As the Tampa Bay Lightning seek their third straight Stanley Cup, step back with me 73 years and feel what it was like for the Toronto Maple Leafs to be on the threshold of the NHL’s first Trifecta title:
In the spring of 1949 an event took place that the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper would describe as “one of the most sensational comebacks in the history of any sport anywhere.”
The Globe reporter who wrote those words was referring to the 1949 Stanley Cup Final between the heavily-favored, first-place Detroit Red Wings and the seemingly feeble, under.500 fourth-place Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Globe’s stpru was written after the underdog Leafs stunningly had braked and defeated the Winged Wheelers for three straight games. This after Toronto already had won two straight Cups.
Naturally, as a 17-year-old Leafs supporter I was fervently behind my favorite team’s Drive For Three. The clipping you see here — FINE COACHES PILOT CUP FINALISTS — is exactly as it appeared in my scapook. The subhead reads: STEADY HANDS AT HELMS
As you can see, I added my hand-written scrapbook omment before the climactic fourth game. After all, no NHL team had previously won three Stanleys in succession and now my Leafs were skating on the threshold of immortality.
Not knowing precisely what to put in the scrapbook’s open space, I scribbled, WE ARE GETTING READY FOR THE FOURTH AND POSSIBLY FINAL GAME, LEAFS LEAD 3 GAMES TO 0.
The NHL was 32 years old when the Globe and Mail story ran. During that three-decades-plus span, no team ever had won more than two Stanleys in a row and now Toronto was getting that chance.
Interestingly, this particula Globe story focuses on the respective coaches, Hap Day for Toronto and Tommy Ivan for the Motor City skaters.
“Hap, who neither drinks nor smokes,” the Globe noted, “keeps in top physical condition at all times.”
Ivan was singled out as the “only coach in the NHL who did not play professional hockey.” He also was praised for leading his team to the Final playoff round for the second straight year.
The Globe: “Although his team is again threatened with defeat in the final round, Ivan has made a great name for himself in his first two years in the big time. He was all-star coach last year.”
What made Torono’s ascent to the Final in 1949 so arresting was the fact that the two-time Cup champs barely made it into the postseason. Day’s stickhandlers had finished fourth with an under-.500 mark.
“There were times,” said captain Ted Kennedy, “when I didn’t think we would even make the playoffs.”
But they beat Boston in five games over the semi-final round and, to everyone’s amazement, now found themselves just one win away from an unprecedented third consecutive Cup.
“The defending champions shook off their season-long lethargy,” the Globe reporter added, “and went to work. As was the case last year, the Leafs grew stronger as the playoffs advanced.”
Prior to Game Four, coach Day refused to allow himself nor his players to get cocky about their lofty position. “We’re still playing one at a time,” said Day, “and we still have one game to win.”
By this time an aura of tension enveloped the Leafs high command, especially major domo, Conn Smythe. Before Game Four — on the day this story ran in The Globe — Smythe ordered his star center Max Bentley to have a chat and virtually pleaded with him:
“End it soon, kid, I can’t stand much more of this!”
Bentley and fraternity brothers obliged with a 3-1 decision signalling the first — Three Straight Cups — dynasty in the NHL.
Putting an exclamation point on the event, Smythe dashed into the Leafs dressing room shouting:
“YOU DID IT! YOU DID SOMETHING NEVER DONE BEFORE. YOU’VE TAKEN THAT CUP THREE YEARS IN A ROW!”
Now it’s Lightning’s turn, but it’ll take a bit of work at this point.
THE MAVEN’S LUCKY 7 GAME 4 PUNGENT PUNDITRY
1. OTHER MVP: Nazem Kadri may have scored the winner but Darcy Kuemper’s brilliant outlet pass was the key catalyst.
2. REDEMPTION: Darcy’s 16 first period stops saved his team from a blowout, setting the stage for a second period comeback and eventual win.
3. NOT THAT GOOD: As good as he is/was, Andre Vasilevskiy was out-goaled by Kuemper. Vas blew the winner by unnecessarily going down for shot over shoulder.
4. AT THE BRINK: With Game 5 in Denver, it appears that the series is almost over. But almost still doesn’t count!
5. JOLTIN’ JOE: The Avs’ acquisition of Kadri should be enough for Joe Sakic to be GM Of The Year.
6. THE FATAL FLAW: My super-scout, David Kolb, notes that Kadri’s winner was the result of the Bolts “hurried, unorganized line change.” Bolts bumbled.
7. THE PRECISE DUMB-DUMB: Here’s exactly how Super Scout Kolb saw it: “Mikhail Sergachev was the far defenseman and the fatal change in the overtime was on the far side of the ice. The crisp pass by Kuemper did not allow time for a tired Sergachev to change. Kadri then beat the beaten (whopping 1:38) shift of running around, eluded Mikhail and scored the winner.”
8. ATTRITION RULES: At long last Tampa looks tired. Wear and tear has even caught up to Vasilevskiy. A Bolts win in Denver on Friday night will be an unadulterated miracle. No more, no less!
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