Thursday, April 27, 2017

HEART & SOUL


On Saturday night, at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 to take the opening round series in six games. The Rangers attack was powered Matt Zuccarello's two goals against Habs netminder Carey Price.

New York's ability to respond after being down two-games to one following three contests was the goaltending provided by Henrik Lundqvist. Backed by Lundqvist's superb play, the Rangers won the next three, thus allowing them to advance and take on the Ottawa Senators. Lundqvist made a key save late in the third period when he robbed Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec.

If the New York Rangers have any chance of extending their playoff run, Lundqvist will have to continue to be at the top of his game. Besides his status as the Rangers number one goalie, Lundqvist is the team leader on and off the ice. He leads by example and doesn't hesitate to encourage his teammates. Anchored in his goal crease, Lundqvist is like a General directing the play in front of him. When he sees something that needs correction, he will approach his fellow Ranger and raise his glove to his mask to avoid anyone eavesdropping on the conversation.

The last New York goalie to lead New York to the promised land was Mike Richter in 1994. In four playoff rounds, including the Stanley Cup Final, Richter posted a 2.07 goals-against average in 23 games. On June 14, 1994, the Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks in game seven to capture their first Stanley Cup since 1940.

It will be interesting to see if Lundqvist can become the next New York Rangers goalie to hoist Lord Stanley's silver mug.



Monday, April 24, 2017

A CASE OF DEJA VU

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs run for a Stanley Cup ended when they fell 2-1 to the Washington Capitals in overtime at the Air Canada Centre. Washington's Marcus Johanson ended the Leafs attempt to force a game seven when he beat Frederik Andersen at 6:31 of the extra-frame.

In a case of deja vu, the 1928-29 edition of the Leafs also saw their quest to advance halted in overtime by a 2-1 score. The game was played at Arena Gardens in Toronto on March 26, 1929. It was the second game in the best-of-three semi-final series between the Leafs and New York Rangers. Game one was held on March 24 at Madison Square Garden and the Rangers shutout the Leafs 1-0.

The 1929 post-season marked the Toronto Maple Leafs first appearance in the playoffs since Conn Smythe purchased the St. Patrick's and renamed them the Maple Leafs in February 1927. The Leafs won their opening round in '29 by outscoring the Detroit Cougars 7-2 in a two-game total goals showdown.


 Frank Boucher (pictured above) was the overtime scoring hero for New York in game two at Toronto. The game-winning goal came with the Leafs being shorthanded and the Rangers buzzing around Lorne Chabot, who was in goal for Toronto. "Chabot saved on one occasion by falling on the rubber, but finally during a scramble the puck was shoved into the cage," wrote Bert Perry in The Globe and Mail. "The goal counted and it won the game."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

DOWN, BUT NOT OUT


Tonight, at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals play game six of their opening round playoff series. The Caps have a 3 to 2 edge over the Leafs.

If the Leafs look to their past, they should gain inspiration from another playoff contest played 53 years-ago tonight at the Olympia in Detroit. On April 23, 1964, the Leafs and Red Wings were entangled in a close battle that eventually went into overtime. A goal by Detroit would result in them capturing the Stanley Cup and end Toronto's two-year rein as Cup champions.



During game six, Leaf defenceman, Bobby Baun, suffered a broken foot that forced him out of action. The big defender, known as "Boomer" was carried off the ice on a stretcher.  However, after receiving medical attention and the red-light from doctors, Baun returned to the Leafs defence.

At the 1:43 mark of the first overtime period, Baun fired a shot from the blueline and the puck found its way past Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuk. On the strength of Baun's goal, the Leafs left the Motor City with the series tied-up and a boat-load of confidence heading into game seven at the Gardens.

On April 25, 1964, Andy Bathgate scored what turned out to be the Cup-winning goal at 3:04 of the first period. The Leafs went on to add three more goals and blanked the Red Wings 4-0 to capture the Stanley Cup.

Friday, April 21, 2017

BARILKO SCORES!


On this date in 1951, Bill Barilko, pictured above, scored the biggest goal in Toronto Maple Leafs history. In game five against the Montreal Canadiens, he charged towards the Habs net and ended the contest with his Cup-winning overtime goal.



Shown above is the puck Barilko deposited behind Montreal goalie Gerry McNeill. Also, here is the Maple Leaf Gardens program from game two of the '51 Cup Final.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

THE LEAFS MAKE THEIR PLAYOFF DEBUT IN 1929


When the Toronto Maple Leafs pulled-off their first victory of the 2017 playoffs over Washington on Saturday, their offensive attack was led by Kasperi Kapanen. His two goals, including the winner in double-overtime, helped the Blue & White down the Caps 4-3.

Looking back in Toronto Maple Leafs history (post Toronto St. Patricks), success didn't come quickly in hockey's second season. After being purchased by Conn Smythe and his associates in February 1927, they failed to qualify for the playoffs and in 1927-28, fell short of playing in the post-season.

But that all changed the following year when the Leafs made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. On March 19, 1929, the Toronto Maple Leafs opened their quarter-final series in Detroit against the Cougars. The Leafs maiden voyage into the playoffs resulted in a 3-1 win.

Like Kapanen, a two-goal performance by Andy Blair made him the star the game. "To Andy Blair must go the honour of being the most effective player on the ice," wrote Bob Hayes in the Toronto Daily Star.

Blair set the tone for the Leafs when he scored at 1:34 of the first period. "He got the first one just after the opening of the game when he sent in a backhand shot after he had got a pass from (Ace) Bailey," noted Hayes.

He rounded out the scoring at 19:32 of the final frame. "His second one came just before the close of the game when he took the puck right around the Detroit net and poked the puck past (Dolly) Dolson into the corner of the net," observed the Toronto scribe.

The other Leaf goal was scored late in period one by Art Smith. The only Cougars marker came off of George Hay's stick late in the final period. Hay beat Leaf goalie Lorne Chabot on "a fairly long shot that picked off the corner of the net."


A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Andy Blair made his NHL debut with the Maple Leafs in '28-'29. He played center and in his rookie campaign netted 12 goals and added 15 assists for 27 points in 44 contests. The Leafs finished in third-place in the Canadian Division and faced Detroit in the opening round. The Cougars were part of the American Division. On the strength of outscoring the Cougars 7-2 in the two-game total goals series, the Leafs advanced to play the New York Rangers in the semi-finals. Toronto's playoff run came to an end when they were swept by the Rangers in the best-of-three showdown.

In the playoffs against Detroit and New York, Blair topped Toronto's scoring with 3 goals in 4 games. His crowning moment in playoff competition came in 1931-32 when the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup on April 9, 1932, against New York.

Monday, April 10, 2017

KID'S PLAY

As the Toronto Maple Leafs make their return to playoff action, the talented crop of rookies in their line-up can look to the past for inspiration.

Left to Right: Charlie Conacher, Joe Primeau & "Busher" Jackson



In the early 1930s, the Leafs were led by their productive "Kid Line" of Joe Primeau, Charlie Conacher and Harvey "Busher" Jackson. On April 9, 1932, the Leafs defeated the New York Rangers 6-4 to capture the Stanley Cup in their first season at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The current Leafs couldn't have a better role model.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

COAT OF ARMS


At the April lunch for the Original Six Alumni, three former Leafs were presented with their blazers honouring the Toronto Maple leafs 100th anniversary. Representing MLSE were Ali and Amber, who made the presentation to Phil Samis, Ron Hurst and Gary Collins.

Left to Right: Phil Samis, Amber and Ali
Left to Right: Ron Hurst, Gary Collins, Ali and Amber

Phil Samis made his NHL debut during the 1948 Stanley Cup final when Leaf defenceman, Gus Mortson, suffered a broken leg. The comparisons between Mortson and Samis were noted by Toronto Daily Star hockey writer Red Burnett. He wrote of Samis, "Like Mortson, he is quiet, unassuming chappie off the ice. Put a pair of skates on him and he becomes a belligerent warrior who neither asks nor gives a quarter."

Ron Hurst played in his first National Hockey League game on November 13, 1955. On the road at Madison Square Garden, it didn't take Hurst long to register his first NHL point. He assisted on a first period goal by Dick Duff.  A call-up from the AHL Pittsburgh Hornets, Hurst replaced George Armstrong on a line with Tod Sloan and Duff.

Gary Collins got his first taste of NHL action during the 1959 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending the 1958-59 season in the Western Hockey League with the New Westminster Royals, Collins returned to his hometown of Toronto. As the Leafs opened their series against the Boston Bruins, Toronto coach and general manager, Punch Imlach, added Collins to his playoff roster. And in game one against the Bruins, Collins was ready when called upon. With Bert Olmstead unable to answer the bell for the third period due to a charley-horse injury, Collins replaced him.

  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

REMEMBERING JOHNNY McCORMACK


On February 27, 2017, family and friends gathered at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby, Ontario, to say goodbye to Johnny "Goose" McCormack. The former National Hockey League forward passed away on February 22 in Oshawa, Ontario. He was 91 years-old.

Born on August 2, 1925, McCormack left his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta in 1943 to join the OHA junior "A" St. Michael's Majors in Toronto. In his second season with the Majors, he became a Memorial Cup champion on April 23, 1945, when the Majors defeated the Moose Jaw Canucks.

The next year, McCormack was assigned to the Tulsa Oilers of the United States Hockey League. In Tulsa, he recorded 41 points in 45 games.

McCormack took part in the Leafs 1946 training camp in St. Catharines, Ontario, but following camp he made a decision that halted his participation in the game. On October 3, 1946, came the announcement that Johnny McCormack was hanging-up his skates and moving in a different direction. He had another calling that led him to enter the seminary to become a priest. McCormack returned home to Edmonton to start his studies. When news of his departure got out, someone commented, "I guess that goes to show you how far a guy will go to stay out of Pittsburgh." The Maple Leafs farm team, the Hornets, were located in Pittsburgh.

After a one year absence, McCormack returned and picked-up his hockey career in 1947-48 with the Senior Toronto Marlboros. In late January of 1948, McCormack was summoned by the Maple Leafs following an injury to Syl Apps. He made his NHL debut on January 31 against the Detroit Red Wings at Maple Leaf Gardens. McCormack skated between Bill Ezinicki and Harry Watson. Following his three-game trial, he returned to the Senior Marlboros.

His second crack at NHL action came in 1948-49. While with the Senior Marlboros, he was called-up for one contest by the Maple Leafs. Then, it was back to the OHA Senior "A" League  and a 39-point season with the Marlboros.

In 1949-50, a huge development changed the course of McCormack's future. In the midst of another tryout with the Maple Leafs, Conn Smythe and Hap Day liked what they saw and on January 12, 1950, signed McCormack to his first professional contract. Prior to signing on the dotted-line, McCormack scored his first NHL goal on January 7 against the Chicago Black Hawks. A newspaper report noted, "...the Chicago defence was nowhere as he (McCormack) took a pass from Watson at the blueline and romped in unmolested."

Under contract to the Leafs, McCormack hoped his stay in Toronto would be a long one, but in early 1951, his relationship with Conn Smythe began to crumble. His wedding to Margaret Anne Gordon, a nurse at the Hospital for Sick Children, during the hockey season, sent Smythe to another orbit. A day after the nuptials, McCormack was demoted to the Leafs farm team in Pittsburgh. A headline in the Hockey News captured the reason for his being shipped out of Toronto. It declared, "SMYTHE ORDERS GOOSE TO HORNETS FOLLOWING MARRIAGE."

During the '50-'51 campaign, McCormack divided his time between the Leafs and Hornets. His 46 games with the Maple Leafs enabled him to get name on the Stanley Cup, when Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal against Montreal in overtime.

McCormack was completely vanished from the Leafs organization when Smythe dealt him to the Canadiens in September 1951. With the Habs, McCormack won another Stanley Cup in 1952-53. He finished out his NHL career in '54-'55 with Chicago.

Due to his long-reach and masterful poke-check, McCormack will always be remembered for being a solid defensive player. And his sense of humour was always shining through. One night when the Canadiens faced Detroit, referee, Bill Chadwick, was sending a steady stream of Red Wings to the box. With each shorthanded situation, McCormack climbed over the boards to kill the penalty. During a face-off, McCormack told Chadwick, "If you're calling those penalties to give me a chance to play Bill, you can stop right now, I'm all in."

"Goose" continued to play hockey after retiring. On most winter weekends, McCormack and his teammates with the NHL Oldtimers, travelled to hockey barns throughout Ontario to raise money for charities.

Also, McCormack was a regular at the Original Six Alumni Luncheon held in Toronto. At this event, McCormack made the rounds to reminisce. For example, he spent time with Phil Samis, a teammate with the 1945 Memorial Cup champions at St. Mike's. Then, he moved across the room to chat with fellow Leaf, Danny Lewicki, from the 1950-51 squad.

Watching this led to several conclusions. Johnny McCormack was not only a good hockey player and loyal teammate, but also a true gentleman.