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Jim Harrison and one of my favorite overtime goals

For the Leafs, 1971-’72 was somewhat of a letdown year after a surprisingly strong 1970-’71 season, when they almost upset the very tough New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs.

In 1970’71, captain Dave Keon had a tremendous season and had been an end of season second-team All-Star (as he had been in 1961-’62), which was a huge accomplishment. Overall, the team was a nice mix of veterans and emerging talent, making strides under General Manager Jim Gregory.

But in ’71-’72, the team seemed to take a bit of a step back. They made the playoffs, but unfortunately drew Boston in the first round. The Bruins were still loaded, after winning the Cup in 1970. They would go on to win it again in 1972, built around Bobby Orr. But they also had Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge, Derek Sanderson, Fred Stanfield, Johnny McKenzie, former Leaf Mike Walton and a hard-nosed defense corps. They had a great mix of talent and grinders.

In the ’72 Boston series, the Leafs still had Jacques Plante and Bernie Parent in goal, and a young defense (most of whom - Brad Selwood and Rick Ley included- were soon to jump to the new World Hockey Association).

The Bruins won the first game handily at home in Boston, but the Leafs played a much pluckier second game, which went into overtime. I never in a million years believed the Leafs could beat the Bruins in overtime, right in Boston Garden, but to my amazement, ex-Bruin Jim Harrison scored the winner for the underdog Leafs. Harrison was a player I loved, a bruising center who finished his checks. He was not a big scorer but took a quick slap/snap shot from just inside the Bruin blue line near the side boards and caught Eddie Johnston back in his net, beating him mid-high on the stick side.

Why do I remember this so well?

Well, at 18, I was old enough to really appreciate how hard it was for my Leafs to do well in the playoffs. Also, I simply hated the Bruins. In a different way than I hated Montreal, but I hated them nonetheless. They were tough, dirty, and way more skilled than the Leafs. They were really good, struck me as arrogant and I just didn’t like them.

I jumped up when Harrison scored, and immediately went to phone my fellow high school friend Mark, who was also a serious Leaf fan. We chatted for quite a while on the phone that night, living the dream, at least for a few minutes, that the Leafs could actually win the series.

It never happened. They lost Game 3 in Toronto 2-0, and then wasted their big chance in Game 4 to even the series. The Leafs held a 4-2 lead at one point in the second period, after Jim McKenny scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway when he sort of floated in toward the net without committing himself and beat the goalie (can’t remember if it was Eddie Johnston or Gerry Cheevers) with a late deke and flip shot up high.

Unfortunately, Paul Henderson had a clear-cut breakaway shortly thereafter, and had he scored, the Leafs would have been ahead 5-2, and likely home and cooled out, even against the talented Bruins.

But as Henderson often did on breakaways, he didn’t score, and the Bruins gained momentum and eventually came back and beat the Leafs by a goal.

Toronto kept it close in Game 5 in Boston, but lost by a goal while buzzing around the Bruins net at the end.

Though it was a disappointing end to the season (it always has been, since 1967), I will always remember the Harrison goal. It was a huge goal in what could have been a much longer series.

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