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NHL Centennial

Maurice Richard's five-goal, three-star night

Canadiens star made Stanley Cup history by scoring all of Montreal's goals in 5-1 win March 23, 1944

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL -- The angry hooting began when the three-star announcement boomed through the Forum on the night of March 23, 1944.

"La troisième étoile, the third star … Maurice Richard!"

Unhappiness turned to mild amusement as the announcement continued:

"La deuxième étoile, the second star … Maurice Richard!"

And then, tumultuous cheering amid great joy:

"La première étoile, the first star … Maurice Richard!"

 

[Related: Maurice Richard becomes first to score 50 goals]

 

The Montreal Canadiens' brilliant right wing was awarded all three stars after scoring all five goals in a 5-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals. One newspaper story would be headlined: "Richard 5, Leafs 1."

Never before in the modern era had a player scored five goals in a playoff game. Only once had it happened at all, at Jubilee Arena on March 1, 1919, the NHL's second season, five years before the Forum was built, when the Canadiens' Newsy Lalonde scored five goals in a 6-3 victory against the Ottawa Senators.

Video: Memories: Richard ties playoff record with five goals

It has happened three times in the playoffs since Richard's historic night: Darryl Sittler of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Reggie Leach of the Philadelphia Flyers, each in 1976, and Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989.

But only Richard has scored every one of his team's five goals in a playoff game, and his night for the ages -- the 38th, 39th, 40th, 41st and 42nd of his 626 NHL regular-season and playoff goals -- was hugely important for his team.

The Canadiens had lost Game 1 to the Maple Leafs 3-1 two nights earlier. It was an inauspicious playoff start for the Canadiens, who hadn't won the Stanley Cup since its fourth championship in 1931. It also was a slap in the face for the Canadiens, who had finished atop the League standings in 1943-44 with 83 points, 33 ahead of third-place Toronto.

Richard pretty much threw the Canadiens on his back for Game 2 to "give the huge crowd of 12,243 cash customers thrill after thrill as he scored all five goals," in the words of Montreal Gazette sports columnist Dink Carroll.

"Part of the Leafian strategy was to tie up Richard," Carroll continued. "They said they could stop the Habitants by stopping him. But last night they simply could not hold the boy from Bordeaux, and to coach Dick Irvin must go an assist for the black-haired forward's great display."

Maple Leafs forward and captain Bob Davidson was assigned the task of checking Richard, but he would be neither the first nor the last to fail to contain him, especially when Irvin dramatically shortened his bench, often triple-shifting Richard.

"Half the time he was out there, Davidson was sitting on the bench and Richard made a monkey of the younger Leafs who tried to take over the task of shadowing him," Carroll reported.

Richard scored three times in the second period and twice in the third against Toronto goalie Paul Bibeault. Richard's "Punch Line" left wing Toe Blake assisted on all five goals and center Elmer Lach had four assists to complete a 14-point night for the most fearsome line of its time.

The Maple Leafs made it 2-1 in the second period when Reg Hamilton beat Canadiens goalie Bill Durnan on a 50-foot shot while Richard was serving a tripping penalty. After that, an ignited Rocket turned the game on its ear.

 

[Related: Maurice Richard: 100 Greatest NHL Players]

 

The visitors argued that a bit of chicanery had helped the Canadiens score their first goal, contending that a rinkside fan had snatched the stick out of Davidson's hands during a Canadiens rush and thrown it down the ice, forcing him to chase it down. Davidson reclaimed the stick just before Richard opened the scoring on passes from Blake and Mike McMahon.

Richard's fifth goal was his most spectacular. He took a pass from Blake, wheeled past Hamilton on one skate, cut sharply in front of Bibeault and scored between the goalie's legs.

The game had some edge. Montreal's Glen Harmon was cut but not badly injured by the high stick of Toronto's Don Webster. When referee Bill Chadwick didn't call a penalty, fans pelted the ice with the usual debris; reporters made special note of a golf ball, in rare supply during the war, that flew down out of the stands, "some fan making a real sacrifice."

Richard was just getting warmed up, as were the Canadiens. They won 2-1 in Game 3, then beat the Maple Leafs 4-1 in Game 4 and 11-0 in Game 5 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, where they swept the Chicago Black Hawks. Richard led the League with 12 playoff goals, and his 17 points were one fewer than Blake. Lach had a League-high 11 assists to go with his two goals.

Richard would score five goals once more in his career. That came nine months later, Dec. 28, 1944, after a full day of moving from one Montreal apartment to another. An exhausted Rocket begged for the night off but was told by Irvin to at least give it a try; he had five goals and three assists in the Canadiens' 9-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.

Richard remains the Canadiens' playoff leader with 82 goals, three more than Jean Beliveau and 18 more than the 64 of Yvan Cournoyer. His 18 game-winning playoff goals are tops on the Canadiens, as are his seven hat tricks, including three four-goal games. Richard also twice scored a Canadiens record-equaling seven goals in a single series.

His three-star sweep 73 years ago was unprecedented in the 8-year-old promotion that began in 1936 as a clever way to advertise Imperial Oil's Three Star gasoline, a product that in 1936 would cost Canadians 19 1/2 cents per gallon, or 4.3 cents per liter in a metric system whose use at the pumps was decades into the future.

The novelty of naming an NHL player all three stars still is talked about more than seven decades later, with Richard blazing a trail in that category as well.

Video: 1944 SemifInal, Gm2: Five goals for Rocket Richard

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