As you may know, Gordie Howe won four Stanley Cups in his time in Detroit. Though he’s remembered for his longevity in the Detroit uniform, he actually won all of his Cups by the age of 27.
His first one, however, he played just a lone game in the playoffs. This is the story of that 1949-50 team.
The Wings had a pretty great year overall, finishing with 11 more points than anyone else in the six-team league, scoring the most goals and allowing the second-least.
Lindsay, Abel, and Howe also finished 1-2-3 in league scoring. #WOW. #GOODOFFENCE.
By all factors, this was a team heavily favoured to win it all.
Despite the regular season not being overly challenging, the 1950 Cup run really couldn’t have been much harder. Down 4-0 in the third period of Game One of the opening round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gordie Howe’s infamous fractured skull incident with Teeder Kennedy happened.
It’s a topic that’s still disputed to this day as to exactly what happened to the 21-year old Howe.
Al Nickelson was one of the few reporters to cover the game. He wrote in the Globe and Mail, a Toronto based newspaper, that “it appeared to this observer that Kennedy, in stopping short, had raised his elbow as a protective gesture and that Howe had struck it, before smashing into the boards with his face as he fell.” Red Burnett of the Toronto Daily Star suggested that “referee George Gravel saw the mishap to Howe, didn’t call a penalty, and that proves, as far as we are concerned, that Kennedy did not hit Howe.” Furthermore, the referee’s report was enough to convince National Hockey League President Clarence Campbell to exonerate Kennedy fully.
If you’re interested, the following video from ESPN’s Keith Olbermann also describes the event in detail.
Of course, we’ll never fully know the exact specifics of the incident. But either way, Gordie was out for the rest of the playoffs with a fractured skull, an injury some feared could end his career at the time.
After losing Game 1 5-0, Detroit then split the next four games with Toronto, and headed into Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens for Game Six down 3-2. Leo Reise was the Hero in a 2OT win in Game Four, a pivotal victory as they would’ve fallen behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Shut out 5-0, 2-0, and 2-0 in the Leafs’ three wins in the series, Detroit made sure it was on the right side of the scoreline this time and came away with a commanding 4-0 win in game six. In the epitome of a back-and-forth series, the Original Six pair was tied at 3-3, heading into Game Seven for a Stanley Cup final berth.
Twenty minutes of Game Seven went by with no goals. Then forty. Then sixty.
One goal was all that was needed to make the Stanley Cup Final.
And again, it was Leo Reise, the hero from earlier in the series, who would find the back of the net in overtime of Game Seven to push the Howe-less Detroit to the 1950 Stanley Cup Final, where they’d match up against the Rangers.
History repeats itself, doesn’t it?
The first four games of this series had two major similarities to Wings series of the past.
A) the games went back and forth, just like their opening series against Toronto. The Wings took the first and third game, while the Rangers took games two and four.
B) Because of the circus being hosted at Madison Square Garden, Games Two and Three of the Series were not played in New York (just like what happened to the Wings in 1936-37, and many other Rangers opponents throughout the years). But instead of being moved to Detroit, they were moved back to Toronto.
Now, the schedule after Game Four didn’t make a whole lot of sense from a fariness standpoint. The Wings ended up being scheduled to host five games in the final and playing the other two at a neutral site. Just imagine the outrage of that happening today.
Hoopla aside, the Wings lost games four and five both on overtime goals from Don Raleigh in both games.
Just like against Toronto, the Red Wings would need two consecutive victories to clinch the Cup.
Game Six wasn’t easy, as the Wings just edged ahead by a 5-4 scoreline.
Once again, it was a winner-take-all for the final.
Six goals were scored in the sixty minutes: three for Detroit, three for New York
And just like in round one, it’d require overtime: the first, and only one of two Stanley Cup Finals in history, to require overtime in a Game Seven.
Midway through the second extra period, this happened:
Wings starter Harry Lumley finished the playoffs with a statline of 14 games, 8 wins, 6 losses, and 28 goals against for a 1.85 GAA.
He was then traded to the Chicago Blackhawks to make room for a young goalie named… Terry Sawchuk.
The rest is history, so they say.
(Gordie Howe, by the way, won the Art Ross Trophy the following season, his first of six.)
(All stats via Hockey-Reference.com)