Monday, May 14, 2012

New York Rangers 1939-40

With their 2 to 1 victory in game seven over Washington, the New York Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers are the lone Original Six franchise still in the hunt for Lord Stanley's silverware.

The Blueshirts from Broadway last won the Cup in 1994 against Vancouver. Fifty-four-years prior to this, the 1939-40 squad was the last Manhattan team to celebrate winning the big prize. Their first championship came in 1927-28, followed by another in 1932-33.

In 1939-40, the New York Rangers were guided by Lester Patrick and Frank Boucher. At the management level, Patrick served as general manager, and Boucher as assistant GM. Behind the bench, the roles were reversed, with Boucher as coach, and Patrick in the position of assistant coach.

Boucher, a superstar player for New York, was coming off his first year coaching the New York Rovers in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League. After one term directing the Rovers, he was elevated to the parent club. His appointment was announced in July 1939, during a press conference held in the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa.

Under Boucher, the New York Rangers finished in second-place with 64 points, three shy of league leading Boston. Following 48 regular season contests, New York amassed 27 victories, 11 defeats and 10 draws. In one stretch, they went 19 games without a loss.

Despite being a rookie NHL coach, Boucher proved be to no slouch at his craft. With a fresh face in-charge, came fresh ideas.

When the Rangers were attempting to pull-off their 20th game without a loss, they found themselves in-tough against Chicago. Late in the final period, New York trailed Chicago by a score of 2 to 1. As time ticked down, Boucher went to work, and introduced one of his new concepts. In the second intermission, he briefed goalie Dave Kerr on his strategy.

The plan was unique. With approximately 1:30 remaining, Boucher pulled Kerr, who was replaced on the ice by Ott Heller. At this point all-hell broke loose. Lester Parick, who was positioned by the penalty box, started yelling at his coach, stressing he had too many players on the ice. Paul Thompson, the bench boss for Chicago, heard Patrick shouting at Boucher. The Hawks coach immediately voiced his concerns to the referee.

Lester Patrick & Frank Boucher
Instead of action continuing, the on-ice official whistled down the play, and assessed a penalty against New York. No one took note of New York's net being empty. And this included the "Silver Fox", Lester Patrick!

Protests made by Boucher were ignored by the referee. The Rangers fell 2 to 1 in Chicago Stadium. In defeat, Boucher started a trend which is now the norm.

That wasn't the end to Boucher's trailblazing ways. In 1939-40, he focused on special teams, with attention to how his team performed when down-a-man.

It was customary for NHL coaches to concentrate on defence when their opponent went on the power play. Boucher, acting on a suggestion by Ranger Neil Colville, decided to try something different. His team would mount an attack, rather than sitting back and protecting the area within their blueline.

Like any decent coach, Boucher drilled this new philosophy into his team during practice.

Once everyone was in sync, Boucher implemented his new innovation. A forward line consisting of Mac Colville, Neil Colville and Alex Shibicky, were instructed to penetrate the offensive zone. Their objective being to hem-in the other team and create turnovers. Hopefully, these would be converted into scoring chances. While the forwards went deep, defenceman Art Coulter patrolled the oppositions blueline.

Writing in his autobiography ("When The Rangers Were Young" with Trent Frayne), Boucher described the results. "Over the season we outscored our opponents almost two to one when we were shorthanded," w Boucher.

When action turned up-ice to the Rangers end, Boucher had another trick up his sleeve - the box defence. In this alignment, Ranger players defending against a power play, formed a box. This forced play to the perimeter, resulting in low percentage scoring opportunities.

New York opened the 1940 playoffs at home against Boston on March 19th. The two clubs participated in a Semi-Final series (best-of-seven), while Chicago faced Toronto in a Quarter-Final series (best-of-three). The other Quarter-Final pitted Detroit against the New York Americans.

The Rangers won their showdown by eliminating Boston four games to two. In three of their four victories, goalie Dave Kerr posted a shutout.

Following their Quarter-Final wins, Detroit met Toronto in a best-of-three Semi-Final. The Leafs swept Detroit, setting the stage for the Stanley Cup Final to begin on April 2, 1940.

Although New York held home ice advantage, only two matches were held in Madison Square Garden. Due to a circus being booked into the Garden, games one and two would be it for local fans to stand and cheer their team.

Realizing the importance of this, New York made the most of getting some home-cooking. They won both encounters before heading north to Toronto.

In games three and four at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto evened the series with 2 to 1 and 3 to 0 wins. The heroes were Hank Goldup, who scored the winning goal late in game three, and Turk Broda, who shutout the visitors in game four.

Game five was a thrilling affair, with the score tied at one apiece after sixty-minutes. The extra-time extended to the second overtime period, when Muzz Patrick scored to put his team one victory away from a parade along Broadway.

On April 13, 1940, Toronto was faced with a do-or-die scenario. Once again, the drama hit a fever pitch, when two tallies by New York in the final frame forced overtime. A goal by Alf Pike at 10:01, knotting the score at two-all.

New York thought they scored a third marker at 17:14, when Phil Watson grabbed a loose puck in the crease and sent it past the goal line. The go-ahead-goal was waived-off by referee Bill Stewart. He ruled that Bryan Hextall, who was on top of Broda, made it impossible for the Toronto goalie to make a save.

Hextall, played on New York's third line with Dutch Hiller and Phil Watson. A native of Grenfell, Saskatchewan, Hextall would make-up for his faux pas at 2:07 of OT.

As Hiller carried the puck into Toronto's zone, he lost possession. His linemate Phil Watson, gained control of the black disc along the boards. Heading for the Toronto cage was Hextall. After taking a pass from Watson, an open Hextall lifted a back-hand into the net.

It was the Rangers second Cup win on Maple Leaf Gardens ice. Seven-years to the day, on April 13, 1933, New York captured all-the-marbles with a 1 to 0 victory over the Blue and White.

Looking back on the Rangers Cup win in 1940, Boucher heaped nothing but praise on the men who made it all possible. "It was the best hockey team I ever saw," noted Boucher.

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