July 27, 2014

1938-39: The Legend of Sudden Death Hill

The Three Stars:

Sudden Death Hill Strikes Three Times - A 10 goal scorer during the regular season, Boston's Mel Hill earns the nickname Sudden Death in the 1939 playoffs. He explodes for six playoff goals in 12 games, including 3 overtime winners in one seven-game semifinal win over the New York Rangers. Two of them come in triple overtime, including the game 7 series winner.

Mel Hill shakes the hand of Bert Gardiner

Goodbye To The Montreal Maroons - The Montreal Maroons, Stanley Cup champs just three seasons ago, post a NHL worst 12-30-6 in 1937-38 and take a leave of absence for the 1938-39 season, but they never return citing financial hardships. The Maroons players are spread among the remaining teams and the two division format is dropped. Six of seven teams make the playoffs.

Toe Blake Is Lone Bright Spot For Dismal Habs - The Montreal Canadiens squeak into the playoffs, finishing sixth with a weak record of 15-24-9. But it is not for a lack of effort from emerging superstar Toe Blake. The man named Toe leads the NHL in scoring with 47 points and wins the coveted Hart Trophy as the league's MVP, making him the 4th MVP/Scoring champ in history. Oddly enough the others were all Montreal players too - Nels Stewart of the Montreal Maroons in 1925-26, and Howie Morenz of the Canadiens twice in 1927-28 and 1930-31.

Season Highlights:

  • The Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup, thanks largely rookie goalie "Mr. Zero" Frank Brimsek. He posts six shutouts in his first eight NHL starts! He wins the Calder and Vezina trophies, is named a first team all star and, with a GAA of 1.50, wins the first ever 7 game Stanley Cup series (including 2 lengthy overtimes) over the New York Rangers before knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup.
  • Boston has another star rookie: Roy Conacher becomes the first freshman ever to lead the league in goals, with 26. He added 6 more in the playoffs. Bill Cowley leads the league in assists with 34.
  • As always back then, the Bruins only go as far as four time Hart Trophy winning defenseman Eddie Shore takes them. He threatened to sit out the season due to a contract dispute. NHL President Frank Calder even intervenes in negotiations. Shore does sign for $7,000 for the season, but was never happy with the contract.
  • The defending Stanley Cup champions Chicago are a mess, firing their coach, Bill Stewart, after 21 games and ultimately missing the playoffs.
  • Cashing in on a $500 bet from coach Lester Patrick, New York Rangers players Muzz Patrick and Art Coulter become the first known bearded players. Of course beards are a NHL tradition nowadays.
  • The NHL changes the penalty shot rule to the breakaway format now seen today.
  • The league abandons the two referee system and returns to the 1 ref/1 linesman system.
Mr. Zero Frank Brimsek

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