. This circus wasn’t played period by period. Put it all together and what you had was a sentence.
How’s this for starters: 17 penalties to the Leafs, 15 to the Canadiens, including an abuse- of-officials bench penalty 11:11 into the second period.
Trust me on this: There was nothing about this game to remind anyone about the Original Six rivalry between the Canadiens and the Leafs.
Not the four 10-minute misconducts assessed each team, not the two fighting majors to each team. Not the 72 minutes in penalties to the Leafs, not the 68 minutes to the Canadiens.
Okay, so Mike Komisarek and André Deveaux did a little pushing and shoving and mouthing off at the end of the first period – but that’s not remotely what the Canadiens-Maple Leafs rivalry was all about. Neither were the hard stares Alex Kovalev gave Leafs rookie Luke Schenn in the second period. Or the thrashing Jamal Mayers delivered to Tom Kostopoulos in the 12th minute of the second period, followed seconds later by Brad May out-punching Francis Bouillon.
The Montreal-Toronto rivalry was the late Dick Irvin taking his Canadiens into that city and tossing darts at everything Maple Leaf.
It was the Leafs putting a price on Maurice Richard’s head and the Rocket taking on all comers … and showing all of them what drove him to the mountain top.
It was Dickie Moore leading the charge off the Canadiens bench and going after Frank Mahovlich after the latter had shot the puck directly into an onrushing Henri Richard’s face.
It was Toe Blake and Punch Imlach taunting one another before, during and after games – all the while hoping their players were feeding off it.
What the Canadiens-Leafs Original Six rivalry was all about were players and coaches of exceptional quality completely dedicated to winning.
Anything less was unacceptable during the regular season when they met 14 times, now and then in back-to-back games. The heat was raised to another level in the playoffs.
That’s the rivalry the Canadiens were celebrating last night as part of their centenary, but whatever it is you were watching had nothing to do with the fierce, unforgiving competition of the 1940s and the three decades that followed.
Several Canadiens and Maple Leafs legends were part of the parade preceding the game.
Vincent Damphousse was there, and so were Steve Shutt and Pete Mahovlich (wearing what appeared to be a neatly-trimmed white beard, if you want to believe that.)
Guy Lapointe and Phil Goyette also paraded onto the carpet leading to centre ice – followed by Jean Béliveau who, as you’d expect, had the folks saluting him with a long, standing ovation. Félix Potvin, Wendell Clark, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming and Johnny Bower represented the Maple Leafs and, as you’d also expect, received a mixture of boos and applause.
Do not, however, even think for a mini-second that what you were seeing last night had anything to do with what was described as the “greatest rivalry” in NHL history. Béliveau was there for all of it, and so was Bower, but the puck stops there.
Sadly, perhaps, what didn’t stop during the first two periods was the nonsense involving the players. Endless jawing among the players and discussions among the officials that accomplished nothing.
It was not hockey’s finest hour, but as you’d expect, the crowd appeared to be having a good ol’ time, because the home boys were sticking it to the Leafs on the scoreboard. They were enjoying it up to almost the very end when, with fewer than two minutes remaining, Sergei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski had to be separated by the officials and did some pushing of their own against the linesmen.
The sounds you hear are the hanging judges in Toronto trying to determine how long these two will be suspended for physical abuse of officials.