Monday, May 16, 2011

Montreal Canadiens 1956 to 1960

In the era of Original Six hockey, no club was as dominate or successful as the Montreal Canadiens from 1956 to 1960. Under the direction of coach Toe Blake, the Canadiens won five consecutive Stanley Cups in this span of time. Five years. Five Cups. Five dates which brought another banner to the Montreal Forum.

April 10, 1956
The 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens finished in first place with 100 points. Jean Beliveau was a double-trophy winner, taking home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. In 70 games, Les Gross Bill, bagged 47 goals and 41 assists, giving him 88 points. On defence, Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina), were the Habs other individual trophy recipients.

In semi-final action, Montreal easily handled the New York Rangers. They eliminated the fourth place Rangers four games to two. The Detroit Red Wings, having bounced Toronto in the other semi-final (4-1), were the Canadiens opponent when the final got underway.

Games one and two were played in Montreal, with the Canadiens taking both contests by scores of 6-4 and 5-1. Back before their home fans, Detroit won game three, edging Montreal 3-1. The Canadiens took a commanding series lead, with Jacques Plante earning the shutout in a 3-0 victory in game four.

On April 10, 1956, with the Stanley Cup in the Forum, Montreal had the opportunity to seize hockey's grand prize. In the second period, Montreal's powerful powerplay went to work, as Marcel Pronovost served a two-minute penalty. The first powerplay goal was set-up by Doug Harvey. The Norris Trophy winner, lead a rush up ice and in the process garnered the attention of both Detroit defencemen - Bob Goldham and Red Kelly. Sensing he could make a play, Harvey dished the puck to Floyd Curry. The Montreal forward spotted Jean Beliveau open by the Detroit goal and fed him a backhand pass. Beliveau beat goaltender Glenn Hall to give Montreal a 1-0 advantage. On the same powerplay, Maurice Richard got into the action. Helping out teammate Jean Beliveau, who was battling both Gordie Howe and Red Kelly for possession of the puck, Richard broke loose from the scramble. The Rocket fired a 25-foot shot which beat Hall.

Both teams scored a goal in the first 35-seconds of the final frame. Connecting for Montreal was Bernie Geoffrion and Alex Delvecchio for Detroit.

Final Score - Montreal 3 Detroit 1.

April 16, 1957
In the 1956-57 campaign, the Canadiens were unable to repeat as league champions. They finished in second place with 82 points and trailed Detroit by only 6 points. Both Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina) were recognized for their outstanding play.

For the second year in-a-row, Montreal faced the New York in the semi-finals. And like the previous year, they bounced the Rangers from post-season play by taking the series 4-1. Montreal's rival, Detroit, were hoping for a similar result, but the Boston Bruins had other plans. In an upset, Boston advanced to the Stanley Cup final by winning their best-of-seven series 4-1.

The Montreal Canadiens took a stranglehold on the Cup final by winning the first three games. The Bruins were able to stave-off elimination in game four by blanking Montreal 2-0 in the Boston Garden.

On April 16, 1957, game five was played in Montreal. The opening goal was scored by little used rookie Andre Pronovost.

With Leo Labine taking a highsticking penalty late in the opening period, Montreal's powerplay extended into the middle frame. At the 14-second mark, Dickie Moore scored with the man advantage. The only other goal of the period was scored by Bernie Geoffrion at 15:12. Taking a pass from Bert Olmstead, Geoffrion uncorked a wicked blast which beat goalie Don Simmons.

In the final period, Montreal added to their lead after Leo Labine scored for Boston to make the score 3-1. The Habs responded with Don Marshall scoring at 17:38 and Floyd Curry at 18:31.

Final Score - Montreal 5 Boston 1.

April 20, 1958
The Montreal Canadiens made a return trip to the top of the league standings in 1957-58 with a 43-17-10 record. This was good for 96 points and a 19 point margin over the New York Rangers.

The duo of Doug Harvey (Norris) and Jacques Plante (Vezina) celebrated their third year of dominance in each category. They were joined by teammate Dickie Moore, who won the Art Ross Trophy (36 goals-48 assists-84 points).

The 1958 Stanley Cup playoffs opened on March 25, 1958. In a twist, the Canadiens and Red Wings met in a semi-final series, rather than their usual confrontation in a Cup final. Montreal had no difficulty advancing, as they swept Detroit in 4 games.

For a second year, Montreal tangled with Boston in a showdown for Lord Stanley. They split games one through four, with road victories being obtained by both clubs. In game five, Montreal took a 3-2 series lead, thanks to Rocket Richard's overtime winner.

On April 20, 1958, Montreal was in a position to claim their third straight championship. The star performer in game six, was a player many thought wouldn't be fit to skate in the playoffs. In February 1958, Bernie Geoffrion suffered a ruptured bowel after running into Andre Pronovost during practice. Number Five for Montreal, was sidelined  after having a major operation.

Montreal's explosive offence was on  display right from the start of play. After one-minute and fifty-four seconds of action, the Habs had gone ahead 2-0. The first goal came as a result of Geoffrion knocking down a Jean Beliveau shot and sending it past Don Simmons. The "Boom Boom" Geoffrion show didn't end there. On Montreal's third goal, Geoffrion set-up Beliveau , giving them a 3-1 lead. Then, Geoffrion stole the puck away from Bruin defenceman Leo Boivin and went in alone on Simmons. Geoffrion's shot from 30-feet out eluded the Boston goalie. Geoffrion's second tally of the night proved to be the game winner.

Final Score Montreal 5 Boston 3.

April 18, 1959
After three straight Stanley Cups, many in the hockey world had one question concerning the Montreal Canadiens - would complacency set in? If their regular season record was any indication, there was no need for worry on the part of Montreal's loyal faithful. The Canadiens once again sat at the top of the perch in regards to the league standings with 91 points (70-39-18-13).

Left winger Dickie Moore won his second consecutive scoring title (70-41-55-96), thus claiming the Art Ross Trophy. Dog Harvey's rein as top defenceman came to an end, as teammate Tom Johnson was the 1959 Norris Trophy winner. Jacques Plante earned his fourth straight Vezina Trophy.

In the semi-final, Montreal required six games to eliminate the Chicago Black Hawks. In the other series, Toronto upset Boston in a best-of-seven battle that went the distance.

Going into the Stanley Cup final, Montreal was the heavy favourite to once again be presented the Cup by league President Clarence Campbell. After four games, Montreal's only loss came in game three when Dick Duff scored in overtime to give Toronto a 3-2 win in Maple Leaf Gardens.

On April 18, 1959, the Canadiens, playing on home ice, were hopeful of closing out the series. Going for the kill, Montreal would not be denied. The Habs put together a 5-1 lead in the third period. Scoring for Montreal were Bernie Geoffrion (2), Ralph Backstrom, Marcel Bonin and Tom Johnson.

Final Score - Montreal 5 Toronto 3.

April 14, 1960
As expected, there was no change concerning the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1959-60 regular season. They remained league champions by amassing 92 points in 70 games (40-18-12).

Jacques Plante, suffering no consequences from donning a face mask, won Vezina Trophy number five. Doug Harvey returned to the winners circle (Norris Trophy) by being crowned top defenceman.

In the playoffs, the task at hand seemed even easier to accomplish than previous years. After completing a four game sweep of Chicago in the semi-final, Montreal was ready to face Toronto for Canadian bragging rights.

With back-to-back wins in Montreal, the Canadiens hit the road with a two game series lead. After a 5-2 win in game three in Maple Leaf Gardens, Montreal players were eager to get game four underway.

On April 14, 1960, the Canadiens left little doubt as to who was the better team in game four. Jean Beliveau and Doug Harvey scored 28-seconds apart in the first period, putting Toronto down by two goals. The lone tally in period two, came off the stick of Henri Richard. The final scoring play came in the third period, The goal came courtesy of Jean Beliveau, who scored after being set-up by linemates Bernioe Geoffrion and Marcel Bonin.

Final Score Montreal 4 Toronto 0.

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