Thursday, March 18, 2010
In the 1942-43 season, the NHL consisted of seven teams playing a 48 game schedule. The Brooklyn Americans would cease operations following that season, leaving the NHL with just six teams, who would now play a 50 game schedule starting with the 1943-44 campaign. Doug Bentley would lead the NHL in goals that season with 38, six shy of the current NHL record of 44, held by Joe Malone since way back in 1918.
The 1944-45 season was only the third season in the NHL for Maurice Richard. He had broken in with Montreal in 1942-43 with just five goals in only 16 games played due to a leg injury which ended his rookie season on December 27th. He established himself as an NHL regular in 1943-44 with 32 goals in 46 games as the Canadiens would go on to capture the Stanley Cup that season, but Richard had more memorable moments in store for the Montreal faithful the following season.
He started out slowly with just nine goals in the first 28 games, but came on strong with 23 goals in his last 18 games. It came down to the final day of the season on this date in 1945, as Richard's total stood at 49. He had already surpassed Joe Malone's 27-year-old single season record with his 45th goal, but now had his sights set on a record many thought unattainable - 50 in 50.
In fact, the night before referee King Clancy had disallowed a Richard goal, preventing him from reaching the magic 50 goal mark.
During the first two periods, the Canadiens opponents that night, the Boston Bruins, kept a close watch on Richard, keeping him off the scoreboard for both the first and second periods, leaving the score tied at 1-1.
The Bruins gained the lead with a goal in the third, but with 2:15 to play in the final game of the season, Richard broke through and fired the puck past Bruins goaltender Harvey Bennett to become the first 50 goal scorer in National Hockey League history. Despite his record setting goal total, Richard would come second in the NHL scoring race, as Canadiens teammate Elmer Lach would beat Richard to the scoring title by seven points, 80-73.
Fellow "Punch Line" member Toe Blake's 67 points meant for only the second time ever, an entire line finished 1-2-3 in scoring, first accomplished in 1940 by Boston Bruins trio of Milt Schmidt (52 points), Bobby Bauer (43) and Woody Dumart (43) who were known as the "Kraut Line".
The "Punch Line" - Richard, Lach & Blake
In addition to scoring 50 goals in 50 games, another notable highlight of Richard's season would come on December 28, 1944, with five goals and three assists to set a new NHL record with an eight point night at home against the Detroit Red Wings - this on a day he missed the morning skate after moving furniture into his new home and had to convince coach Dick Irvin to put him into the lineup!
Richard would never duplicate 50 goals in the remaining 15 seasons of his career. The closest he would come would be 45 goals in 1947, a season expanded to a now 60 game schedule. Not even the 70 games played in 1949-50 would allow Richard to attain more than the 43 he scored that season for the third best of his career.
Richard would become the first to reach 500 goals in league history on October 19, 1957, aided in part by his leading the league in goal scoring on five separate occasions. Curiously, he never led the league in overall scoring, coming in second five times.
Even though Richard would bring the Stanley Cup to Montreal eight times, including a remarkable five in a row to finish out his career, Richard's status as a legend was cemented early on when he became the first to reach 50 goals in 50 games in just his third season.
It would take another 16 years for any other player to duplicate Richard's 50 goals, when Bernie Geoffrion did it in 64 games in 1960-61, and not until Mike Bossy dramatically scored twice in the final five minutes of his 50th game of the 1980-81 season did anyone match Richard's feat of 50 in 50 some 35 years later.
Since that time, Wayne Gretzky achieved it three times, the first of which was accomplished in an amazing 39 games, as Gretzky scored nine times in two games to vault from 41 goals to the 50 mark. Additionally, Mario Lemeiux did it once and Brett Hull twice to join one of hockey's most exclusive clubs, which remains just five in number since 1992.
Today's featured jersey is a 1958-59 Montreal Canadiens Maurice Richard jersey. Richard was made captain of the Canadiens in 1956 and remained so until his retirement following the 1959-60 season, making him a perfect four-for-four, as the Canadiens would capture the Stanley Cup each of Richard's four seasons as captain to close out his remarkable career.
Here is a look back at Richard's 1944-45 season in which he became the first to score 50 goals in 50 games.