Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13, 1944: Durnan and The Punch Line lead Habs to their fifth Cup

STC1944Bill Durnan wrapped up his first season in the NHL as effectively as it began.

The 29-year-old rookie had already claimed the Vezina Trophy, and was a unanimous pick to the First All-Star Team (a first for a rookie), as he led the Montreal Canadiens to first place in the 1943-44 standings.

The Canadiens lost just five games that season, allowing just 109 goals in 50 games. By comparison, the second fewest goals allowed were by the Toronto Maple Leafs with 174.

Up front, coach Dick Irvin finally found chemistry for struggling winger Maurice Richard. In December, the left-handed shooting Richard was put on the right wing with veterans Elmer Lach and Toe Blake. The Punch Line was born, blending in with a well-balanced Canadiens offense (six players had 20 or more goals) that didn’t slow down entering the semifinals against Toronto.

The Leafs would pull off a surprise 3-1 victory in Game 1, but that would be as far as the blue and white would get. The Canadiens won the next four games, with Durnan allowing just three goals the rest of the series. In the final game, he shut Toronto out as the Canadiens humiliated their rivals 11-0.

Richard scored seven goals in the series, including his famous five-goal Game Two (March 23)that earned him all Three Stars of the game. The Rocket’s legend was beginning, but as history would show, he was just getting warmed up.

The Canadiens would move on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the Finals.

Chicago had upset the Detroit Red Wings in five games and came in with some offensive firepower of their own. In fact, Doug Bentley, Clint Smith and Bill Moisienko had a better combined point total than Montreal’s top trio in the regular season.

It would be Richard’s first Final appearance and he would not disappoint. Backed by the goaltending of Durnan, the Canadiens would prove to be no match for the Cinderella hopefuls from the Windy City.

The series took a peculiar format due to lack of ice availability at Chicago Stadium. The first game would be played at the Montreal Forum with the next two games played in Chicago. Game Four, and any remaining games needed, would be played in Montreal.

Montreal took Game One at at the Forum, showing their scoring depth, by a 5-1 score


In Chicago Richard scored all three goals in the Canadiens 3-1 win in Game Two.


In the third game, the Blackhawks managed to get 23 shots at Durnan. Many came from the outside and were easily stopped as Montreal steamed on with a 3-2 victory.

Richard had a single assist in the game, on a second period goal by Blake, that would break the playoff scoring record with his 15th point. It would be a short lived record.


The series moved back to the Montreal with the home team seeking the four-game sweep.

Chicago was not going away easy, and took a 4-1 lead midway into the third period. The forum crowd became angered and started to jeer the Canadiens players. Some even yelled out “Fake!”, feeling their team was throwing the game.

Blake’s squad, an more so the Punch Line, took the crowd’s reaction to heart, and exploded on the Blackhawks.

Lach responded first with a goal,that bounced off the skates of Blackhawks goaltender Mike Karakas, to cut the lead to two with around five minutes to play.

Then a first in Stanley Cup play occurred when the Canadiens Leo Lamoureux tripped up Virgil Johnson on a breakaway. Johnson would be awarded a penalty shot. A Chicago goal would more than likely end any chance for a Montreal rally. Durnan turned aside the penalty shot and stood his ground the rest of the night in the Montreal goal.

Shortly after, it was Richard’s turn. After Blake foiled a Chicago attempt to put the game away, the trio worked up the ice where Blake fed the Rocket the puck. Richard moved in, stopped and drilled the puck past Karakas.

The Forum erupted in jubilation as the Canadiens were within one.

“It was one of the most sensational goals in a Stanley Cup series,” said broadcaster Doug Smith. “This boy Richard beats you all the time. Just when you think he’s scored a goal that defies all description, he comes across with another one.”

Irvin kept his best weapons on the ice in an effort to tie the game, and his players wouldn’t let him down.

Chicago pushed the puck back into the Canadiens zone, but defenceman Emile “Butch” Bouchard stripped Bentley and moved the puck back up the ice. Once the Canadiens broke the blueline, he flipped the puck into the corner for Blake. Again, the veteran found Richard.

Within a minute and 15 seconds, Richard had potted two goals and the game was tied at four.

The game went into overtime where Blake finally put the Forum crowd at ease at 9:12. Durnan and Lach lifted the overtime hero on their shoulders as the crowd cheered and debris littered the ice.

BlakeOT Toe Blake scores the overtime winner in Game 4 – Montreal Gazette Photo


The Montreal Canadiens had won their first Stanley Cup in thirteen  years. The proverbial torch was being passed from the legends of Morenz and Joliat to the new guard of Blake, Lach and Richard.

Irvin stood proud of the team that proved the skeptical crowd wrong.

“There are always people who think everything is fixed and I suspect they must be shady themselves,” the coach said. “The chanting made my players see red. Why, they tied the score with in ten minutes after hearing those taunts and Toe Blake almost tore off the back of the net with his overtime counter.”

HabsWin The Canadiens celebrate their fifth Stanley Cup – Montreal Gazette photo

Richard finished the series with five goals in the Finals as he and his linemates scored 10 of the teams 16 goals. His twelve goals in the playoffs were a new league record.

Blake had factored in on all five goals on the night and jumped ahead of Richard for the playoff scoring race, breaking the league record yet again in the same season.

Some Canadiens Stanley Cup Fun and Games

Bill Durnan not only thwarted the opposition on the way to his first Stanley Cup, but also thwarted his teammates practical jokes along the way as this April 12, 1944 Montreal Gazette shot demonstrates.

Durnan_joke_041244 The photo on the left shows Durnan dumping water on the head of  Murph Chamberlain as he attempts a hot foot on Toe Blake.

Stanley Cup Typos


You’ll notice a few typos on the Cup after the Habs won in 1943 (Bill Durman, Leo Lamoureuz). Durnan’s name was corrected when a Replica cup was created in 1992-93.

Gerald Heffernan won just one Cup in his career but had his first name redone three times. It was originally stamped as Gerald in 1944, then Jerry when the Cup ring was redesigned in 1958 and later Gerry in 1993 on the Replica ring.

Sources for this article:

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 5 and 7, 1944

Montreal Gazette April 6-14, 1944

Diamond, Dan, 2008 Playoff Media Guide:Total Stanley Cup

Jenish, D’Arcy,  The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory

McFarlane, Brian,  True Hockey Stories: The Habs

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