Win or lose, the Rangers have given their fans countless Stanley Cup playoff memories that will last a lifetime and the 1970/71 postseason was no exception. In fact two of the most memorable episodes in Ranger playoff history occurred that spring at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts had great expectations going into the 1970/71 playoffs. It was the fifth straight year that they made the postseason under Emile “The Cat” Francis, finishing the season in second place with a 49-18-11 record and set a team record for points with 109. They also set team records for Most Victories, (both home and road) and Most Goals Scored. They had a 24-game unbeaten streak at home and Ed Giacomin and Gilles Villemure shared the Vezina trophy. Not a bad year at all. But the playoffs are always a different story for the Rangers.
Their first round opponent was the fourth place Toronto Maple Leafs whom they had beaten in the season series 5 games to 1.
The Blueshirts won the series opener 5-4 on April 7th. It was a rough game with Brad Park being knocked unconscious by a Billy MacMillan check. But it was in the second game, on the following night, that the fireworks really started.
The game started with a chippy first period, as Teddy Irvine and Brian Spencer fought early. Goals by Gerry Monahan and Paul Henderson gave the Leafs a 2–0 lead. Dave Keon scored early in the second and tensions mounted as Vic Hadfield fought Bobby Baun and then Jim Harrison. Tim Horton scored for the Rangers late in the period but Paul Henderson put the game away for the Leafs early in the third period with an unassisted goal.
But then all hell broke loose. With 4:42 left in the third period, Hadfield and Harrison went into the corner to the left of the Leaf net and came out fighting, with Hadfield getting the better of Harrison. As the players paired off in the corner, Leaf goalie Bernie Parent wandered over to lend a fist. Seeing the mismatch in manpower, Eddie Giacomin quickly left his crease to join the fray, discarding his stick and gloves as he raced up ice. Referee Lloyd Gilmore tried to keep Eddie away but Giacomin pushed him aside and grabbed Parent. After about 10 minutes it seemed that things were beginning to quiet down, when Hadfield pushed Harrison and the players paired off once again. In one of the more humorous scenes of the night, Gilmore attempted to break up Darryl Sittler and Brad Park who had been wrestling and pulling each others sweaters all the while. Once untangled an exhausted Park rested his arm on Gilmore’s shoulder, as if to say, “Thanks Lloyd.” But in reality, Gilmore had threatened to suspend both players and Park was actually saying “now calm down Lloyd” to Gilmore.
Order was finally restored but somewhere along the way, amid the litter of gloves and sticks on the ice, Hadfield had snatched Parent’s mask and flipped it into the crowd, leaving the netminder wandering around looking for his mask and becoming more upset by the minute.
Garden police flooded that corner of the arena, searching for the mask. The Leafs’ Vice President King Clancy made his way into the corner of the stands and was seen leading the search party and screaming at the referee and the Rangers, especially Hadfield.
The mask was passed through the Garden and ended up in the Blue Seats, but unfortunately, never made it over to my section. P.A. announcer, Pat Doyle, pleaded with the fans to return the mask but their response were rhythmic chants of “Keep The Mask” and “Don’t give it back”.
Since Parent had brought only one mask on the trip he couldn’t continue and was replaced by Jacques Plante.
On the very next faceoff, the puck was sent into the opposite corner and Ted Irvine and Jim Dorey went at it again. Plante charged into the mix and once again Giacomin sped up ice like the Lone Ranger and slammed Plante into the boards. Both benches emptied and Park and Sittler left the penalty box to join the party as a couple of fights also broke out in the stands. After another long delay, order was restored and the remaining minutes of the game were played without incident.
The Rangers lost the game 4-1 but won the series 4 games to 2 and advanced to the next round against Chicago.
But what happened to Parent’s mask you may ask? A few days after the game it was hand delivered to the Rangers office by a private messenger, who was pre-paid in cash, so there was no way of tracking who had the mask. Emile Francis then sent it back to Parent.
In two weeks I’ll share my memories of another unforgettable moment from the 1971 Playoffs: Stemmers Goal. Stay tuned!