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.
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.