Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened the 1950-51 season by going undefeated in their first 11 games, led by Al Rollins in goal. The Maple Leafs finished the 70 game schedule with a 41-16-13 mark and their .679 winning percentage remains a team record. Despite the record mark, the Maple Leafs actually finished second in the final regular season standings to the Detroit Red Wings, whose 44-13-13 record allowed them to finish 6 points ahead of Toronto as they became the first team to reach 100 points in the standings with 101.
Max Bentley led the Maple Leafs in scoring with 21 goals and 41 assists for 62 points, followed by Teeder Kennedy's 61 points, Tod Sloan with 56 and Sid Smith's 51, as all four finished in the league's top ten scorers. Rollins 1.77 goals against average led the league and won him the 1951 Vezina Trophy.
Oddly, the playoff matchups for the semi-finals saw the #1 Detroit Red Wings paired off against the #3 Montreal Canadiens rather than the expected #4 club. That left the #2 Maple Leafs to play the #4 Boston Bruins. Montreal upset Detroit 4 games to 2 and Toronto earned their place in the finals by eliminating the Bruins 4 games to 1.
Game 1 in Toronto went to overtime as the Maple Leafs prevailed by a score of 3-2. The Canadiens evened the series heading back to Montreal with an identical 3-2 victory in Game 2, which also went to overtime.
The Maple Leafs spoiled the Canadiens homecoming in Game 3 with a narrow 2-1 win, which required yet another extra period after the clubs were tied after regulation. Toronto put themselves in the driver's seat in Game 4 with their second win in Montreal by a score of 3-2, this one yet again in overtime.
Game 5 took place on this day in 1951 at Maple Leaf Gardens back in Toronto. Just when it looked like a game would be settled in regulation, the Maple Leafs' Sloan evened the score with his second goal of the game with just 32 seconds remaining and Toronto's goaltender Rollins on the bench for an extra attacker, forcing an overtime for the fifth consecutive game.
The overtime took two minutes and 53 seconds as Bill Barilko, a defenseman, moved in from the point and launched himself at the puck, sending it flying over Canadiens goaltender Gerry McNeil as he fell to the ice for what is considered to be by many the most famous goal in the long history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, ending what has become known as the "Sudden Death Series", as each one of the five games went into overtime.
It would be the final goal Bill Barilko would ever score.
Four months later the 24 year old Barilko and his dentist Henry Hudson would board Hudson's plane headed for Seal River, Quebec on a fishing trip and never return. The plane went down on the flight home and remained undiscovered for eleven years before being found 35 miles off course. The cause of the crash was determined to have been a combination of pilot inexperience, poor weather and overloaded cargo.
After winning the Stanley Cup four times in the previous five years, the Maple Leafs would not win another Stanley Cup while Barilko was missing, finally winning again in 1962, the year Barilko was finally found six weeks after the Maple Leafs won the cup.
1950-51 Stanley Cup Champion Toronto Maple Leafs
Barilko's story was chronicled in the song "Fifty Mission Cap" by the Canadian band The Tragically Hip in 1992.
Barilko's #5 is one of only two numbers officially retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Today's featured jersey is a 1950-51 Toronto Maple Leafs Bill Barilko jersey, the one he wore when he scored one of the most famous goals in Maple Leafs history, the overtime game winner of the 1951 Stanley Cup Finals. This jersey is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This style jersey was worn by the Maple Leafs from 1938 to 1958.
In today's video section, Ken Dryden talks about the significance of Barilko's goal.