NHL What-If… Too Many Men

Guy LaFleur
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NHL What-If is a series that looks at big moments in NHL history and wonders what might have happened had things played out slightly differently. The series is a focus on moments that impacted major games and franchises. The first moment to be examined is Too Many Men. 

NHL What-If… Too Many Men


The Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins have a long and fierce rivalry. They played their first game back in 1924. Since then the hate has been brewing. Adding another level to the rivalry is the number of times the two teams have met in the playoffs. Boston and Montreal have met 34 times in the postseason. This also includes six times in the Stanley Cup Finals. Montreal has dominated the postseason series with Boston winning 25 of the 34 series, including all six Cup Finals.

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All of these playoff meetings just added fuel to the rivalry. In the ’50s the teams would play in six playoff series between 1952 to 1958. The games were so heated they often boiled over, even in the regular season. An example was in 1955 the teams were involved in an ugly on-ice incident that saw Maurice Richard knockout a linesman during a brawl. The ensuing suspension to Richard ended up leading to the infamous Richard Riot.

The rivalry continued in the ’70s. Boston had put together one of the best teams the NHL had ever seen in 1971 and were looking to repeat as Cup champions. Unfortunately, the Habs would continue their torment the Bruins. They would eliminate the B’s in the first round. The Canadiens would again beat Boston in the 1977 and 1978 Stanley Cup Finals. Which brings us to 1979.

What Really Happened

The Habs and Bruins played a hard-fought Semi-Final series. The teams exchanged home wins through the first six games. Game seven was played at the Montreal Forum. The Bruins were looking to exorcise their playoff demons against the Habs. Boston was on the right track, taking a 3-1 second-period lead. The Habs fought back to tie the game in the third but Boston re-took the lead with just over four minutes remaining.

Bruins coach Don Cherry had Don Marcotte shadow Guy Lafleur throughout the series. He famously said, “You follow him to the toilet.”. Trailing by one with time running out, Habs coach Scotty Bowman began to double shift Lafleur and his linemates in hopes of finding a goal. Then Bowman sent Lafleur back on the ice for an extra shift with another line. Instinctively, Marcotte jumped back on the ice, but unfortunately, no Boston player got off. Linesmen John D’Amico tried to get a Bruins players attention to get off, to no avail. After about 30 seconds and most of the refs in the stands pointing it out, the call was made. Too Many Men.

Guy Lafleur would score with 1:14 left on the ensuing power-play to tie the game and force overtime. While the teams exchanged opportunities in the extra frame, the Bruins fate was sealed. Eventually, the Habs would win the game on a Yvon Lambert goal. Montreal would go on to win their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup and the Bruins were left wondering what they had to do to beat Montreal.

What If…

So, what if Boston had not taken the Too Many Men penalty? To start we don’t get Don Cherry‘s bow to the forum crowd after Lafleur’s tying goal. A moment that might have cost Cherry his job, in retrospect. Cherry’s act was growing stale in Boston. So was his inability to beat Montreal in the playoffs. Cherry was fired after the loss to Montreal. Beating the Habs in the playoffs, however, would have given him a new lease on life in Boston.

So, if there is no penalty, the Bruins break the Habs jinx and win the series. They halt the Habs quest for a fourth consecutive Cup. More importantly, the Bruins beat the New York Rangers in the Finals to win their sixth Stanley Cup (third of the ’70s). The Bruins, galvanized by their Cup win, win the Adams division over the Buffalo Sabres and meet the Islanders in the Semi-Final in 1980.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, this does not jumpstart any kind of dynasty. Still, It’s a closer series than their actual meeting in the 1980 Quarter Finals (The Islanders beat Boston in five games, although three games needed overtime). While the Bruins were competitive in the years following 1979, the New York Islanders were on a whole other level in the early ’80s. Boston, however, was an ageing roster that couldn’t keep up with the youthful Islanders or the Edmonton Oilers.

If the Bruins keep their heads for four more minutes, they would have defeated their playoff tormentor and won the Stanley Cup. A pretty good situation any Bruins fan would take.

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