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Leafs Defeat Canadiens, Advance to Stanley Cup Finals

Apr. 10, 1964 - “That’s the best hockey club I’ve ever beaten — I know we have a much better all-around team, but they forced us to the limit and never quit.”

That was George Armstrong, the Toronto captain, talking after the star-studded Leafs held on to defeat the Canadiens, 3-1, last night at the Montreal Forum to win the best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinal, 4-3.

The Leafs’ victory came on the strength of a hat trick by Dave Keon — the third goal into an empty net — and the brilliant goaltending of veteran Johnny Bower, who had to be sensational against the Habs’ dynamic drive in the third period.

Keon, a 24-year-old native of Noranda who got his first hat track in four seasons of NHL play, scored twice in the first period, and the Leafs seemed to have the series all wrapped up on strong checking, steady defensive play, and Bower’s big saves.

But the plucky Canadiens ran their great team spirit to the hilt with an 18-shot barrage at Bower in the third period, getting back into the game on Ralph Backstrom’s goal in the eighth minute. From then on, it was a case of Bower’s brilliance and frustrating misses by the Habs when they had the Leafs on the ropes.

“I guess it just wasn’t in the books for us to win,” said disappointed coach Toe Blake as his frustrated troops dressed slowly after their last game of the season. “We had all those chances in the third period and couldn’t score. But it was no disgrace to go out this way and certainly a lot better effort than last year when the Leafs beat us out.”

Last spring, the Canadiens bowed out ingloriously in five games and by a 5-0 score in the fifth game in Toronto. This time, without Gilles Tremblay for most of the series and minus Jean Beliveau for two games, they stretched the series to the limit and to the final siren.

“It would have been a miscarriage of justice if the Canadiens had beaten us.” said Toronto coach Punch Imlach, who made the third-place Leafs a late-season powerhouse with that trade for Andy Bathgate and Don McKenney of the Rangers. “But you’ve got to give them credit. Toe Blake did a whale of a job with that young team, and Charlie Hodge had a great series. We should have been ahead by four or five goals after the first two periods tonight, but Hodge kept them alive for that spurt in the third. They kept coming and could easily have tied it up.”

Someone asked Punch which team he preferred to meet in the finals. At the time, Detroit led Chicago, 3-2, in the third period. The Wings went on to win the game.

“When we trained in Detroit at the end of the season,” said Punch, “I went over to thank Sid Abel for the use of their ice. And I told him I’d see him in the finals. That’s the way I felt.”

Imlach’s contract with the Leafs expires after this season, and the genial Leaf leader would have a great arguing point if he can guide them to their third consecutive Stanley Cup against Detroit. As manager of the club, Imlach hires the coach, and he has seen fit to hire himself in the past.

About reports that Rudy Pilous would replace him as coach with Imlach retaining the managerial role, he said: “Rudy still has another year to run on his contract at Denver, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be broken.”

Imlach’s coaching career probably depends on his ulcer. “It’s a son-of-a-gun when you have to drink milk after winning the series,” he remarked. If the Leafs win another Cup, however, Punch just might replace that milk with champagne.

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