Playoff Game 26 – Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

Playoff Game 26
Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5
Saturday, April 21, 1951
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

Toronto’s hockey Leafs out-Ripleyed the believe-it-or-not script writers to carry the final scene of one of the most dramatic playoff productions in the history of Canadian sport at the Gardens Saturday night.

In unbelievable fashion, the Leafs powered from behind to tie the score with 32 seconds left and their goalie on the bench in favour of a sixth attacker. Then they went on to sweep a great Montréal team from the arena, 3-2, in the fifth consecutive sudden death overtime heart buster. Thus, the Stanley Cup returned to Toronto for the fourth time in five years, the Leafs taking the history making “sudden death series” four games to one.

The goal which dropped the final curtain on the record book rewriting 1951 spring sports assizes, was smashed high into the webbing by battering Bill Barilko, the player Montréal manager Frank Selke said he hated so much he wanted him on his team.

That short slap, off a play engineered by scrappy little Howie Meeker, unloosed pandemonium among 14,577 palpitating fans. It came after two minutes and 53 seconds of extra time play, and followed the targetry of Tod Sloan in the previous 60 minutes which nullified goals by Canadiens “Rocket” Richard and Paul Meger. Sloan’s second goal was one of the most dramatic of any playoff game, scored with a scant 32 seconds left and Canadiens well on the way to forcing a sixth game back in Montréal.

This was a game for memories, with thrills hanging on every play. Drama and suspense gripped the Toronto fans in an icy clutch before the game was half a minute old, as “Teeder” Kennedy was carried from the ice on a stretcher.

It was at first thought his back was seriously injured, and a heartwarming roar of relief filled the big building as the team captain returned to the ice two minutes later. A pinched back muscle forced club physicians to move cautiously, but the first blast of pain disappeared quickly and Kennedy, although far from fit, went back to lead his team to victory. His hard work paved the way for two Toronto goals.

The Canadiens were not so fortunate as Bob Dawes was carried from the ice suffering a compound fracture of the right leg early in the second period, when he crashed into the boards in an attempt to stop Kennedy.

Playing in his first game of the series, Dawes was assigned the task of shadowing Kennedy. The manner in which he attempted to carry out his assignment which resulted in his unfortunate injury paralleled the Howe incident during last season’s playoffs in Detroit. In that game, Gordie Howe suffered head injuries when he crashed the boards in an attempt to bodycheck Kennedy.

To return to hockey, who’ll forget the thrill of watching the great Maurice Richard keeping his goal-a-game record intact as he moved in from the centre zone, Jimmy Thomson attempting to check him all the while, to force goalie Al Rollins to the ice and shove the puck into a gaping net.

Or the sight of Gerry McNeil brilliantly turning aside dangerous scoring thrusts of Leafs anxious to end it all on home ice. He had more than twice as many shots as Rollins to handle, 41-19, and literally robbed half a dozen players who visited his crease, particularly Meeker.

For Meeker it was his best two way performance since the year he won the Calder Cup. He continued his uneven bouncing feud with big Butch Bouchard to the bitter end, checked well, carried the puck expertly and came within inches of scoring several times. Only McNeil’s coolness under fire in refusing to budge until his attacker had fired kept the score down.

In this final game the balance of power, for which coach Joe Primeau strove since training camp days last September, paid off. The Leafs had strength in depth while the Canadiens had heart and desire, but couldn’t match the manpower. Coach Dick Irvin sent out an enthusiastic crew, but he was forced to patch his lines while Primeau had three solid units and extremely capable players in reserve.

With so much at stake, referee Bill Chaddwick ruled wisely, stopping frequent outbursts of stick slashing or elbowing with his tongue rather than detract from the drama with penalties. But such competition as was displayed in this final game, as in the others, was bound, to explode heated tempers. The players kept their feelings under control until Bill Barilko and Tom Johnson clashed in the third period, and drew minors for roughing. In the aftermath, referee Chadwick banished Billy Reay with a 10 minute misconduct for molesting linesman Bill Morrison.

Chadwick issued only two other penalties, both in the first period, Dawes for slashing and Barilko for charging.

All the Leafs who saw action went well, from Barilko and Sloan, the scorers, to Kennedy the work horse, Max Bentley, Joe Klukay, Danny Lewicki, Cal Gardner, a much improved Watson, Meeker, Sid Smith, Jimmy Thomson, Gus Mortson, Fern Flaman, Bill Juzda, Flem MacKell, Ray Timgren and Rollins.

The Canadiens were sparked by Richard, while Elmer Lach checked hard and Ken Mosdell, Floyd Curry, rookie Eddie Mazur, Paul Meger, Paul Masnick, Doug Harvey, Butch Bouchard, Tom Johnson, Bud MacPherson, Billy Reay and, last but far from least, Gerry McNeil, were outstanding in a cause that was not to be theirs.

The Leafs opened the game as though they intended to wrap up the decision in the first period, but McNeil wouldn’t go for it. He handled 14 shots to four for Rollins and many were labelled. Meeker, Watson, Bentley and Klukay all had good shots.

In that period, both teams had chances to score on man-advantage power plays, but couldn’t penetrate solid defences.

Richard opened the scoring in the second. Once again floating in the centre ice zone, he patiently awaited a pass up. This time Bud MacPherson fed him the puck and “The Rocket” was off with Thomson as a running mate. The great right winger retained control of the puck all the way as Thomson vainly attempted to check him. Then Rollins made his play, fell out of the way, and the open net beckoned,

Four minutes later, Sloan tied the score on a similar play. Kennedy slowly carried the puck up the ice, shoved a pass ahead to Sloan, who carried to the goalmouth with Doug Harvey trying to spoil things.

The second period was the only one in which the Canadiens stuck close to the Leafs territorially, having five shots to six for their opponents.

Paul Meger, one of more than two score rookies tried by Irvin during the season, sent Montréal’s hopes soaring with a goal early in the third period. He took Doug Harvey’s pass as Klukay attempted to ride him off, firing behind him and catching Rollins on the short side.

That goal looked like the big one as the minutes ticked away. Little hope was left for a Toronto reprieve as Al Rollins was yanked with one minute and 33 seconds remaining. Then, strategy paid off and in this instance, we suggest that rookie NHL coach Joe Primeau out-masterminded veteran NHL coach Dick Irvin.

Primeau sent out the players who had figured most prominently in the scoring in the series: Kennedy, Smith, Sloan, Watson, Bentley and Mortson. Irvin countered with his good checking line: Mosdell, Curry, Mazur, and Johnson and Bouchard on defence.

A brief three second scramble and another faceoff was ordered. Irvin sent out Lach to replace Mosdell, but changed his mind. Mosdell almost broke loose, but Harry Watson raced madly down the ice to grab the puck and save the situation.

Sixty one seconds left and a faceoff outside the Montréal zone, Rollins back in the net but only momentarily as Kennedy won the draw, and forced play into the Montréal zone. A jam against the boards and another faceoff with 39 seconds left.

Then Irvin moved out the Lach line with Bouchard and Harvey. It was his undoing. Kennedy outdrew Lach, getting the puck back to Bentley at the point. The Delisle delight worked his way goalward, firing through the maze of players. The puck bounced out, Smith smacked at it and hit a goalpost, the disc landing at Sloan’s feet. Tod did the rest.

Then came the overtime and Barilko. The Gardner line worked the puck in, Watson firing behind the net where Meeker outbattled Johnson and fired the puck out front. Big Bill galloped in from away off, took a quick slap and the puck rose into the net over McNeil’s shoulder. That was all, brother!

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, April 23, 1951

1st Period
MTL PEN – 00:27 – Dawes, slashing
TOR PEN – 16:04 – Barilko, charging

2nd Period
MTL GOAL – 08:56 – Richard (MacPherson)
TOR GOAL – 12:00 – Sloan (Kennedy)

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 04:47 – Meger (Harvey)
TOR PEN – 10:36 – Barilko, roughing
MTL PEN – 10:36 – Johnson, roughing
MTL PEN – 10:36 – Reay, misconduct
TOR EA GOAL – 19:28 – Sloan (Bentley, Smith)

TOR GOAL – 02:53 – Barilko (Meeker, Watson)

TOR – Rollins (W, 17-19)
MTL – McNeil (L, 38-41)

TOR – 14+6+19+2 = 41
MTL – 4+5+10+0 = 19

TORGoaltenders: Al Rollins. Defence: Bill Barilko, Fern Flaman, 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. Defence: Butch Bouchard (C), Bob Dawes, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, 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.