Since their first meeting in October 1970 (the first month of the new Canucks franchise), the Canucks had only managed to tie five games and lost 25. In 1976, Coach Phil Maloney scoffed, “Those games don’t count. I wasn’t here. I’ve never lost to them.” After one of the ties, winger Dennis Ververgaert commented, “We gotta quit thinking of moral victories and start beating those guys.”
The Canucks finally “beat those guys” 2-1 during one playoff game in 1975. The following season, the Canucks had just lost 6-4 against the Canadiens on November 24, 1975, and that was followed by 2-2 ties in two games. After the victory at Montreal Forum on February 12, 1976, the Vancouver Sun crowed, “The Canucks reached celestial heights by defeating Montreal Canadiens for the first time in a regular [NHL] contest – a stretch of purgatory 30 games long and almost six seasons wide.”
The Monday before the game, Maloney had suspended their starting goalie, Gary Smith, so Ken Lockett suddenly found himself in net full-time. Lockett made 31 saves, and the Candiens did not even score on him until 8:55 of the second period. By that time, the Canucks already had a four-goal lead. As the Vancouver Sun pointed out, the subpar performance by the Canadiens’ goalie factored in just as much as “effort was the great equalizer.” With half a period to go, the score was 6-2, and Lockett let in two final goals. In the end, the Canucks won 6-4. Coach Maloney told the press, “I’m very pleased for those guys in there.” While opposing coach Scotty Bowman shrugged. “Sometimes you just keep playing but nothing happens.”
The Canucks had finally defeated every other NHL team at least once. Meanwhile, this was only the second home loss of the season for the Canadiens. Still, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (of Montreal) made a crack during a Liberal fund-raising dinner at Hotel Vancouver. “It’s truly the end of an era when the Montreal Canadiens can be beaten by a bunch of …”
To this day, the Canucks have played the Canadiens in 130 games and won just shy of a quarter of them (31-84-13-2). Naturally, the Canucks fared better at their own rinks. The Canadiens came out the victor in 28 of 43 games played at the Pacific Coliseum and 11 of 23 at Rogers Arena. However, in Montreal, the Canucks only won 4 of 18 games at Bell Centre and 8 of 46 at Montreal Forum. Through their match-ups, the Canucks have earned 77 points to the Canadiens’ 188.
- Archie McDonald, “Canadiens just human (but it took 31 games),” Vancouver Sun, 13 Feb. 1976, p. 1, 21, 24.
- Tom Watt, “Canucks finally break their Hab-it,” Vancouver Province, 13 Feb. 1976, p. 1, 13, 15.