Photo: canadiens.comMaurice Richard’s playoff performance on March 23, 1944 certainly had the hockey world’s attention, as to just what was to be unleashed over the next 16 years.
With his first full NHL season in the books, the Rocket, nearly deemed a bust prospect a season prior , scored 32 goals and finished third in team scoring behind line mates Elmer Lach and Toe Blake.
The Montreal Canadiens as a whole dominated the NHL, finishing first overall with a 38-5-7 record. Their opponents in the Stanley Cup Semi-Final would be the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The third place Leafs could lay claim to two victories and a tie vs. Montreal during the regular season, so they couldn’t be taken lightly. Such was the case in Game One at the Forum, when the visitors walked away with a 3-1 victory.
Toronto’s key to victory was to confine Richard. It worked for the first game, with some strong shadowing by Toronto’s Bob Davidson.
That strategy unravelled quickly with a smart countermove by coach Dick Irvin in Game Two. Irvin dressed four defensemen and only eight forwards, rotating his high-scoring forward on all three lines. Davidson couldn’t keep up, and spent half of the time watching his target from the Leafs’ bench.
After no scoring in the first 20 minutes, Richard put a pair of goals past Paul Bibeault in within 17 seconds of each other. Toronto replied with a single goal by Reg Hamilton, as Richard watched from the penalty box after a tripping call.
The feisty winger potted his third goal of the evening with under four minutes to play in the period. He didn’t stop there, adding a pair of goals before the third period even reached the midway point.
Playing with caution to the wind, coach Irvin kept The Rocket off the ice for the duration of the game.
Photo: La PresseAt the conclusion of the game, the 12,343 in attendance at the Forum began to boo when Richard skated out, announced as the game’s Third Star. Once they saw him skate out a second time as the Second Star, they realised something was up as the Habs’ scoring machine appeared again to a thunderous roar as the First Star. Newspapers in both cities led off their game recaps with the headline, “Richard 5 – Toronto 1.”
Five goals in a playoff game had not been seen at the NHL level in a quarter century, when the Habs first superstar, Newsy Lalonde netted five in the third game of the 1919 NHL Championship. Lalonde and Richard, who is often given credit as the first to do it in the “modern era”, have since been joined by Darryl Sittler, Reggie Leach and Mario Lemieux as the only five-goal scorers in a single NHL playoff game.
Much of Richard’s success was attributed to Blake and Lach. The veteran left winger assisted on all five goals, while Lach factored in on four. Montreal also had outstanding goaltending from Bill Durnan and a shutdown unit of Phil Watson, Murph Chamberlain and Ray Getliffe kept the Leafs attack at bay.
The Canadiens would win the next three games of the series, concluding it with an 11-0 pasting of their long-time rivals. They would sweep the Chicago Black Hawks to win the Cup.
An assist to Leo: Le Petit Journal noted in their next edition following the game, that Maurice Richard scored all five goals with a borrowed stick from teammate Leo Lamoureux. The superstitious Rocket kept the stick.
Also On This Day..
1933: The Canadiens send Nick Wasnie to the Ottawa Senators for cash to complete trade for Harold Starr and Leo Bourgeault from February 14, 1933.
1954: Jacques Plante recorded his second career playoff shutout as the Canadiens won 2-0 over the Bruins in Montreal, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals.
1999: The Habs trade captain Vincent Damphousse to the San Jose Sharks for a 2nd round pick in 2001, which was later traded to Columbus (Kirk McLeod), a 5th round pick (Marc-Andre Thinel) in 1999 and future considerations, which became a 1st round pick (Marcel Hossa) in 2000. Montreal also made a cash deal with the Phoenix Coyotes for Jean-Francois Jomphe.
2012: Erik Cole scored a hat trick in the Habs 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Habs Born On This Day: Charlie Sands (1910), Donnie Marshall (1932)
Montreal Gazette, March 24, 1944, “Richard Tallies All Five Markers,” Dink Carroll
Montreal Matin, March 24, 1944
NHL Guide and Record Book, 2009
626 by 9, A Goal-by-Goal Timeline of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard’s Scoring Career, by Sheldon Posen
Maurice Richard – Hockey’s Rocket, by Ed Fitkin
Maurice Richard, Reluctant Hero – Goyens/Orr
The Sports Immortals, Associated Press, 1972
Special Thanks to Francis Bouchard