It was a different world in the Spring of 1950 when playoff time rolled around.
Madison Square Garden (III) sat on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets.
Television was so new that anyone who owned a TV set was regarded as "rich." If you wanted to hear the Rangers games on the air, you tuned into 1050 on your A.M. dial (WHN) and heard play-by-play man Bert Lee and his sidekick Ward Wilson.
|Don "Bones" Raleigh was one of the heroes of the 1950 Rangers, as he scored a pair of game-winners in the Stanley Cup Finals vs. the Detroit Red Wings. |
The National Hockey League consisted of only six teams and the top four made the playoffs. In that 1949-50 season, the Blueshirts squeezed into the fourth and final spot feeling lucky that they even made it to the post-season.
Nobody figured that they'd go very far. After all, their first-round opponents were the Montreal Canadiens, led by hockey's Babe Ruth, the mighty Maurice (The Rocket) Richard with Hall of Famer Bill Durnan in goal and plenty of stars sprinkled across the roster.
Then, a chain reaction of miracles that would lead to double overtime of the seventh game of The Finals began unfolding.
For starters, New York's coach, Lynn Patrick
-- he starred on the 1940 Stanley Cup-winning Rangers -- selected a Finnish-born-Canadian-raised left wing to shadow The Rocket. His name was Pentti Lund
and there was little about his past that would suggest he was up for the awesome task.
Patrick's goaltender was Chuck (Bonnie Prince Charlie) Rayner
who never had been on a team that had gone past the first playoff round. His best center was a terribly thin Winnipeg native, Don Raleigh
, who was appropriately nicknamed "Bones." For two periods, Raleigh usually was a dynamo of hockey energy but by the third frame Bones often faded away with fatigue.
In those days, when the circus came to the Garden, it was impossible to accommodate hockey. And since the Ringling Brothers show was just around the calendar, the NHL allowed the fourth-place Rangers to play two out of the first three games in New York.
Sure enough, the Blueshirts opened with a 3-1 win, with Bones Raleigh providing the home club's first goal. Moving to Montreal for Game Two, the New Yorkers stormed back from a two-goal deficit to win again, 3-2. Pentti Lund not only blanked The Rocket for the second straight game but scored his first goal of what would evolve as a sensational series.
Since the circus was about to open, the final playoff game that spring was played on April 2, 1950, at MSG. This time Lund not only smothered Richard again but got himself a three-goal hat trick as the Rangers cruised to a 4-1 victory, giving them a 3-0 lead in the series.
With the series now in Montreal to a finish, the Canadiens finally got a goal from Richard and won 3-2, although Patrick's line of Lund, Raleigh and Ed Slowinski
emerged as the best of the two teams. Game Four at The Forum in Montreal was to give the Habs a new life. But Rayner had other ideas, blanking the Canadiens while his shooters potted three.
Winners of the five-game series, the Rangers had scored one of the greatest upsets in hockey history. Lund had outscored The Rocket, 5-1 while Rayner had so outclassed Durnan that the Canadiens used second-stringer Gerry McNeil for the final two games.
Since Detroit had beaten three-time Stanley Cup champion Toronto in the first round, the Red Wings would take on the Rangers for The Cup.
Unfortunately, the Blueshirts could not return to Broadway since the elephants had taken over their home. What to do?
The NHL arranged that if the series were to go the limit, five games would be played at Detroit's Olympia Stadium and two at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. What it meant was that the Rangers would have no home games in the Finals.
And after Detroit won the opener 4-1 at Olympia, it was freely predicted that the series would end in four straight. But the Rangers would have none of that pessimism. They won Game Two at Toronto 3-1, but lost Game Three, also at Maple Leaf Gardens, 4-0. The remaining four games in the Motor City seemed to doom Patrick's puckchasers.
Bones Raleigh had other ideas. With the score tied, 3-3 in Game Four, the beanpole center scored the winning goal, beating Harry Lumley while sliding on his stomach in overtime.
Game Five was a "deja-vu" contest as Raleigh tallied another overtime goal, putting the Rangers only one win away from The Stanley Cup.
The hockey world couldn't believe what was happening, especially after New York opened a 3-1 lead in Game Six, and led by a goal early in the third period. This time the home club rallied and eked out a 5-4 triumph.
So, it all came down to Game Seven at Olympia and, once again, the Rangers rushed to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Detroit tied the count but the Blueshirts had one more chance as Buddy O'Connor
gave them the lead at 11:42 of the middle period. Alas, it wasn't enough. The Red Wings tied the count, sending the game to sudden death overtime.
|Dunc Fisher's shot in Game 7 of the 1950 Stanley Cup Finals fooled Hall of Fame goalie Harry Lumley but then hit a post. |
In the first extra session forward Dunc Fisher
and defenseman Pat Egan
broke free with a two-on-one break. Egan fed Fisher who beat Lumley in the Detroit goal but his shot clanged off a goal post.
"I was right there to put in the rebound," Egan told me during an interview a few years ago. "The puck was an inch from my stick when Lumley turned with his big goalie stick and knocked it out of danger."
The second sudden-death period remained deadlocked until almost eight-and-a-half minutes had elapsed and a face-off was called in deep Rangers zone. George Gee motioned his wing, Pete Babando, to move five feet back before Gee took the draw.
Babando obliged and Gee skimmed the puck to the Pennsylvania-born Babando. His shot was screened and Rayner never saw it as the red light shone at 8:31 of the second overtime.
For the Rangers the clock struck Midnight on their Cinderella story but, in one sense, it did have a happy ending -- Lund led all playoff scorers with six goals and five assists in twelve games. Rocket Richard had only one goal and one assist.
Had Fisher's shot been a half-inch more to the right, we'd still be talking about the greatest upset in hockey history. Nevertheless, it ranks among the most valiant in Rangers annals.
Too bad the elephants stormed the old Garden at the wrong time!