In the final two minutes of the Canadiens' 3-0 victory over Boston Tuesday, night, Montreal coach Scotty Bowman iced a team comprising Yvon Lambert, Larry Robinson and Rick Chartraw up front with Bill Nyrop and Pierre Bouchard on defense. Not one of those players is shorter than 6-foot-2 or weighs less than 200 pounds.
Bowman was telling the Bruins that if they preferred the rough stuff to fundamental hockey, the Canadiens were prepared to win that way, too.
Indeed, Montreal, already two games up, may have won Thursday's third game in Boston Garden through that maneuver. Bouchard nailed Boston defensement Mike Milbury with an explosive check and, when Milbury sought redress, he was ejected. Since it was Milbury's second game misconduct of th playoffs, he must sit out Thursday's contest under an automatic one-game suspension.
That leaves the Bruins' thin defensive corps in extreme difficulty. Brad Park has had his problems in this series, Gary Doak is competent but not outstanding, and Rick Smith and Daryl Edestrand are borderline major leaguers.
If the rough play that degenerated into barroom brawling by game's end did not enchance hockey's image or aid the Bruins' prospects, at least it stimulated a bit of interest in a series that was inducing Rip Van Winkle tendencies.
With the "Wait till we get them in Boston" quotes emanating from the Bruins' mouths and the "Just let them try anything" retaliations from voices here, a lot of people who were simply wondering whether Montreal would win in four games or five are now interested in the methods to be employed in Boston.
Guy Lafleur, target of high sticks and high talk, has not had a shot on goal. The Bruins have given the NHL scoring leader extra notice, but that tactic has not been a success. For one thing, physical attention to Lafleur stirs the Canadiens' wrath and Montreal's 70 hits, or solid checks, in Tuesday's game left some Bruins, notably Jean Ratelle, even farther from the offensive scene than Lefleur.
For another, when Lefleur receives extra attention, he has a knack for finding the open man with his superb passes. Tuesday Boston's Stan Jonathan, who had been guarding Doug Risebrough, deserted his man to join a three-player pursuit of Lafleur. A quick pass and the unchecked Risebrough had Montreal's second goal.
"I think they are checking me closely, but that's normal," Lafleur said. "All I can do is try and play my own game, to take what breaks and openings I can. But I don't blame them for covering me, not at all."
"However they want to play it, we can play it," said Robinson, who scored 10 hits and turned Ratelle into a floater with a thundering check into the boards early in the game. "I can't see why they'd want to hit us all over the place and take foolish penalties, especially when they're down in the series. But down there we'll be prepared for anything."
"You can bang as much as you want as long as you don't take a lot of foolish penalties," Bowman said. "Of course, you can't let yourself be intimated."
The Bruins were angry at Montreal fans who threatened them, angry at referee Ron Wicks over controversial calls and angry at Lafleur for what Milbury alleged was a deliberate attempt to shoot at him instead of the net.
The fans were quickly hustled out by police, Lafleur denied the cheap-shot charge and there was evidence that the most crucial call of the game looked bad because Wicks was actually bending backward not to penalize the Bruins.
With the game scoreless and Boston's Rick Smith already in the box, Milbury wrapped his stick around Lafleur's neck. Lafleur broke away and whacked Milbury with his stick, at which point Wicks penalized Milbury for holding and Lafleur for slashing.
Playing four against three, Pete Mahovloch scored for Montreal.
The Bruins claimed that Wicks had not intended to penalize Milbury until Lafleur's violation. But their claim that Milbury had done nothing to warrant a penalty was proven absurd by the television replay. Wicks apparently was hoping to overlook it to prevent Boston from falling two men short.
While Boston coach Don Cherry was claiming that "everybody in hockey knows that they stiff the team that comes in here," general manager Harry Sinden was raging, "I wish the Canadiens would play as bad as the officials referee. Then we might have a shot at it."
Not likely, Harry.