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NHL Centennial

Maurice Richard becomes first to score 50 goals

Canadiens forward reached milestone March 18, 1945

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's an unfortunate truth for a goaltender that he can be immortalized not for making an impossible save or for a solid body of work throughout a career, but for a single goal allowed, one shot among the hundreds or thousands he will face.

Harvey Bennett Sr. should know.

It was March 18, 1945 that Bennett was on the wrong side of history. Maurice "Rocket" Richard was on the right side.

Bennett was in goal for the Boston Bruins when Richard scored at 17:45 of the third period.

It mattered little that it was Richard's 87th NHL goal, on his way to 544 during his illustrious career, in the Canadiens' 4-2 win that night.

Much more significant was that it was Richard's 50th goal of the 1944-45 season, making him the first NHL player to score that many in a season. And it came late in the 50th and final game of the regular season.

It was Richard's second full NHL season and was the only time he would score 50; his next best total was 45 in 1946-47.

The Canadiens' fearsome Punch Line, with Elmer Lach at center, Richard at right wing and Toe Blake at left wing, had made mincemeat of the opposition in 1944-45, averaging a combined 4.4 points per game. Lach led the League with 80 points (26 goals, 54 assists), Richard was second with 73 points (50 goals, 23 assists) and Blake third with 67 points (29 goals, 38 assists).

Video: Memories: Richard records 50th goal of the season

Richard hadn't come roaring out of the gate to start his historic season, scoring nine times in his first 28 games. But he gathered steam in the second half, finding what would become his legendary nose for the net.

He scored his 45th goal on Feb. 25 to set the NHL record, passing the 44 scored by Joe Malone of the Canadiens in 1917-18, the League's first season.

Richard inched closer to 50, the pressure building as he endured the relentless shadow, obstruction and stick work of checkers and the suffocating focus of media and fans. He thought he'd scored the milestone goal March 17 in a 4-3 win against the Chicago Black Hawks at the Montreal Forum, but it was disallowed.

The next night in Boston, the Bruins threw a blanket on Richard and led the Canadiens 2-1 going into the final three minutes of the third period.

Bennett was in goal for the Bruins by then, coach Art Ross having substituted him for Paul Bibeault halfway through the game, and the rookie would be written into history with 2:15 left to play when Richard beat him on a pass from Lach to make it 2-2.

Blake, assisted by Richard, and Lach would score in an 18-second span after that, the Punch Line defeating the Bruins with the late surge.

Bennett, just 19, had been called up by the Bruins from the Boston Olympics of the Eastern Hockey League for 25 games. He went 10-12-2 with a 4.20 goals-against average but never returned to the NHL, playing most of the next 14 seasons in the American Hockey League.

Hockey historian Joe Pelletier has written that the goalie's three sons, former NHL players Harvey Bennett Jr., Curt Bennett and Bill Bennett, said their father insisted Richard's 50th goal was kicked in.

A decade before his death in 2004, however, Bennett told The Hockey News, "Elmer Lach gave [Richard] a … lot of help on the play. In fact, Elmer knocked me on my [behind], and when I was down and out, bang, Richard whipped it in the net."

Not long before Richard's death in 2000, he told author and historian Brian McFarlane, "I just don't remember how it was scored."

The Canadiens finished the 1944-45 season atop the NHL standings, 13 points ahead of the second-place Detroit Red Wings, and Richard would score six more goals during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But it was another rookie goalie who stunned Montreal in the postseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs' 26-year-old Frank "Ulcers" McCool eliminating them in six games in the first round.

It was a measure of revenge for McCool, whose name had a month earlier been linked to Richard's for another reason: McCool was the goaltender Richard scored on to break Malone's record.

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