Like everything in life, the National Hockey League didn't escape the consequences of World War 11. NHL rosters were stripped of key components, as players signed up for military action. The main competition between NHL clubs was battling for players. The goaltending position took a direct hit. In Toronto, the Leafs starting goalie, Turk Broda, left the team to join the Canadian war effort. Scrambling for an experienced replacement, Toronto signed former Leaf Benny Grant. He was on the Leafs 1931-32 squad. Grant's last NHL action came with the 1933-34 New York Americans. In '43-44 Benny Grant played in 20 games with Toronto. In Montreal, the Canadiens turned to rookie Bill Durnan.
Highlights from 1943-44 included Montreal's perfect run on home ice. Their record in the Montreal Forum was 22-0-3. Toronto defenceman, Babe Pratt, gathered 6 assists in a contest on January 8, 1944, against Boston. Pratt would go on to capture the Hart Trophy (League MVP) at the end of '43-44. Other trophy winners were Gus Bodnar (Calder), Bill Durnan (Vezina) and Clint Smith (Lady Byng/Chicago).
The National Hockey League owners took steps to change the style of game being produced on the ice. They voted in favour of putting a red line across centre ice, thus allowing players to pass the puck to that point. This rule change is considered to be the start of the modern era in hockey. The move was designed to increase offensive play and supply entertaining action in a league which was depleted of many NHL regulars.
In the playoffs, semi-final play set Toronto against Montreal and Chicago versus Detroit. Both were best-of-seven series with Montreal downing Toronto (4-1) and Chicago taking out Detroit (4-1).
On April 13, 1944, the Montreal Canadiens defeated Chicago 5-4 to claim the Stanley Cup. It was Montreal's first Stanley Cup since 1931. And they performed the feat in dramatic fashion.
Leading the series 3-0, Montreal had the opportunity to sweep Chicago in four straight games. Game four was played in the Montreal Forum before 12,880 spectators. The first period ended in a 1-1 tie with Elmer Lach scoring for Montreal and George Allen for Chicago. In the middle frame, Chicago benefited from two straight Montreal penalties. In a span of three minutes, they scored three goals to go ahead 4-1. Scoring for the Hawks were John Harms, George Allen and Doug Bentley.
Toe Blake set an NHL record for most points in the playoffs. His 18 points surpassed Rocket Richard's record of 15 points which was reached earlier in the finals against Chicago.