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"Seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one! . . . The game is over! . . . The Leafs have won the Stanley Cup! . . . The crowd is going wild! . . . There is no use trying to talk against that uproar!!"

Foster Hewitt, May 2, 1967

They have made movies of the life of Rocket Richard and of the 1972 Summit Series, but there may be no richer material for a hockey drama than what took place in Toronto and Montreal that improbable spring of 40 years ago.

It was Centennial Year, and the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens -- the sole Canadian franchises in the National Hockey League -- were playing the national game for the most revered Canadian trophy, the Stanley Cup.

The powerful Canadiens -- two-time defending champions, the bleu, blanc et rouge of Jean Béliveau, Henri Richard, Yvan Cournoyer -- were hoping to display the prized Cup at Expo 67, which had opened only five days earlier in Montreal.

The '67 Leafs -- now all in their 60s, 70s and 80s -- somehow denied Montreal that glory and, tonight, will themselves be honoured at the Air Canada Centre as the '07 Leafs take on the Edmonton Oilers.

Forty years . . . and counting.

The Leafs of Centennial Year will be remembered as a team hardly expected to make the playoffs let alone the final, a team of kids and over-the-hill veterans, a team where the controlling coach and sensitive superstar could not bear to look at each other, let alone speak, and when it was over could not even shake each other's hand.

Punch Imlach, the fedora-wearing Toronto coach and general manager, was so superstitious he had a lucky jacket -- green and ugly -- made in Montreal and wore it faithfully to the end. He "tiled" the dressing room floor with 3,000 $1 bills in hopes of inspiring his players, the $3,000 representing the Stanley Cup bonus of the day and equal, approximately, to one regular-season shift today by a barely recognizable NHL player.

Then again, a good seat at that remarkable game cost $7.

It was a time of cheap seats and rich nicknames: Chief, the Big M, Snowshoes, the Entertainer, Boomer, Uke, Shaky -- and, of course, Punch, whose unused name was George.

Tyrannical and sentimental at the same time, Imlach stuck with his "over-the-hill gang" to the very end -- literally.

The heroes for Toronto were the six old veterans left on the ice for that final, tense minute of the sixth game of the series: George Armstrong, 36, Red Kelly, 39, and Bob Pulford, 31, on forward; Allan Stanley, 41, and Tim Horton, 37, on defence; and Terry Sawchuk, 37, in goal.

It is believed to be the oldest lineup ever sent over the boards in Stanley Cup history.

The strange man in goal, Sawchuk, had never expected to play, having been called into service in the fourth game after an injury to Johnny Bower.

Sawchuk had been so hung over he could barely see, and lost, only now back into his regular routine of a little snack, a little nap and, whenever possible, a little sex before the game.

For a scriptwriter, the storylines continued on long after the glory -- Sawchuk killed in a mysterious off-ice scrap with a teammate; Horton, whose name would soon come to mean doughnuts rather than pucks, killed in a car crash; Imlach and backup third goaltender Bruce Gamble dead early of heart attacks.

Little Davey Keon, just turned 27, walked away with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 1967 playoffs and would later, bitterly, walk away entirely from the Maple Leafs organization -- only to return tonight to what will most assuredly be an emotional reception.

It is a story of the players, but also of the game. When Armstrong, the captain, scored on an empty Montreal net at 19:13 of the final period, it marked the end of more than a single game.

"That was it," Kelly remembered. "They weren't going to get back in."

It was also the final game of Kelly's career, and the final game of the old six-team league.

"It was the end of an era," said Ron Ellis, one of the kids on that legendary team.

"Whoever won the Cup that year was going to be remembered."

True, but the Toronto Maple Leafs added something extra that only time would reveal.

Pierre Berton would one day look back on that Centennial birthday, 1967, and call it The Last Good Year.

He wrote the book that Leafs' fans have had to live.

Toronto has never won the Stanley Cup since.

The b.s. will be flying," former trainer Bobby Haggart said of tonight's celebrations. "Everybody will have his own version of what happened."

The more-or-less accepted version is as follows:

The Leafs had been a dynasty almost to equal the mighty Canadiens. Under Imlach's iron fist, they had won three successive Stanley Cups in the early years of the decade. They did so with the likes of Frank Mahovlich, who had blossomed into such a star that, at one point, Chicago Blackhawks owner James Norris had tried to buy him for $1-million.

Imlach had traded brilliantly to build his dynasty. He had turned all-star Detroit defenceman Kelly into a Toronto star at centre. He had plucked Bower, who is believed to have been 42 the spring of 1967, out of the minors and made him a top NHL goaltender. Imlach was, people said, a genius, and he agreed with them.

"Like a lot of people," Mahovlich, now a senator, said, "success goes to the head."

Mahovlich had liked Imlach at first, but thought later he was somehow blamed for the Chicago offer. "After that," Mahovlich remembered, "we just ignored each other."

So intense was the pressure Imlach put on some of his players that nervous exhaustion led to hospital stays for Mahovlich and star defenceman Carl Brewer, who quit the Leafs rather than put up with more of Imlach.

In 1967, little, if anything, was expected as the Imlach era was finally winding down. He had surrounded himself with loyal veterans -- a dozen players were over 30 -- frightened kids and several other players who had long since tuned him out.

Chicago was the class of the season, finishing with 94 points, and Montreal, the reigning champion, had come second with 77. At one point late in the season, Toronto had gone into a 10-game tailspin that sent Imlach to hospital with heart troubles and forced King Clancy, then 64, to take over the coaching role.

"What did he do to win?" winger Larry Jeffrey said. "Nothing. What did he say? Nothing. He just relaxed and let everybody play." In the next 10-game stretch, the Leafs were 7-1-2 and their season was saved.

"He was like this little Irish leprechaun," checking forward Brian Conacher remembered, "just a good, good fellow. We came to realize that if we win, we win for ourselves, not for a coach or for anybody else. For ourselves."

They finished third and met Chicago, the powerhouse, in the first round. It seemed an impossible task. At one point, Sawchuk was hit so hard with a Bobby Hull slap shot that Haggart, the trainer, raced off the bench and onto the ice thinking "He was dead."

Sawchuk had taken the shot straight in the upper part of his body. "He had a bruise the size of a watermelon," remembered Jeffrey, who would himself be injured for the final series.

Sawchuk lay flat, not moving, but then his eyes opened. "I'm all right," he mumbled. "I can go."

"Guys were different then," Haggart said.

The Leafs, surprisingly, got through the Blackhawks in six games and moved on to meet the Canadiens, who had just dispatched the fourth-place New York Rangers.

It was like an early Centennial present to the country -- Leafs versus Habs, Stanley Cup at stake.

Brian McFarlane, who worked on the broadcasts, said it is hard to convey just how exciting those Toronto-Montreal matchups were in the days before expansion.

"There will never be another time quite like it," he said. "It was a time when there were no helmets. Everybody knew all the players. It wasn't even necessary to see the number on the back to know who it was."

Imlach had been using his best psychological warfare, at one point dismissing Montreal's Rogatien Vachon as a junior B goaltender. He must have gotten to him, because Vachon was soon replaced with veteran Gump Worsley, who recently died. He was 77.

The Leafs were crushed 6-2 in the opening game, with Sawchuk performing so badly he figured he'd never play again. Bower came in and shut out the Canadiens in the second game, then won again in the third game.

Sawchuk later told sportswriter Jim Proudfoot that he got so drunk the night before the fourth game that he almost passed out when he was sent in to replace injured Bower, only to lose again.

But there was no choice. Sawchuk had to play on and, back to his old routine, came back brilliantly. The Leafs took the fifth game in Montreal, with the sixth game set for Toronto on May 2.

Ellis thinks it fortunate there were only two rounds. In today's four-round playoffs, he said, "I wouldn't bet the house" on that aging team surviving.

"I don't think any of us believed we would win," Conacher added, "until we won."

It was the brilliance of Sawchuk and the exceptional checking of Keon that made it possible. Ellis scored early in the second period off a Kelly rebound, then Jim Pappin scored what would be the winning goal when an intended pass went off the skate of a Montreal defender.

With the score 2-1 for Toronto and only 55 seconds left, Montreal coach Toe Blake pulled Worsley. He sent out his best six players, including John Ferguson, who had played so well against the Rangers that he had been an early favourite for the MVP trophy that would go to Keon.

Ferguson, like every other Montreal player, was stunned by the turn of events.

Imlach had defenceman Allan Stanley take the faceoff against Béliveau, and Stanley simply tied up the big centre. With Béliveau calling for a penalty, the puck went to Kelly, who got it to Pulford, who passed to Armstrong in the clear.

The game was over.

"It was a tough one to swallow," said Ferguson, whose son John Jr., born that Centennial Year, is now the general manager of the Leafs.

"We didn't get it done."

The Leafs, on the other hand, did -- though they had no idea it would stand for so long as the last.

"You just can't imagine Toronto not having a Stanley Cup at some time in all that period," said Kelly, who went on to coach subsequent Leafs teams.

"I think because there has never been another Cup," Conacher said, "this team has lived on in the memories of Leafs' fans longer than it would ever have had there been another."

"The fact the Leafs haven't won for 40 years keeps us out there," Ellis added.

It certainly does. Every anniversary it comes up. There have been two books written about the '67 Leafs, Stephen Cole's The Last Hurrah and Damien Cox and Gord Stellick's '67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire.

John Ferguson remembers the long train ride back to Montreal, owner Senator Hartland Molson coming into the smoker car to drink beer with the players, and the incredible silence.

Johnny Bower remembers the cheering, and how the Stanley Cup parade felt like "the end of war."

And, of course, the start of a brand new battle.