It might figure as only a line or two in his obituaries today, but Henri Richard was the centre of a controversy that ranks as probably the most misinterpreted in the long, storied history of the Montreal Canadiens.
First and foremost, the obituaries will mention that Henri Richard — who passed away today after a long battle with Alzheimers — was the younger brother of Maurice “Rocket” Richard, the Canadiens legend who held NHL records for goals and points upon his retirement. Henri literally skated in Maurice’s considerable shadow back in the ’50s, when Montreal rolled over the five other teams and became the dynasty that all future contenders and pretenders would be measured. Any fear that Henri Richard would forget his place in Canadiens’ lore was allayed by his sobriquet — the “Pocket Rocket.”
Those obituaries will mention his standing among the 100 greatest NHLers of all time and his record 11 Stanley Cups as a player. (Though, when asked by fans and media about his 11 Cup rings, he would note, possibly in jest, that in the early days teams didn’t hand out rings to the champions — maybe just some lesser parting gifts.) That this record will never be broken is an assumption we can make without dwelling on it.
Other notes will be made, of course, including his captaincy of the Canadiens — figuratively the torch that was passed on to him by Jean Beliveau in 1971. Beliveau likewise cast a considerable shadow. Henri Richard would be named to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team three times, though twice that meant he was the second-best centre the Canadiens rolled out there. Only once, in 1958, did Richard supplant Beliveau to make the First All-Star Team, despite the fact that his own GM was his biggest fan: “Game in, game out, Henri Richard is the most valuable player I’ve ever had,” Frank Selke once said.
There will likely be some colour splashed on the canvas for the memorial portraits of the Pocket Rocket. Mention will be made of his diminutive stature (five-foot-seven) and style (the definitive two-way centreman of his era, and arguably the best skater in the league).
They might even mention his modesty, which was plain to anyone who ever talked to him, a by-product and perspective that became ingrained playing second violin to his brother and Le Gros Bil. I only ever talked with Richard a couple of times, but the first conversation set the tone. Back in ’86, when the Oilers were running through the league like the Canadiens had in the ’50s, I asked him how Montreal’s best teams would have taken on Wayne Gretzky. Richard left himself out of the equation and named others to what he thought was Montreal’s all-time checking line: “I’d have Claude Provost on right wing, Donnie Marshall at centre and Bert Olmstead on the left side,” he said.
Eventually though, the obituaries will mention the Stanley Cup of 1971, and you’ll get to the part about his role in the controversy that could have unsettled a Canadiens team in the final.
Montreal had made a most unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final: firing coach Claude Ruel mid-season when it looked like Montreal would miss the playoffs; replacing him with Al MacNeil from its AHL affiliate in Halifax; promoting a bunch of young players from the farm team; installing a rookie goalie with a handful of NHL games, Ken Dryden, for the playoffs; and then upsetting the Boston Bruins, the dominant team in the league that season, in the first round. It looked like the Canadiens’ Cinderella story had reached midnight when the heavily favoured Chicago Black Hawks took a three-games-to-two series lead into Game 6 in Montreal.
During the Game 5 loss in Chicago, MacNeil decided his team needed a shakeup, so he juggled the lines. He also chose to sit Henri Richard for a long stretch. Given the fabled Richard temperament (Maurice Richard was two sticks of dynamite in search of a lit match), Henri spit sparks — then exploded. After the game, he called MacNeil “the worst coach I’ve ever played for.” This of course set off a maelstrom in Montreal.
The anti-MacNeil backlash was so strong someone fired off a death threat saying he was going to get the coach. The police responded with around-the-clock protection. Unfortunately for MacNeil, that meant around the clock in his house, on the road, at the rink, even on the bench during Game 6.
“They were with me 24 hours on the hop for seven days. I had [a police officer] right on the bench with me,” MacNeil said. “I was going to ask him if he could help me on the power play.”
So, just as the Rocket had his St. Patrick’s Day riot, the Pocket Rocket had the tempest that put a coach in self-exile for his health and welfare.
The Canadiens came back to tie the series at three games apiece with a win in Game 6 in Montreal and then came from two goals down in the second period to beat the Black Hawks 3-2 in Game 7.
You’d imagine that the victory would have won MacNeil a long-term contract, and in another time and place it surely would have. It seemed like MacNeil was operating under that assumption — he had talked about taking French lessons to accommodate the Canadiens. But his reward for that glory run was a job in the organization — back in Halifax with the Voyageurs.
Over the years, Richard seemed uneasy discussing the tempest, stopping just short of walking back his comments.
“I was kind of embarrassed when it became a big story in the papers,” he told the Toronto Star’s Jim Proudfoot. “I was just mad because he wasn’t using me.”
On another occasion Richard was even more forthright.
“The press made a big thing about it … the French-Canadian player and the (anglophone) coach,” he said. “It was all BS. If you’re winning, nobody cares about that stuff. When you lose, you get bad press in Montreal.”
MacNeil also had tried to take a high road, an overpass above the hard feelings.
“[Richard’s insults] never bothered me,” MacNeil told the Calgary Herald in 2002. “There was a lot of turmoil. Richard was a decent guy, a good person. [But] running a hockey club is not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship.”
By the time I wrote about that series years later, Richard had retired from the public eye and his memory was failing. However, I did manage to connect with the other principal in the contretemps for the ages. MacNeil, who never had a real shot at a head-coaching job in the league, was scouting for Calgary at the time. We had a pleasant conversation about contemporary matters, but that ended when I asked about ’71.
“I have no interest in talking about it whatsoever,” he told me.
I suggested that his side of the story had never been told in full, but that gained no traction and he ended our talk then and there. Old resentments might die, but they never fade away.
I suggested to MacNeil that his side of the story had never been told in full, but that gained no traction and he ended our talk then and there. Old resentments might die, but they never fade away.
Others who had been in the Montreal room in ’71 were circumspect about it.
“We did not talk much about all that,” Jacques Lemaire said. “We had a job to do. Coaches have to respect players, and vice versa. I don’t think [complaints about a coach] should be done in public. [If you have a problem] it should be in private.”
I did talk to a reliable witness in the Canadiens’ dressing room and someone who could well identify with skating in a legendary brother’s shadow: Peter Mahovlich, who, in 1971, was not long removed from the AHL.
“The story gets told that Henri gets blamed for getting Al fired, and that’s just wrong,” Mahovlich told me. “Henri wasn’t the only one who was mad [at MacNeil after the game]. People forget Fergy [Montreal tough guy John Ferguson] said just about the same thing after Game 5. It’s just that [the media] played up Henri.”
On that aforementioned St. Patrick’s Day long ago, Maurice Richard was already a hockey icon, but became a political one in Quebec when he wasn’t allowed to dress for a game. Likewise, Henri Richard was drafted both into lore and a political cause: In Montreal, even a Stanley Cup couldn’t save an anglophone coach’s job, nor spare him the wrath of the fiercest, proudest competitor, a local Quebecois hero.
The narrative wasn’t quite the truth, but it had the ring of truth. In that way, it overshadowed the indisputable: the fact that in Game 7 in Chicago, in that tense come-from-behind Canadiens win, Henri Richard scored the game-tying goal with less than two minutes left in the second period and the Stanley Cup winner a couple of minutes into the third. And even if he spent years afterwards trying to diffuse the controversy, pride let him go only so far.
“When I scored the winning goal in Game 7, everybody knew I’d been right,” he told the Montreal Gazette in 2004.
Jean Beliveau, who retired at the end of that series, wound up with an executive position for life in the Canadiens organization. Henri Richard never quite had Beliveau’s profile and was far behind him when it came to ease with the public. As it played out, Beliveau became a friend of the Molsons, and Richard became the proprietor of a tavern.
When I saw Henri Richard at the last game at the Forum, he seemed sheepish coming out to be introduced alongside the Hall of Famers. He knew that the loudest ovations were going to be reserved for the last two to emerge for a turn in the spotlight: Beliveau and the Rocket. Henri Richard seemed even more sheepish in the final ceremony that night, a passing of the torch that had him accepting the flame from Beliveau while the Rocket, never the Canadiens’ captain, stood by and applauded.
With the Rocket’s and Beliveau’s deaths in 2000 and 2014, respectively, both were afforded the solemnity and spectacle of state funerals, while the Pocket Rocket will be more simply remembered for his 11 championships — if not 11 Stanley Cup rings.
Leafs-Lightning Was Always Going To Leave Someone Haunted – Defector
Following their Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews said the plan for the series deciding matchup was simple. “We’ve just got to put our balls on the line and go for it,” he told reporters.
He wasn’t wrong about that, it just turns out the Lightning were also willing to risk life, limb and every other necessary appendage to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. And for the fifth-straight year in a row Toronto is being sent home after another first round knockout, losing 2-1 in fight that went down to the last minute.
This game was bound to be a punch in gut for one of these two teams with history on the mind entering Game 7: Tampa looking to win the cup for the third-straight year (the first team since the New York Islanders during their stretch from 1979 – 1983), and Toronto, well, just trying to just reach the second round for the first time since 2004. But if we want to be clerical about it, the Leafs were also searching for their first cup win since the Canadian Centennial and Lester B. Pearson was prime minister.
While the sting of this year’s exit may not be as bad as previous years for Toronto, it will linger all the same given the two chances at sending Tampa home after leading the series 3-2 after Game 5, which makes for the second season in a row they’ve blown that kind of lead.
Tampa is moving on thanks to third liner Nick Paul, who scored both goals on the evening and seemed to be everywhere he was needed on the ice Saturday night. Paul picked up his first career playoff goals in the win, which makes since he wound up on the Bolts roster after a March trade from Ottawa. Prior to Saturday he racked up just five goals and 14 points since saying goodbye to the Senators.
But his timing was much needed in a tight game where Tampa’s stars were running on an empty tank and the Leafs scorers were threatening most of the game. With two minutes left in the first period, Paul and Ross Colton took an odd man rush into the Leafs’ end, with Colton firing on goalie Jack Campbell and Paul turning the rebound for a score.
Whatever high Tampa had coming off that score was quickly deflated when Brayden Point, who scored the winning goal in overtime against the Leafs in Game 6, was injured after colliding with the boards near the end of the first period. Point had to be helped off the ice and tried to return at the beginning of the second period, barely making it one shift before heading to the bench.
The Leafs dialed it up from there, with Captain John Tavares scoring from the slot and putting the score even at 1-1. But the goal was called off on an interference call on Leafs defenseman Justin Holl, who caught Tampa’s Anthony Cirelli in a pick. But they got one that counts with just under 7 minutes left in the period, when Matthews charged across the blue line, dragging Tampa defenders with him before dishing to Morgan Rielly for the score.
But before the game could settle into a reset, just three minutes later Paul came back with a skate-to-stick combo that I can only describe in the most technical terms as “un-fucking-believable.” See for yourself:
It was fitting that Paul emerged as the latest legend of the moment for a Tampa team that has relied on group contributions during their latest run. Tampa Bay managed to keep a chunk of its players around over its title-winning seasons, and even if the regular cast aren’t taking lead, there always seems to be someone ready to step up when the moment comes.
That includes goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played like a fortress on skates last night, stopping 30 out of 31 shots on goal, and locking in the game for the Lightning. A crucial third period power play from the Leafs seemed like it could tip the balance of the game, instead Vasilevskiy fended off six shots and had a little bit of luck with one puck that chased directly behind him, passing through the crease in the blink of an eye.
The disappointment in Toronto will be palpable, and if it wasn’t for the skeletal-hand of fate on the shoulder of this franchise always whispering dread nightmares into their ear whenever the spring comes around, Leafs fans could look at the upside. They played like the better team most of the series, and in the deciding game they outshot the defending champions 31 to 25. Maybe this was just the shit luck of the draw. Maybe this season could have been a tipping point for Toronto based off records alone: they set a team record for points (115), Mitch Marner hit a career high 97 points on the season and Matthews netted a record-setting 60 goals. Maybe they could just get the gang back together for one last heist next season. That may not be entirely likely as they have $77.451 million already on the books, with more than a few guys facing the rough questions of life after 30 on an NHL roster and Campbell entering free agency looking for a well-deserved payday. But hey, Matthews and Marner likely aren’t going anywhere, which is nice.
Tampa moves on to play the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers, the second time they face off in the last two years. The Lightning bounced them last year, so it should be another exciting series of Florida-based hockey, which is a sentence that never stops being weird to this Minnesota-born writer, no matter how good these squads are.
Doncic helps Mavericks stun Suns with dominant performance in Game 7 – Sportsnet.ca
PHOENIX (AP) — It was no surprise when Luka Doncic looked ready for Game 7, calmly draining his first three shots to give the Dallas Mavericks an early lead.
The stunner came over the next two hours: The top-seeded Phoenix Suns had no response.
Doncic scored 35 points, Spencer Dinwiddie added 30 and the Mavericks blitzed the Suns with a 123-90 knockout Sunday night, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2011.
“A lot of people said it would be a blowout,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said with a grin. “They were right.”
Of course, it wasn’t Dallas that was supposed to win on Sunday. The home team won the first six games of the series, but the Mavs broke through, dominating in a hostile environment from start to finish. Conversely, it was an embarrassing no-show for the playoff-tested Suns — who advanced to the NBA Finals last season with a very similar roster.
“We played all season to be in this situation,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “It didn’t work out for us.”
The fourth-seeded Mavericks travel to face Golden State in Game 1 on Wednesday.
“I can’t get this smile off my face,” Doncic said. “I’m just really happy. Honestly, I think we deserved this.”
Doncic earned the Mavs an early lead, making his first three shots, including two 3-pointers. That helped Dallas push to a 27-17 advantage in the first quarter and a whopping 57-27 cushion at the halftime break.
Doncic and Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, combined to pour in 48 of the Mavericks’ 57 points. Doncic’s 27 points in the first half matched the Suns’ team total.
Game 7 drama? Not in the desert.
“It’s still kind of shocking,” Dinwiddie said.
Simply put, the Suns looked overwhelmed by the pressure of a Game 7. They missed shots they usually make, made bad passes they usually don’t make and looked nothing like the team that won an NBA-best 64 games during the regular season.
“That group has a lot of character and integrity and I know how bad they wanted it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We just could not execute tonight. Couldn’t make a shot early, that messed with us a little bit and Dallas played their tails of from start to finish.”
By halftime, many Suns fans were booing at the unsightly display.
The series might have been close but the individual games usually were not. Three of the first six games were decided by at least 20 points and none of the games came down to the final possession.
Game 7 followed a similar pattern, except the team doing all the damage was the road team. The Mavs led this one by 46 points.
Doncic was fantastic, making shots from all over the floor and finishing 12 of 19 from the field, including 6 of 11 on 3s. He also got some help: Dinwiddie was stellar in the first half with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
They became the eighth pair of teammates to score 30 points in a Game 7, the first since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002.
Meanwhile, Phoenix’s All-Star backcourt of Paul and Devin Booker was never a factor. The 37-year-old Paul is a 12-time All-Star that has done just about everything possible in the game except win a championship.
After this setback, it’s fair to wonder if there will be many more opportunities. Booker finished with 11 points and shot 3 of 14. Paul had 10 points and four assists. The Suns shot just 37.9% from the field.
“You could see some of the pressure was on them early,” Kidd said. “They missed some shots they normally make.”
Dallas beat the odds with the win: After the Celtics defeated the Bucks earlier Sunday, the home team was 110-33 (77 per cent) in NBA Game 7s.
It’s the second straight year the Suns have lost a playoff series after having a 2-0 lead. They won the first two games against the Bucks in the NBA Finals last season before losing four straight games.
Mavericks: Doncic and Dinwiddie were the first teammates to have at least 20 points in a half in Game 7 since Patrick Ewing and Allan Houston did it for the Knicks in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Suns: Phoenix shot just 6 of 23 (26.1 per cent) from the field in the first quarter. … The Suns hosted another sellout crowd at Footprint Center. Celebrities in attendance included baseball great Alex Rodriguez and rapper Lil’ Wayne. … The Suns are the second team in NBA history to win at least 64 games in the regular season and not make the conference finals. The other was the Mavericks in 2007. … Phoenix has still never won a title since coming into the league in 1968. … Deandre Ayton played just 18 minutes and finished with five points and four rebounds. When asked about Ayton’s lack of playing time, Williams responded “It’s internal.” Ayton did not speak to the media postgame.
2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 7: Rangers host Penguins and Flames take on Stars on Sunday – CBS Sports
After three Game 7s on Saturday, the thrilling 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs continue Sunday with another pair of win-or-go-home matchups. Those final two games will finalize the second round, making them must-see TV for hockey fans.
To close the first round, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames will battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and on fuboTV (try for free). The series has been a goalie showcase thus far, as Dallas’ Jake Oettinger is No. 2 in save percentage in these playoffs while Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom is second in goals against average. A Stars win would send them to the second round for the first time since their Stanley Cup final run in 2020, and Calgary is seeking its first playoff series win since 2015.
In an absolutely thrilling game, Artemi Panarin sent a shot to the right side of Tristan Jarry’s net to put the Rangers into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Panarin was assisted by Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad on the overtime game winner. Zibanejad was key for the Rangers’ success late in the game as his goal at the 14:15 mark in the third period was what sent it to overtime. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan was 3-0 in Game 7s coming into this game. His team finished the night with a 45-30 shot on goal advantage. Sidney Crosby did play in the game, after missing Game 6, and recorded an assist in the loss.
Follow here for all the live updates of what should be an extremely fun NHL Sunday night.
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