Lanny McDonald, one of the most popular players ever to play in the NHL, enjoyed two huge playoff thrills in his Hall of Fame career—and they took place 11 years apart. His first was a game-winning goal in overtime against the Islanders in 1978.
He was a key member of the Toronto Maple Leafs back then, along with Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull and goalie Mike Palmateer. A quarterfinal series with the Isles came down to the seventh game on Long Island. The Leafs, coached by rookie mentor Roger Neilson, were decided underdogs against Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and company. Believe me, there were a few thousand “nervous Nellies” biting their nails in the Nassau County Coliseum when the final game went to overtime.
The late Dan Kelly and I were in the broadcast booth.
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At 4:13 of the first extra period, McDonald trapped a misguided pass at the Islanders blueline. The puck dropped at his feet and he took a few swift strides through open ice toward goaltender Chico Resch. McDonald could wrist a shot with the best of them, but for some reason the shot he put by Resch in OT was a half speed drive, almost a floater. But it found the back of the net. That’s all that counted and the Leafs rejoiced. Even though the Leafs went on to bow to the Canadiens in the next round, McDonald’s marker is recalled as one of the few bright moments in that abysmal era of Leaf hockey, presided over by team owner Harold Ballard.
“I was hurting that night,” McDonald recalls. “I wore a football-type shield to protect a broken nose. And I played despite a broken wrist I suffered in a previous series with Los Angeles. But I don’t remember feeling any pain at all when that puck floated past Chico Resch. I remember being so shocked I had to ask myself, ‘Is it really over?’ Then I saw my teammates going nuts over at the bench and knew we’d done it.’
“That was the biggest moment of my career until I wound up on a Cup-winning team in Calgary almost a dozen years later,” he adds, his eyes gleaming. “No team had ever won a deciding game for the Stanley Cup at the Montreal Forum. That was a huge mental hurdle the Flames had to deal with. We were leading the series three games to two and there’s no way we wanted to let them back in and force a seventh game back in Calgary.”
The game was tied 1-1 in the second period when McDonald was sentenced to two minutes in the penalty box. He had grown a full reddish beard to complement his famous bushy mustache and when his penalty expired, lady luck left the box with him. He stepped out just in time to take a hard pass from Joe Nieuwendyck. Perhaps it was the beard that caught Nieuwendyck’s eye. McDonald raced in on goal and fired a bullet past Patrick Roy in the Montreal goal. His goal proved to be the winner and his biggest ever in hockey. Teammate Doug Gilmour added two more for the Flames and the lengthy jinx afflicting visiting teams in deciding games at the Forum was finally snapped.
“That goal was by far the best memory I have of my career,” McDonald says today. “Because it helped to bring us the Stanley Cup. But that goal in overtime against the Islanders in ’78 is a pretty special memory, too. ”
Chico Resch laughed when he was told of McDonald’s remarks.
“Lanny’s goal in ’78 was a crushing blow for the Islanders,” said Resch. “He drove a stake through our hearts with that goal. Do you know we faced each other again in a charity game in Denver a few months ago? It was ’78 all over again. Here he comes, racing in on me. And he shoots the damn puck 15 feet wide of the net. Why didn’t he do that the first time when it really meant something?”