Thursday, March 10, 2011

Game Report; Feb 17, 1968 Rangers at Maple Leafs

This is the newest addition to the den, and it's terrific cover of Frank Mahovlich puts it right in the centre of my vintage programme display (I like the old fashion spelling of programme). This was from a Saturday night game at Maple Leaf Gardens between two teams battling for the last playoff spot in the East Division.

Entering this match New York held down the fourth and final post-season slot with a record of 25-18-11 for 61 points. Toronto was six points back at 23-22-9. The Rangers were led by the dynamic duo of Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle who were each scoring at a point per game pace in a season when only six men would finish at that rate. The Leafs were less than a year removed from their last Cup win (boy that just looks strange in writing), and were still led by the likes of Dave Keon, Johnny Bower and Mahovlich. They would be led in scoring by 23 year old Mike Walton who in his first full season notched 30 goals and 59 points.

Leaf captain George Armstrong opened the scoring this night with the only goal of the opening period assisted by Keon and Walton. New York took the lead in the second with two goals in 39 seconds by Gilbert and Ratelle, each assisting on each other's marker. Leaf defender Larry Hillman tied it up with his third of the season two minutes later assisted once again by Keon and Walton.

Rod Gilbert scored the eventual winner at 12:15 of the third as the Rangers peppered Bower with 39 shots throughout the game. The Leafs would fire 30 at Ed Giacomin, but it was the last one that didn't count that really hurt. Bob Pulford appeared to have tied the match at the final buzzer, but the green light had already been lit just prior to the red light going on. The referee Bill Friday soon ended any argument by ruling no goal and the game over. Leaf coach Punch Imlach stated afterwards, "These kind of breaks aren't going to go against us forever. If we have to make the playoffs in the final week of the season, we will." He added bitterly, "We'll beat everyone to do it-ourselves, referees, the other teams and goal judges."

Imlach was wrong. For the first time since he took over the team in the late '50s, Toronto failed to make the playoffs. They fell a mere four points short of Chicago but that number is deceptive. They were actually eliminated with six games remaining when they were 14 points in arrears of the Hawks. Toronto won five of it's last six while Chicago lost their last six games.

In fact, prior to their late playoff push Imlach had shaken up the team by trading the Big M, Frank Mahovlich. This Saturday night in February night would be one of Mahovlich's last games as a Leaf. On March 3, he along with Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and Carl Brewer were sent to Detroit for Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson, Floyd Smith and Doug Barrie.

The Rangers would continue their hot streak and go 14-5-1 on the way to a second place finish, four back of Montreal. They would however lose four games to two in the first round to Chicago, who had lost their last six and nine of their last twelve regular season games. Mahovlich would go on to win two more Cups with Montreal, while the Leafs are still waiting.

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