Friday, May 13, 2011

Detroit Red Wings 1954 & 1955

After a period of rest during the summer, the saga of Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings versus Rocket Richard and the Montreal Canadiens, continued in the 1953-54 season. The Wings led the class of '54 by racking-up 88 points, compared to second place Montreal's 81 points.

In the battle of superstars, Howe won his fourth straight Art Ross Trophy, finishing with 33 goals and 48 assists for a total of 81 points in 70 games. Richard was right behind Howe with 67 points. The Rocket scored 37 goals and 30 assists for 67 points in 70 contests.

Both Detroit and Montreal added prized rookies to their line-ups. The Canadiens signed Jean Beliveau to a contract, while Detroit inked Earl Reibel. Beliveau was limited to participating in 44 games due to injuries. In Detroit, Reibel played in 69 games, scoring 15 goals and adding 33 helpers for 48 points. This was good for seventh spot in the points race. When the final votes were counted for the Calder Trophy (top rookie), Camille Henry emerged the winner. The New York Rangers centre potted 24 goals which seemed to influence those marking their Calder ballot.

Besides Howe winning the Art Ross, Detroit had one other trophy winner - make that double-trophy recipient. In '53-54, the National Hockey League introduced a new award - the Norris Trophy. This was to be presented to the leagues top defenceman. The initial winner was Red Kelly of Detroit. Also, Kelly was named the winner of the Lady Byng.

The semi-finals opened on March 23, 1954, with Detroit hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. In the Montreal Forum, Boston paid a visit to play the Canadiens. In game one, both Detroit and Montreal set the tone for the remainder of the series. Detroit blanked Toronto 5-0, while Montreal shutout Boston 2-0. The Habs would sweep Boston in 4 straight. Detroit required one extra contest to win their best-of-seven tilt 4-1.

The two best teams over the course of the season, opened the final on April 4, 1954. Detroit and Montreal split games one and two in the Olympia by identical 3-1 scores.

In Montreal for games three and four, Detroit stunned the Montreal crowd by taking both games by scores of 5-2 and 2-0.

Facing elimination in game five, Montreal buckled down defensively, with Gerry McNeil replacing Jacques Plante in goal. In a brilliant display of netminding, McNeil blanked Detroit 1-0, with Ken Mosdell scoring the overtime winner.

With momentum shifting to their side, Montreal needed a win in game six to force a seventh and deciding contest. Playing on home ice, Montreal defeated Detroit 4-1. The stage was set for a winner-takes-all, one game battle, for Lord Stanley.

Tony Leswick
On April 16, 1954, all eyes in the hockey world were focused on the Detroit Olympia. As expected, it was a closely played game. Following the first period, Montreal had a 1-0 lead on a goal scored by Floyd Curry. A goal by Red Kelly in the middle frame evened the score at 1-1. There was no scoring in period three.

For only the second time in NHL history, would a game seven be decided in overtime. The winning goal would come courtesy of Detroit's Tony Leswick at 4:29 of the first overtime period.

Details of the dramatic Cup winning goal were recorded in the following newspaper account.
Tony, who scored only six goals during the regular season, came coasting into the Montreal zone while tall Glen Skov, centre on Tony's line, went into the left corner. Skov dug out the puck and sent it across the front of the Montreal goal. Tony pounced on it and let drive from about 30 feet out and off toward right wing.
Goalie Gerry McNeil saw the shot coming and was set to play it. Harvey, anxious to protect the little Montreal goalie, stuck up his hand to block the shot. The puck struck his hand, caromed off and down and went over McNeil's left shoulder.
Second verse, same as the first. In the battle hymn of the National Hockey League, it was the same old tune. Once again, regular season play was dominated by Detroit and Montreal.

It was a rather routine season until March 13, 1955. In a contest between Montreal and Boston, Rocket Richard unloaded on linesman Cliff Thompson, who was attempting to restrain Richard. The Montreal player was in the process of trying to whack the Bruins Hal Laycoe with a stick. Richard's rage was caused by Laycoe's stick striking his face/head area. As a result of his actions, Richard was suspended for the remainder of Montreal's three scheduled games in the regular season and all playoff action. The suspension set-off riots in Montreal, as fans expressed their anger concerning the length of time their hero was vanished from participating.

At the same time, Richard and teammate Bernie Geoffrion were in a close race for the scoring title. With the Rocket out of commission, Geoffrion finished the year one point ahead.

Bernie Geoffrion
Like the the previous post-season, both Montreal and Detroit advanced to the Stanley Cup final. In semi-final play, Detroit swept Toronto in 4 games. Montreal eliminated Boston in 5 games, with a 5-1 win in the Forum on March 31, 1955.

For the second consecutive year, the Stanley Cup final would pit Montreal against Detroit. And the similarity wouldn't end there. After game six, each team had 3 wins, as was the case in the 1954 final.

Detroit won games one and two in the Olympia by scores of 4-2 and 7-4. In game five, on home ice, they downed Montreal 5-1.

On the Montreal side of the ledger, they captured games three and four in the Forum, by upending Detroit 4-2 and 5-3. They extended the series in game six, by doubling-up the Red Wings 6-3 in front of a home crowd.

Montreal and Detroit played for all the marbles on April 14, 1955. Like the previous year, Detroit had home ice advantage in game seven. And they had no lack of support. The Olympia was packed with 15,541 spectators, making it the second most attended game in the history of the building.

The clubs went scoreless in period one, with Terry Sawchuk and Jacques Plante blocking all scoring attempts.

In the second period, Alex Delvecchio scored the opening goal at 7:12. Taking a pass from Red Kelly, the Wings centre danced by defencemen Tom Johnson and Butch Bouchard, then unleashed a deadly backhand past Plante. For Hab fans, Detroit scored a gut-wrenching goal with 11 seconds remaining in period two. Gordie Howe, parked in front of the net, guided a pass from Marcel Pronovost into the Montreal goal. Howe accomplished this while giving Tom Johnson a piggyback ride and directing an elevated puck into the net.

Up 2-0 in the third, Detroit would increase their lead with another Alex Delvecchio tally. He scored on a breakaway, which was made possible after he intercepted a pass in his own zone. Montreal's lone marker came from Floyd Curry at 14:35.

The leading scorer in playoff action was Gordie Howe. He set a new NHL record of 20 points in 11 games. He produced 9 goals and 11 assists. All Rocket Richard could do was sit back and watch.

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