Playoff Game 25 – Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

Playoff Game 25
Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4
Thursday, April 19, 1951
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

Major league hockey’s record smashing Stanley Cup final series needed another brief but dramatic session of sudden death overtime to declare a winner here tonight.

And as on two of the three previous occasions, a blueshirted sharpshooter ended it all to give Toronto a 3-2 victory over the Montréal Canadiens, and move the Maple Leafs within a single game of the 1951 hockey championship of the world. The fifth game will be played in Toronto Saturday night.

Never before in the long history of the National Hockey League have four successive games been decided by the first goal in extra time. And never before have games ended in such short order. None has gone beyond the six minute mark.

The consecutive run of four overtime playoff tilts topped a comparable sequence in modern Stanley Cup play which occurred in 1933. At that time, four of five games in an elimination series between Toronto and Boston went into overtime, the first three in a row.

Big Harry Watson, slow to regain the form of which he is capable after a shoulder separation that kept him out of most of the playoff games this spring, was the Toronto hero this time. The happy-go-lucky pappy from Leaside jumped off the bench to grab a Bentley poked pass, shoved the puck by Doug Harvey, retrieved it and drove in on goalie Gerry McNeil before firing a bullseye into the rigging.

The winning goal that brought sadness and silence to the overwhelming majority of 14,452 Habitant fans, came after five minutes and 15 seconds of extra play. It followed closely the pattern of previous games.

Sid Smith started the current vogue, giving the Leafs a 3-2 win after five minutes and 51 extra session seconds in the first game. “Rocket” Richard liked the idea so much that he squared the series after only two minutes and 55 seconds over overtime in the second game. Then “Teeder” Kennedy put the Leafs in front again here last Tuesday night after four minutes and 47 seconds of overtime. The score of the second game was 3-2, and the third game 2-1.

And tonight Watson capably demonstrated there is no copyright on dramatic situations in playoff hockey. Anybody can get in on the act.

Perhaps slightly overshadowed in the general excitement of the goal was the hard work of little Max Bentley, which set up the winning play. The Leafs were in the process of changing lines as the Canadiens attempted to break out of their own end.

“Boom Boom” Geoffrion skated over the Montréal blueline, on his way to the rising roar of the fans. But joy was short lived in this town, as Bentley, down on one knee, robbed “Boom Boom.” Max couldn’t do much with the puck as he was off balance, but he did enough. He swept his stick around, the puck safely nestled in the hook and there was Watson, Harry on the spot.

The Leafs moved to the front early in this game. Sid Smith, the man who has taken it as his personal responsibility to open the scoring for each game of this tremendous final series, beating McNeil after only 38 seconds of play.

The one and only “Rocket” Richard nullified that one before the period ended, but little Howie Meeker stepped in to show that the Kennedy line didn’t have monopoly rights on scoring goals. Before Meeker finally shook off a goalmouth jinx that robbed him of at least half a dozen good scoring chances in previous games. Smith, Ted Kennedy and Tod Sloan had been the Toronto goalmen.

The Leafs clung to that slim one goal lead, through the first half of the third period. They moved into a defensive shell giving goalie Al Rollins the kind of protection he received during the final week of the Vézina Trophy drive.

But the Canadiens were far from beaten at that stage. They rallied an offensive that had the rafters shaking with the delirious screams of the fans. Gradually they forced the Leafs back and such pressure could have but one result.

And it was Montréal’s big line that scored the equalizer with little more than six minutes remaining. Richard, a threat all night in a game in which he appeared to be on the ice most of the time, did the heavy work. His hard shot toward the Toronto net was deflected by Rollins by a waiting Lach, who flicked home the puck.

The din was ear-splitting, but here the enthusiasm of the Montréal fans did the Leafs a favour. They littered the ice with newspapers, programs and old rubbers (a favourite weapon in the Forum), causing several minutes’ delay. The unscheduled rest enabled the Leafs to regain composure, while the Canadiens cooled out.

It was inevitable that overtime would again be the order of the night, and the fans weren’t disappointed, not until Watson scored, that is.

It might have been a different story if Bert Olmstead had elected to pass the puck instead of shooting on a couple of rushes before Watson appeared. He was well into the Toronto zone with Richard standing uncovered to the side of Rollins. A quick pass and there is little doubt of what “The Rocket” would have done. But Olmstead elected to use Richard as a foil and Rollins easily played the shot.

Seconds later, Rollins brilliantly turned Billy Reay aside after the Montréal playmaker had been put in position close to the Toronto net by Richard, who intercepted a Gardner passout.

In the final analysis, Toronto’s success in this fourth game can be put down to balance of power. For the first time in the series, coach Joe Primeau had three lines working effectively. Watson worked the entire evening at his old wing spot alongside Cal Gardner and Howie Meeker, and that trio played its most effective game in weeks.

Meeker, a never-give-up player who has been knocking at McNeil’s net all the series, finally paid off on a try. He was a great two way threat as he and his linemates found themselves checking the vaunted Lach line all night.

Bentley, Joe Klukay and Danny Lewicki worked hard and came up with pretty passing plays. Aside from one stint near the end of the first period, when Flem MacKell relieved Tod Sloan, the work of the forward reserves was limited to penalty time killing.

Fern Flaman sat out this game, but the four defencemen left worked hard and effectively. Gus Mortson was an improved performer, while Bill Juzda, Bill Barilko and Jimmy Thomson did their share.

Coach Dick Irvin benched Glen Harmon and used Eddie Mazur, an import from the Victoria Cougars of the Pacific Coast League. He took Baldy MacKay’s spot after the first period.

The Lach line, Paul Masnick, Paul Meger and Geoffrion were the pick of the Canadien forwards, while Butch Bouchard and Doug Harvey were the most effective defencemen.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, April 20, 1951

1st Period
TOR GOAL – 00:38 – Smith (Kennedy)
TOR PEN – 01:46 – Watson, high sticking
TOR PEN – 06:06 – Juzda, high sticking
MTL PEN – 06:06 – Lach, holding
TOR PEN – 09:44 – Barilko, high sticking
MTL GOAL – 14:41 – Richard (Reay, Harvey)
MTL PEN – 17:31 – Masnick, holding

2nd Period
TOR GOAL – 01:27 – Meeker (Watson)
TOR PEN – 04:33 – Bentley, holding
MTL PEN – 06:25 – Olmstead, tripping

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 13:49 – Lach (Richard, Bouchard)

TOR GOAL – 05:15 – Watson (Bentley)

TOR – Rollins (W)
MTL – McNeil (L)

TORGoaltenders: Turk Broda, Al Rollins. Defence: Bill Barilko, Bill Juzda, Gus Mortson, Jimmy Thomson. Forwards: Max Bentley, Cal Gardner, Ted Kennedy (C), Joe Klukay, Danny Lewicki, Fleming MacKell, Howie Meeker, Tod Sloan, Sid Smith, Ray Timgren, Harry Watson.
MTLGoaltenders: Gerry McNeil, Jacques Plante. Defence: Butch Bouchard (C), Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Ross Lowe, Bud MacPherson, Eddie Mazur. Forwards: Floyd Curry, Bernie Geoffrion, Elmer Lach, Calum MacKay, Paul Masnick, Paul Meger, Kenny Mosdell, Bert Olmstead, Billy Reay, Maurice Richard.