Early in the 1943-44 season Montreal coach Dick Irvin put a feisty young second year winger named Maurice Richard (replacing Joe Benoit) on a line with veteran stars Toe Blake and Elmer Lach. The legendary Punch Line was born. Richard, who missed most of his rookie season with injuries, exploded for 32 goals, while Blake and Lach added 26 and 24 goals, respectively. The Punch Line paces Montreal to an incredible 38-5-7 regular season and the Stanley Cup!
The Three Stars:
Center Ice Opens Up The Game: This particular season is considered to be the beginning of hockey's modern era, thanks to some rule changes. The league allows defending teams to pass across their blue lines and adds a center red line to which they can pass the puck from within their end. The league's goals-per-game average jumps by a full goal.
Babe Pratt sets a record for defensemen scoring with 57 points and is awarded the Hart Trophy. Interestingly, the playboy Pratt roomed not with a fellow teammate but head coach Hap Day. Keeping a short leash on the Babe seemed to have paid off well.
Low Rangers: The New York Rangers organization lost 28 men to the armed forces during World War II. With only six players returning from the previous season, the Rangers get off to a 0-14-1 star and finishing 6-39-5. One of their losses set an embarrassing record as Detroit beat them 15-0 on January 23rd, 1944. Coach Frank Boucher, the 43 year old former star player, even returned to the ice, but to no avail. He does score 14 points in 15 games, however.
- On February 23rd, 1944 Chicago and Toronto skate through the only scoreless and penalty free game in NHL history.
- On October 30th, 1943 Toronto's Gus Bodnar sets a NHL record by scoring just 15 seconds into his first NHL game.
- On February 3rd, 1944 Syd Howe scores 6 goals in a 12-2 Detroit Win over the Rangers.
- One of the big reasons for Montreal's turnaround is goaltender Bill Durnan. The 27 year old had long been reluctant to turn pro, but he did and won the Vezina trophy in his first year. He would win six Vezinas in the next 7 seasons.
- Boston's Herb Cain captures the NHL scoring title with 82 points - a 46 point improvement over his previous best season.