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Video: Drought Ends | The Cup Of '67 | Johnny Bower | Bob Baun | Dick Duff | George Armstrong | Andy Bathgate

After their successful playoff run in the 1958-59 season and their surprising play in the post season, the now confident Leafs followed up with a second place finish in 1959-60. The Leafs managed another trip to the finals but this time lost in four straight games against the powerful Montreal Canadiens. Leaf coach Punch Imlach acknowledged after that defeat that his team was still not capable of dethroning the five-time Stanley Cup champion Habs.

The Leafs could compete in goal with the veteran Johnny Bower and their defence of Allan Stanley, Tim Horton, Carl Brewer and Bob Baun were mobile and tough. Where Montreal had the edge was in their strength down the centre.  The Habs’ Jean Beliveau dominated his opponents using his enormous size and skill and the diminutive but speedy Henri ‘Pocket Rocket’ Richard was another force that the Leafs had to contend with.

Punch Imlach tended to have confidence in veteran players and acquisitions such as Allan Stanley, Gerry Ehman and Larry Regan played a big part in the Leafs resurgence.  When former All-Star defenceman Red Kelly was suspended by the Detroit Red Wings for refusing a trade to New York,  Imlach offered his spare defenceman Marc Reaume to Detroit for Kelly. Surprisingly, Jack Adams the Detroit general manager agreed to the deal - a deal that would go down as one of the most one-sided in NHL History. 

Toronto fans were asking why another defenceman was acquired when it was clear that they were set there for years.  But Imlach had a plan all along and when Kelly first appeared on the ice wearing his familiar No. 4, he went to centre ice to face-off against a surprised Montreal Canadien also wearing No. 4. Imlach finally had his centre to check and neutralize Beliveau.

Dave Keon helped bring the cup to Toronto in the 60's
The next key to the puzzle was the arrival in October 1960 of former St. Michael’s Junior star David Keon who had astounded training camp watchers with both his offensive and defensive skills. Only the fleet Carl Brewer could compete with him in skating ability. Now with Keon in the  line-up, the Leafs had their equivalent to Montreal star Henri Richard. 

Throughout the 1960-61 season, the Leafs battled the Montreal Canadiens for first place and the feeling was that the Leafs - with the additions of Kelly and Keon - were now serious contenders to dethrone the mighty Montreal Canadiens. Johnny Bower was injured late in the season, but the replacement goalies, Cesare Maniago and Gerry McNamara played well enough to preserve the Vezina Trophy for him. Preventing goals was not a problem for this Leafs team.

Besides being sound defensively, one of the skills that Red Kelly brought to the team was his superb passing skills and the Leaf player to benefit the most from these pinpoint passes was the ‘Big M’, Frank Mahovlich of whom so much was expected. With Kelly as his centre and with rookie Bob Nevin on right wing, Mahovlich burst out with 48 goals to fall just short of Maurice Richard’s record of 50 goals in a season.

The Big 'M' was a big part of the Leafs dynasties from the 1960's

The Leafs now had no perceived weaknesses and the only thing that could derail the Leafs in their quest for the Stanley Cup was if their key players were injured.  Unfortunately, that’s what happened.  The Leafs entered the 1961 semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings with Bower, Kelly, Olmstead, Armstrong and others injured and not able to play up to their capabilities. The Leafs disappointedly went down to the Red Wings in five games.

But the Leafs were real close to success and in the following season, they won their first Stanlcy Cup in 11 years, beating the defending champion Chicago Black Hawks on Dick Duff’s winning goal in Game 6. The Hawks had ended the Habs reign the previous year and the Leafs now were hoping to start their own streak.

Interestingly, the last time that the Leafs won the coveted Cup was in 1951 on Bill Barilko’s overtime goal. Barilko that summer vanished after a fishing trip and had never been found. After 11 years, and only after the Leafs won their next Cup, was the crash site and Barilko’s body discovered.

The next season, 1962-63, was the Leafs finest as they finished in first place for the first time since the 1947-48 season and easily beat Montreal in five games in the semis. The Leafs then handled the Red Wings in another five games in the finals to win their second Stanley Cup in the 1960’s.

1963-64 was one of the most eventful Leaf seasons to remember. In the end, the Leafs won the Cup to tie their team record of three Stanley Cups in a row. But it wasn’t easy or without controversy. Perhaps the players were a bit complacent after their recent success or maybe it was at this time that they started to tune out their, by now, irascible coach Punch Imlach.

On January 18, 1964, the perennial basement dwellers, the (pre Bobby Orr) Boston Bruins were in town for another expected loss to the Stanley Cup Champion Leafs. But on this occasion, the hockey world was stunned when the Leafs lost 11-0. A month later, the Leafs were still slumping and to shake things up, Punch Imlach traded five players, including Dick Duff and Bob Nevin for Ranger stars Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney.  Critics were saying that Imlach traded youth for the Stanley Cup and the Leafs, in the end, did win their third Cup in succession.

To do that, the Leafs had to beat the Canadiens in Game 7 of the semis in the Forum where Toronto always had problems winning. In this game, Dave Keon, who never seemed to play a bad game, scored all three goals in a 3-1 victory to win the series for the Leafs.

In the finals, the Leafs were on the brink of elimination in Game 6 in Detroit. The score was tied in the third period when Bob Baun was carried off the ice on a stretcher with a suspected broken ankle. If the Red Wings scored the next goal, they were the new champions. In a surprise development, the courageous Bob Baun had his ankle frozen and remarkably returned to the ice only missing a shift or two. The game went into overtime and the injured Baun scored the winning goal on a flutter shot from the point to beat Red Wing goalie Terry Sawchuk and force a seventh game in Toronto.

George Armstrong captained the Leafs to the 1967 Stanley Cup

In Game 7, Andy Bathgate, the key player in that seven player trade with the Rangers, made Imlach look like a genius when he scored the opening and winning goal in a 4-0 win to claim their third Stanley Cup in a row

Toronto failed to capture the Stanley Cup in the following two seasons as the Leafs players aged and started to lose their aggressiveness. The Montreal Canadiens regained their power and won the Cup in 1964-65 and 1965-66 ousting the Leafs in the semis both years, the last one in four straight games.

Punch Imlach was forced to make changes acquiring Terry Sawchuk in the draft and obtaining veteran defenceman Marcel Pronovost in an eight-player trade that saw, by then, disgruntled Andy Bathgate shipped to Detroit. Prior to the 1965-66 season, all-star defenceman Carl Brewer quit the team because of Imlach’s autocratic methods and star winger Frank Mahovlich saw a decline in his play due to the pressures of playing for Imlach.

During the 1966-67 season the Leafs were floundering and by February 8, 1967, the team had lost 10 games in a row, sending Imlach to the hospital with a stress related illness. Leafs were fortunate that easy going King Clancy took over the coaching and by the time Imlach returned, the club was on an 10 game unbeaten string and had momentum going into the playoffs.

In the semi-finals, the Leafs faced the first place and offensively powerful Chicago Black Hawks and the veteran Leaf squad was given no chance to advance. But with the superb goaltending of Sawchuk, especially in games five and six, together with sound team defensive play, the Leafs beat the Hawks in 6 games to advance to play the reigning Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. No one gave the ‘over the hill’ (with ten players over 30) Leafs a chance in the finals either and in this year of ‘Expo 67’, plans were made to display the Cup in the Quebec pavilion at Expo which was held in Montreal.

The Leafs lost the first game of the finals badly by a score of 6-2. Then for Game 2, the ageless Johnny Bower, then 42, turned back time by shutting out the Habs 3-0. Bower was again sensational in Game 3 when the Leafs won in double overtime on Bob Pulford’s goal. The Leafs lost game four with Sawchuk replacing the injured Bower, but Sawchuk rebounded in Games 5 and 6 to put on as outstanding a display of goaltending that has ever been seen.

Late in the third period of Game 6 with the Leafs up by a goal and with the Montreal goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Imlach sent his veterans out to protect the slim lead. Allan Stanley took the face-off, dropped the puck behind him to where Red Kelly just beat the speedy Yvan Cournoyer to the loose puck. Kelly shoved the puck ahead to Bob Pulford who spotted a streaking George Armstrong on the right side. Armstrong took Pulford’s perfect pass and after crossing the centre ice line, shot the puck into the empty net and the Leafs won their 11th Stanley Cup.

It was the last Cup of the NHL’s ‘Original Six’ as the league was doubling in size with the addition of six new expansion teams for the 1967-68 season. It was the end of an era for sure. But not known at the time, it was also the end of the Toronto Maple Leafs as a powerful force in the NHL for many years to come.

The Leafs under Imlach did not fare well in the expansion draft losing valuable players with some curious decision-making. It was apparent that Imlach was too loyal to his aging players who had been with him since 1958.

At the end of the 1967-68 season, the Leafs missed the playoffs with the team racked with dissension because of Imlach’s hardheaded tactics and his attempt to prevent the players from joining the newly formed ‘Players Association.’ 

In an effort to make a run for the playoffs late in the 1967-68 season, Imlach had made an ill-advised trade with the Detroit Red Wings sending Frank Mahovlich, Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer to Detroit in return for Norm Ullman, Paul Henderson and Floyd Smith. The Leafs in the end fell short in their playoff run and it was apparent that the Imlach magic was gone.

Toronto did rebound to make the playoffs in the 1968-69 season, but were thoroughly dominated by the ultra aggressive, Bobby Orr-led Boston Bruins and lost in four straight games - the Leafs being humiliated in Boston by 10-0 and 7-0 scores. Immediately after being swept, Leafs president Stafford Smythe confronted Imlach and fired him telling him that, ‘the Imlach era is over’. And indeed it was, for now.