History by decade: 1920's | 1930's | 1940's | 1950's | 1960's | 1970's | 1980's | 1990's
Video: 1942 Winning Team | Ted Kennedy
The Leafs started the decade of the 1940’s with high expectations. The new Leaf idols were leading goal scorer Gordie Drillon and his slick centreman Syl Apps. In net for Toronto was the previous year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Turk Broda.
After a second place finish at the end of the 1941-42 season, the Leafs beat the Rangers in the semifinals in six games and met the Detroit Red Wings in the finals. The Leafs opened the finals with two losses at Maple Leaf Gardens and after losing the third game in Detroit, the Red Wings were seemingly on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup.
The Toronto club had a reputation for not having the ‘killer instinct’ after several trips to the finals without bringing home the ultimate prize. Coach Day, desperate at this point, used two different strategies to try to turn his team’s fortunes around.
Syl Apps helped bring The Cup to Toronto in 1942
The same Red Wings eliminated the Leafs in the semifinals in the 1942-43 post-season and then the Leafs lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the semi-finals to close out their 1943-44 campaign. By that time, World War II was raging and the Leafs and other teams had lost a number of their players to the armed forces. The Leafs had to continue on without their classy centre Syl Apps and their stalwart goalie Turk Broda as well as others who had enlisted to serve their country.
In the 1944-45 season, Frank McCool, nicknamed ‘Ulcers’ because of his stomach ailments, replaced Broda in goal. Toronto finished in third place with 52 points and met the first-place Montreal Canadiens who had a much superior 80 points. Montreal had also not lost as many of their players to the armed forces as most NHL clubs had.
The Leafs were definitely underdogs but they upset the Canadiens in six games. Toronto was led by a brilliant 19-year-old centreman, Ted ‘Teeder’ Kennedy. Kennedy was Toronto’s regular-season scoring leader and would top all players in goals and points in the playoffs too. The Leafs next had to face a Detroit team in the finals who were still bent on revenge for the humiliation the Leafs put them through in the 1942 comeback series.
The Leafs won the first three games of the finals on consecutive shutouts by their nervous goaltender Frank McCool. But in a reverse of the 1942 finals, the Red Wings won the next three games to tie the series with 19-year-old Harry Lumley shutting out the Leafs twice. Toronto did win the seventh game in a squeaker 2-1 to prevent a complete reversal of the 1942 series.
As the war was ending in 1945, some of the Leafs who had joined the armed forces were starting to return to the team. But the Leafs, missing the injured Teeder Kennedy for most of the season, failed to make the playoffs in 1945-46.
Turk Broda helped backstop the Maple Leafs to a few Stanley Cups
The following season with players like Apps and Broda finding their form again and together with an outstanding crop of rookies from the minor-league system, the Leafs won another Stanley Cup beating the first place Montreal club in the finals in six games. The Leafs had lost the first game of that series 6-0 which prompted Habs star netminder Bill Durnan to question how the Leafs ever advanced to the finals. The Leafs were inspired by Durnan’s comments and went on to win four of the next five to win the 1947 Stanley Cup.
Turk Broda, as usual, was superb in the playoffs, but the surprise was the poised play of the new Leafs defence, which unbelievably had four rookies. Defence mates Gus Mortson and Jim Thomson were dubbed the ‘Gold Dust Twins’ because Thomson ran a coal business in the off-season and Mortson was his chief salesman. Mustachioed Garth Boesch paired up with Bill Barilko, a brash youngster up from the Hollywood Wolves.
Up front, the Leafs had three balanced lines with captain Syl Apps centering big Harry Watson and hard hitting ‘Wild’ Bill Ezinicki. Their second line had a young tenacious Ted ‘Teeder’ Kennedy between rookies Vic Lynn and Howie Meeker. And, the ‘Flying Forts’ line of Gaye Stewart, Gus Bodnar and Bud Poile, who all hailed from Fort William, was the third unit. It was a closely-knit, colourful team with superb leadership from Syl Apps.
The Leafs, believing that strength down the middle was crucial to success, were fearful that the veteran Apps would soon retire. So, on November 2, 1947, Conn Smythe traded the entire ‘Flying Forts’ line plus two defencemen, Bob Goldham and Ernie Dickens to Chicago for the former NHL scoring champion, ‘Dipsy Doodle Dandy’ Max Bentley and Cy Thomas. With Apps, Kennedy and the supremely skilled Bentley as their centres, the Leafs had their best season in 1947-48 finishing first and defeating the Detroit Red Wings in the finals four- straight games to easily win their second consecutive Cup.
By the time the 1948-49 season began, captain Syl Apps had retired forcing the Leafs to trade for aggressive centreman Cal Gardner from the Rangers. There was no surprise when hard-working Teeder Kennedy replaced Apps as captain so the Leafs certainly didn’t lack in leadership. The Leafs though had an off year finishing in fourth place with a 22-25-13 record.
The Detroit Red Wings finished in first place - beginning a dynasty of their own with seven straight first-place finishes. The Wings, with their top line of Sid Abel between ‘Terrible’ Ted Lindsay and emerging superstar Gordie Howe, were heavy favourites to win the Cup. The Leafs regrouped in the playoffs and defeated the second-place Boston Bruins in five games in the semis. In the finals, Toronto once again swept the Detroit Red Wings in four games to win a record third-consecutive Stanley Cup. The Leafs were victorious once again and the Red Wings became increasingly embittered, having now lost 11 straight playoff games to their hated rivals.
At the end of the 1949-50 regular season, the Leafs finished in third place, 21 points behind the first-place Detroit Red Wings and the two teams met yet again in the playoffs, this time in the semifinals.
Typically, Turk Broda gave a strong playoff performance in the first game in Detroit, leading the Leafs to a 5-0 win to further infuriate and confound the Red Wings. However, late in the game, there was an incident that would change the momentum of the series.
Ted Kennedy took over as captain from Syl Apps
Ted Kennedy, valiantly playing hurt with a charley horse, was carrying the puck up the ice when he spotted big Gordie Howe skating menacingly towards him. Kennedy pulled back and the young Detroit right-winger tumbled into the boards with his teammate, ‘Black Jack’ Stewart, crashing in on top of him. Howe was seriously hurt and was taken to hospital for a life-saving operation to relieve pressure on his brain.
Detroit management and players accused Kennedy of deliberately butt-ending Howe with his stick to cause the injury. League president Clarence Campbell absolved the Leaf captain of any blame, but the Wings finally had a rallying point. The second game of the series was as violent a game as has ever been played with the Detroit players taking runs at Kennedy and other Leafs resulting in numerous bloody fights. The Leafs were unnerved because of the Howe incident and the ensuing mayhem and they played tentatively throughout the rest of the series. In the end, Detroit eliminated the three-time champion Leafs in the seventh game 1-0 in overtime on a fluke goal from Red Wing defenceman Leo Reise. Detroit had finally routed their nemesis.