Greatest NHL Playoff Moments: Bill Barilko and The Fifty Mission Cap

Jennifer ConwaySenior Analyst IMay 8, 2008

April 21, 1951. The Leafs are up against the likes of Maurice Richard, Bernie Geffrion and the rest of the mighty Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Finals. Somehow, the Leafs have earned a 3-1 series lead in a series where every single game has been decided in overtime.

This night would be no different.

Montreal has the 2-1 lead until the final 32 seconds of the game. It’s overtime again for these fierce rivals.

Bill Barilko, a defenseman who has scored just four goals in 46 play-off games, sees the puck coming. He rushes in from the point, grabs the rebound and lets loose a backhand so desperate he goes sprawling.

Two minutes and 53 seconds into overtime, Barilko’s unlikely backhander beats Montreal goalie Gerry McNeil and Toronto wins its seventh franchise Stanley Cup and its fourth straight.

Tragically, it’s the last goal Bill Barilko will ever score. On August 26, 1951, he joins his dentist for a fishing trip. On their way back, their plane disappears. 

The wreckage isn’t found until 1962, which oddly enough, is the next time the Leafs win the Cup.

The Tragically Hip later write a song called “Fifty Mission Cap” about Barilko and the Leafs’ lack of playoff success “til 1962, the year he was discovered.”

Bill Barilko will forever be remembered as a Leafs hero who died too soon.  As a result, his #5 is one of only two numbers ever retired by the Maple Leafs.

Note: this is part three in the series. Read part two here.

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