April 28, 2010

1939 Stanley Cup: Boston Bruins

The year is 1939. The NHL introduces the best-of-seven playoff format. With the Montreal Maroons folding prior to the start of the season, the NHL devises a new playoff format whereby the top six of the remaining seven teams will compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The powerhouse Boston Bruins are the league's best team in the regular season, finishing ahead of the New York Rangers by 16 points. The Bruins are loaded with stars like Milt Schmidt, Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, Bill Cowley and captain Cooney Weiland. They replaced the revered Tiny Thompson in net with American born Frank Brimsek. Brimsek was quickly dubbed as Mr. Zero as he shutout six of his first seven opponents in his career.
But they were all overshadowed by little known Mel Hill in the semi-final round.

The Bruins and New York Rangers went the distance in the qualifying round for the Stanley Cup finals. Not only did the teams go seven games, but 6 of the games went into overtime. By the end the teams played the equivalent of 9 games!

Game 7 went into triple overtime. Cue our hero, Mel Hill. Hill, on a beautiful set up by center Bill Cowley, would score a sudden-death goal 8 minutes into the third extra stanza, giving the Bruins a 2-1 win and a berth in the finals.

For Hill it was his third overtime winning goal of that BOS-NYR series! Needless to say, he would go down in history best known by his new nickname - Sudden Death Mel Hill.

Bill Cowley remembered that series with special fondness:

"That was the greatest series I ever played in. After that the finals were anti-climatic. The series made Mel Hill famous. He was very nervous. Of course, this was his first playoff. But I can recall him walking the streets half the night after a game, trying to calm down. The rest of us would go have a few beers."

Cowley was ultimately right. The final series against the Toronto Maple Leafs was anti-climatic and easy by comparison. The Bruins dumped the Leafs 4 games to 1. Hill's linemates were the scoring heroes against the Leafs. In the 5 game final series against Toronto Cowley had seven assists while Roy Conacher had 5 goals and 7 points, both records for rookies.

While the Bruins celebrated, it was another long summer in Toronto. The Leafs were a dominant regular season team for much of the 1930s, and made the Stanley Cup finals in six of the last eight years. They lost all but the 1932 championship, and would lose another in 1940.


Derek said...

The line of Conacher-Hill-Cowley scored 16 goals in this playoff and the rest of the team had a total of 12. Cooney Weiland was not a factor in these playoffs 0 points and Clapper had a lone assist -- When people believe these 2 Hall of Famers were a big part they are wrong.

Derek said...

The series was tied 1-1 and the game was scoreless late in the second period - when Shore dislocated Busher Jackson's shoulder. Busher never returned for the series and the Leafs fell apart.

The Kraut line and the Cowley-Conacher-Hill line stole the whole offensive show for this cup.

Shore-Hollett-Crawford-Clapper played their sound D and Brimsek was a stone wall per usual. Brimsek won the Calder and the Vezina.

Art Ross continually said that this was the greatest team he had seen in his 37 years of hockey.

Through most of the late 20's and throughout the 1930's Boston and Toronto had a fierce rivalry. Toronto had eliminated Boston four consecutive times in the playoffs prior to this. In regular season play through the 1930's nobody was as dominant as the Bruins - yet this 1939 Cup was only their second.

Many thought Ross was crazy letting Tiny Thompson go and bringing in the American kid Brimsek but "Mr. Zero" soon proved that he was as good (if not better than) Tiny.

The 1938-1939 season was an exciting Bruin season to document - I have compiled over 200 pages of original newspaper documentation for this year.

For those who do not know - Eddie Shore was the face of hockey. In my opinion nobody has ever touched what he brought to hockey. He was great with the press, great with the fans, could score and crushed opponents.

Derek said...

I should recant that Clapper and Weiland were "NOT A PART" - They were defensive factors and leaders in the dressing room.

Clapper played many years and was always a silent star. He was always named to all-star teams and MVP by Bruin pressmen but aside from the freak season that the dynamite line went on a crazy scoring streak they were not front line news players. Clapper was always over-rode by Shore by the press, and then came Conacher and Hill's dynamics in these 39 playoffs -- Then the Kraut line and Bill Cowley got the print - That said - Is Clapper one of the all-time greatest Bruins? YES

Weiland was a good penalty killer and had a few good years offensively - nothing like Barry had after he came over from Detroit which sent Cooney to Boston.

Anonymous said...

Hi Derek:

I'd be very interested in hearing more about your newspaper documentation for the 1938-39 Boston Bruins.

My uncle, Charlie Sands, was a part of that team and I'm research his story for a theatrical production that I'm creating. You can reach me at: jimbo2000@shaw.ca.


Jim Sands