Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chicago Black Hawks 1961

With great expectations thrust upon them, the Montreal Canadiens entered the 1960-61 season with one goal - winning a sixth straight Stanley Cup. To accomplish this feat, the Canadiens would have to proceed without the services of Maurice Richard. The Rocket announced his retirement on September 15, 1960.

If there were any cracks in the Habs line-up, they didn't surface during the regular season. The defending champions were at the top-of-the-heap following the seventy-game schedule. Montreal accumulated 92 points with a 41-19-10 record.

Any concerns over the loss of Rocket Richard, were quickly put to rest. Perhaps, emerging out of the Rocket's shadow, Bernie Geoffrion's play propelled him directly in the path of hockey's bright spotlight. Playing in 64 contests, Geoffrion hammered home 50 goals and 45 assists for 95 points. His 50 goals tied a record set by Richard in 1945.

When the winners of the league trophies were made public, there was rejoicing in only two NHL cities. In an even split (of awards), Toronto and Montreal were the only two teams represented. Bernie Geoffrion, based on his Art Ross Trophy numbers, was awarded the Hart Trophy as MVP. Doug Harvey was named top defenceman for the sixth-time. In Toronto, the Maple Leafs were making strides under the leadership of coach/general manager Punch Imlach. Veteran Red Kelly (Lady Byng) was joined by Dave Keon (Calder) and Johnny Bower (Vezina) as Leafs being recognized for their individual efforts.


Doug Harvey
The Montreal Canadiens opened the 1961 Stanley Cup semi-final matched-up against the Chicago Black Hawks. With Rudy Pilous at the helm, Chicago finished the regular season in third place (70-29-24-17-75). The Hawks possessed a balanced line-up with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita on offence, and defenceman Pierre Pilote and goalie Glenn Hall looking after the defensive responsibilities.

The Canadiens/Hawks semi-final got underway on March 21, 1961, in the Montreal Forum. The Canadiens hope of setting the pace was established in game one. Montreal rattled Chicago with a convincing 6-2 win. Taking their lumps in game one, Chicago rebounded in game two, which was a closely played affair. The Hawks defeated Montreal 4-3. The game winning goal was scored by Eddie Litzenberger.



Eddie Litzenberger
In game three at Chicago Stadium, the two clubs left the ice after sixty-minutes of play with the score knotted at one-a-piece. Three overtime periods were required before Murray Balfour settled the matter in Chicago's favour. Two nights later, the Canadiens evened the series at 2-2 by winning 5-2. Of note, goalie Glenn Hall had 60 shots fired at him.

As the series returned to Montreal for the all important game five, there was evidence the powerful Habs were starting to become unhinged. In game three, coach Toe Blake took a poke at referee Dalton McArthur, which resulted in a hefty fine. Also, injuries started to creep throughout the roster. In the Chicago portion of the series, Jean Beliveau, Don Marshall and Bill Hickie all suffered injuries.

If coach Rudy Pilous had any fears his starting netminder would be exhausted - after a game in which he played three overtime periods and a subsequent contest where he was peppered with 60 shots - they were laid to rest in games five and six. Glenn Hall recorded back-to-back, identical, 3-0 shutouts to help his club eliminate the five-time Stanley Cup champions. Montreal's tremendous run came to an end in Chicago Stadium on April 4, 1961.



Glenn Hall
With Chicago's stunning upset, a new champion would be crowned in the National Hockey League. Joining Chicago in this quest, were the Detroit Red Wings. In a five game series, Detroit ousted the Toronto Maple Leafs four games to one. Toronto fans were hopeful for a return visit to the final after winning game one in double-overtime on George Armstrong's goal. The Leafs were Cup finalists in 1959 and 1960. All dreams of a three-peat were wiped-out when Detroit took the next four games.

The Stanley Cup final, game one was played in Chicago Stadium. With the home crowd urging them on, Chicago downed Detroit 3-2. In game two, the Red Wings got revenge by recording a 3-1 victory on their home turf.

Chicago was successful in taking game three as the series shifted back to the Stadium. They beat Detroit 3-1. Game four returned to Detroit, and once again, the home team skated off with a 2-1 win, thus sending their fans out of the Olympia in a happy mood.

The winner of game five in Chicago Stadium, would be one contest away from laying claim to Lord Stanley's prized silverware. It was all Chicago in this pivotal game game as they doubled-up Detroit 6-3.

With momentum on their side, Chicago were hopeful of clinching the series when they visited Detroit on April 16th for game six. The Detroit Red Wings took a 1-0 first period lead on Parker MacDonald's powerplay goal. The tally was set-up by Gordie Howe, who outmaneuvered several Hawk players and fed the puck to an open MacDonald.

Detroit dominated the first five-minutes of period two. Then, Chicago got back into the game, thanks to an unexpected source. At 6:25 of the middle frame, Reg Fleming stripped the puck from Alex Delvecchio.

"I had the puck twice. I took it off Len Lunde in our zone, lost it to Stasiuk (Vic) and got it back when the puck bounced off Delvecchio. I just walked right in and Bassen (Hank) gave me enough space on the short side", Fleming told reporters in a post-game interview.



Reg Fleming
The Hawks Ab McDonald would give his team a 2-1 margin, scoring a goal late in period two. The goal at 18:49 seemed to take the wind out of Detroit's sails.

In the final period, it was all Chicago. Just as devastating as McDonald's marker, Eric Nesterenko scored in the opening minute to give Chicago a two goal spread. The Hawks would add two more goals by Jack Evans (6:27) and Kenny Wharram (18:00). With a 5-1 victory, Chicago claimed their first Stanley Cup in 23 years.



Leading the Hawks in scoring, was future captain, Pierre Pilote. The Chicago defenceman registered 15 points in 12 games (3 goals & 12 assists). He tied Gordie Howe for the playoff lead.

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