After beating Toronto four games to two in the opening round of the 1971 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Rangers next opponent was the Chicago Black Hawks who had finished first in the Western Division with 107 points. The teams had split the season series with three wins apiece but Chicago had swept the Flyers in the first round so Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and company were well rested.
After five games the Rangers were down two games to three and on the brink of elimination. As the crowd filed into the Garden on April 29th for Game 6, they had no idea that they were in for a long but memorable night.
Dennis Hull opened the scoring late in the first period, and when Chico Maki made it 2-0 early in the second, things looked pretty bleak for the Blueshirts. But Rod Gilbert scored in the second period and Jean Ratelle tied it up mid-way through the third to send the game into overtime.
The series had already seen two overtime thrillers, with Pete Stemkowski scoring the game winner in Game 1 and a Bobby Hull slapshot ending Game 5.
The first overtime period was a real nail-biter as both teams sped up and down the ice and each Chicago shot could mean sudden summer for the Rangers. But both Eddie Giacomin and Tony Esposito were sharp and after 80 minutes of play, the score was still tied at two. It should be noted that Giacomin was playing with an injured catching hand. In the first game of the series, Bobby Hull had accidentally skated over Eddie’s left hand, slicing through his glove and opening a bloody wound that later required five stitches to close.
Perhaps the most frightening sequence of the night occurred during the second overtime. Stan Mikita ripped a rising shot that caught Giacomin square in the face, knocking him down and out. The rebound came out to the right face off circle where Bill White drove it back towards the empty net. The puck hit the left post, rebounding to the left circle where Mikita shot back towards the net and hit the right post with Giacomin still lying flat on his back on the ice! Finally defenseman Rod Seiling was able to clear the puck for an icing.
While Giacomin was being revived, Mikita slumped against the Ranger net shaking his head at the golden opportunity he had just missed.
It was a warm night at the Garden and between periods, both teams needed oxygen to revive them for the next stanza. But the players weren’t the only ones feeling the effects of evening.
As Marv Albert later revealed in his book “I’d Love to But I Have a Game”, because of the length of the game and between period interviews he had a very urgent personal need prior to the third overtime and no time to leave the broadcast booth. His problem was remedied by a bucket fetched by a production assistant and placed discretely beneath his covered broadcasting table.
Albert was lucky, the rest of us had to wait, but as it turned out, not too much longer.
Early in the third overtime session, with a penalty to Pat Stapleton just expiring, Tim Horton skated the puck out of the Ranger end and dumped it into the corner, to the left of the Chicago net. Teddy Irvine played the puck off the boards and shot towards the net where Esposito made the save, but kicked the rebound right out in front. There was Stemkowski, steaming towards the crease to slam home the rebound and at 1:29 of the third overtime period the Rangers had won one of the most exciting games in their history.
GM/Coach Emile Francis and trainer Frank Paice ran onto the ice to join the celebration, as the exhausted Garden crowd went wild.
Unfortunately the Rangers lost the series three days later in Chicago on another Bobby Hull slapshot.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to ask Stemmer about the game and his famous goal.
“Well, it was late, approaching midnight, and we were pretty much going on emotion,” said The Polish Prince. “But the adrenalin was flowing pretty good. Tim Horton shot the puck in and Teddy Irvine went for it in the corner and it came out to me.”
“It was a thrill, it prolonged the series but then we went back to Chicago and lost.” Pete continued. “It’s a goal that I remember. A lot of people remember where they were and what they were doing, they still come up to me on the street and tell me that they remember that game, so that’s a special feeling for me.
“It was a personal achievement, but we had a good team here and playing for Emile Francis and the Rangers was an honor, I still maintain friendships with those people and that’s something that you just can’t replace. Those are the memories I cherish more than anything else.”
So do we, Pete. For those of us who were lucky enough to have been around back then, our memories of Stemmer, Vic, Eddie, Brad and the rest of Emile’s boys will indeed last a lifetime.