Game 297 – Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2

Game 297
Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2
Saturday, February 9, 1952
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

When that Florida commuting hockey oracle, Conn Smythe, laid down the articles on rookie procedure some time ago, he stressed the fact that it was quite easy to select the pure quill from the run of the mill. “The real thing,” orated the oracle, “will do something big in his first game. He will make a key play, he will save a sure goal, or he may even score a winning goal.”

That summation fitted George Armstrong Saturday night, and he wore it happily, after scoring the goal that gave the Maple Leafs a 3-2 edge over the Montréal Canadiens in what had to be the best NHL performance of the season in this area.

Aside from Max Bentley’s second century effort, there hasn’t been a goal scored at the Gardens this semester which drew the ovation this one did. A capacity crowd of 14,581 sent the applause meter rocketing several notches past the mark they reached when Howie Meeker scored twice in six seconds to wipe out a one-goal Montréal lead.

Armstrong made it a major production too. He grabbed the puck from Bentley on a faceoff, shoved it through Bouchard’s legs, and ghosted around Big Butch to retrieve it. Then he skated in on goalkeeper Gerry McNeil, and mesmerized that gallant little guy with an ice-hugging shot that zipped between his skates and the post.

Just 70 seconds earlier, Meeker had the building hopping with a record-flirting achievement that didn’t concede anything in the spectacular department. The Member of Parliament, after tying the score at 1-1, took a pass from the resulting faceoff and went sailing in to make it 2-1 only six seconds later.

Meeker’s first goal was a carbon copy of the one Billy Reay counted for the Canadiens in the first period. He was standing unguarded, during a power play, right beside the crease, and when the puck came his way, he just directed it into an unguarded corner of the goal.

The next one was a masterpiece. Cal Gardner secured the draw at centre, and Meeker picked up the puck in full stride. He rounded Dollard Saint-Laurent, cut in along the goal line, and flipped the puck across McNeil’s body to hit the far corner. Armstrong’s goal made it 3-1, and that margin was needed to offset rookie Dick Moore’s closing counter later in the same session, on a shot from well out that hit the inside of the goalpost.

All three Toronto goals were scored while Montréal defenceman Tom Johnson was serving his fourth penalty in 30 minutes. Reay opened the scoring while the Leafs were playing two men short.

Red Storey’s inspired thumb worked 15 penalties into the game, with the Leafs taking the odd one. Despite this fairly even distribution, both coaches voiced strongly termed indignation over the referee’s work, a subject which had been brought up several times during the game by the crowd.

Dick Irvin didn’t use Johnson after the sophomore’s costly fourth penalty, not because he didn’t want to, but because the first half trend indicated Johnson wasn’t going to fare too well. Frank Selke, Montréal’s GM, agreed with his coach, point out that while Johnson earned the penalties according to the book, there were numerous others similarly guilty who didn’t draw the official finger for their acts.

The Leafs sizzled at Storey after he gave Fern Flaman a cheap tripping penalty with two and a half minutes to go. For an important faceoff in the Toronto zone, Ted Kennedy replaced Joe Klukay. Kennedy and Reay jockeyed over the faceoff until Storey ordered two more faceoff men into the circle.

Kennedy skated to the bench and Bentley replaced him, but Storey said nothing doing, that only a player on the ice when the first two were waved off could accept that job. Then Timgren moved to the faceoff circle and Klukay replaced Bentley, but still Storey wasn’t satisfied. Storey was calling it straight from the book, except that he wouldn’t believe Timgren was one of the original men on the ice. Jimmy Thomson finally had to make the draw.

NOTES: At 13:01 of the third period, the game was delayed for about 20 minutes while McNeil went off for a stitching job on a deep cut alongside his hairline, where a shot by Harry Watson hit him. It took nine big stitches to close the wound…Elmer Lach was nicked for three stitches over an eye and Sid Smith picked up five…McNeil was terrific on shots from Watson, Bentley, Kennedy, Smith, Sloan and Thomson. Had McNeil been unable to continue, Ed Chadwick, the St. Michael’s goalie would have taken over…McNeil was taken out for an extra forward with 40 seconds to go…Hap Day said the Leafs played better than he’d seen them in two years, qualifying the words by adding he hadn’t seen all the games…Lach lasted only 12 seconds before skating to the bench in the first period after Thomson jammed him into the boards. The Leafs were hitting hard and accurately from the first faceoff.

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, February 11, 1952

1st Period
MTL PEN – 03:33 – Johnson, tripping
TOR PEN – 09:23 – Flaman, high sticking
TOR PEN – 10:55 – Thomson, tripping
MTL PP2 GOAL – 11:06 – Reay (Moore, Geoffrion)
TOR PEN – 15:57 – Sloan, tripping
TOR PEN – 18:13 – Mortson, slashing
MTL PEN – 18:13 – Geoffrion, slashing

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 03:00 – Johnson, holding
MTL PEN – 05:57 – Johnson, roughing
MTL PEN – 08:48 – Lach, holding
TOR PEN – 08:48 – Flaman, charging
MTL PEN – 10:03 – Johnson, tripping
TOR PP GOAL – 10:14 – Meeker (Gardner, Watson)
TOR PP GOAL – 10:20 – Meeker (Gardner)
TOR PP GOAL – 11:30 – Armstrong (Bentley)
MTL GOAL – 16:49 – Moore (Lach)

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 01:50 – Mortson, tripping
TOR PEN – 07:55 – Bolton, charging
MTL PEN – 08:51 – Gamble, tripping
TOR PEN – 17:40 – Flaman, tripping

TOR – Rollins (W, 17-19)
MTL – McNeil (L, 28-31)

TOR – 9+12+10 = 31
MTL – 3+6+10 = 19

TORGoaltenders: Al Rollins. Defence: Hugh Bolton, Fern Flaman, Gus Mortson, Jimmy Thomson. Forwards: George Armstrong, Max Bentley, Cal Gardner, Ted Kennedy (C), Joe Klukay, Danny Lewicki, Howie Meeker, Tod Sloan, Sid Smith, Ray Timgren, Harry Watson.
MTLGoaltenders: Gerry McNeil. Defence: Butch Bouchard (C), Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Bud MacPherson, Dollard Saint-Laurent. Forwards: Floyd Curry, Dick Gamble, Bernie Geoffrion, Elmer Lach, John McCormack, Paul Meger, Dickie Moore, Kenny Mosdell, Bert Olmstead, Billy Reay.

TOR – 23-16-12 (.569)
MTL – 24-21-7 (.529)