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Richard's historic night for Canadiens in 1944 playoffs unmatched

Hall of Famer only NHL player in postseason to score all five of team's goals

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler will write a weekly scrapbook for this season. Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," will share his knowledge, humor and insight with readers each Wednesday.

Today, he looks at Maurice Richard's five-goal game in the 1944 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Go to the NHL's online records site and you'll find an entry under "Skater Records"  in the Playoffs section for "Most Goals, Playoff Game .

Click on it and you'll find that five players share the record of having scored five goals in a Stanley Cup Playoff game: Newsy Lalonde and Maurice Richard of the Montreal Canadiens; Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But only one of those five can say he scored all five of his team's goals in one game. That man would be Richard, whose performance on March 23, 1944, ranks among the greatest one-man displays in NHL history. By the end of that night at the Montreal Forum, reporters were referring to Richard as "The Babe Ruth of Hockey."

The Canadiens were facing their biggest rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in Game 2 of the 1944 Stanley Cup Semifinals. They had lost the opener 3-1 at home two nights earlier and couldn't afford another loss with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Maple Leaf Gardens.

"We were in trouble," Richard told me when I ghosted his book "The Flying Frenchmen." "I was on the 'Punch Line' with Toe Blake and Elmer Lach. They helped me get 32 goals that season, but I got nothing in the opening game.

"Toronto's coach, Hap Day, had assigned his tough checking forward Bob Davidson to shadow me. In the first period, Davidson was all over me and I didn't even get a shot on their goalie, Paul Bibeault."

But the "Rocket" broke out early in the second period, beating Bibeault at 1:48 to put Montreal ahead 1-0. Lach and Blake quickly orchestrated a passing play after the faceoff and Richard scored again at 2:05 for a 2-0 lead.

"Davidson was still checking me and I wasn't getting chances until late in the second, when my linemates set me up again," said Richard, whose goal at 16:46 gave Montreal a 3-1 lead after two periods. "Just three chances and I had the hat trick."

Still, a two-goal lead entering the third period was not insurmountable by a talented opponent, so Canadiens coach Dick Irvin stuck with his top line to start the third period. One minute later, Richard scored his fourth goal, setting off an eruption at the Forum.

By now the crowd was beside itself, wanting to see if Richard could get his fifth of the night. He could, and No. 5 was perhaps the most spectacular. Richard took a pass from Blake (who assisted on all five goals), wheeled past Toronto's Reg Hamilton while on one skate, cut sharply to the front of the net and beat Bibeault at 8:54 of the third period.

The game ended 5-1 for Montreal, with Richard scoring all five goals.

But that wasn't all. Richard's flair for the dramatic was underlined when Foster Hewitt, the play-by-play man on the "Hockey Night in Canada" radio broadcast, made an unprecedented three-star postgame selection.

After receiving Hewitt's handwritten choices, the Forum's public address announcer intoned that the third star belonged to Richard. The partisan crowd reacted with hoots of derision, figuring that other players somehow would be named the second and first stars.

Next came the second star announcement -- Richard again. A pause and a hush came over the Forum followed by the announcement of "La premiere etoile, the first star -- Maurice Richard." The packed house erupted again; not only had Richard scored all his team's goals, he'd been awarded all three stars of the game.

A Montreal newspaper underlined the uniqueness of his effort with its headline the next morning: RICHARD 5, LEAFS 1!

Richard kept on scoring, finishing with 12 goals in nine playoff games as the Canadiens finished off the Maple Leafs in five games and swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final to win the Cup for the first time in 13 years.

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