It was in 1961 that the Chicago Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup. 49 years ago the two players pictured here, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, were young up and coming stars on that Hawk team. Bobby was 21 and Stan 20 at the time and they finished that regular season second and third in team scoring. Little would they know this was to be not only their first Stanley Cup appearance, but also their only Stanley Cup win.
The 1961 Blackhawks were not a favorite going into the playoffs. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs had battled it out for the Prince of Wales trophy all season long with the Canadiens, winning by a mere two points. Chicago finished a distant third 15 points and 10 wins behind the Leafs.
Chicago faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. The Canadiens not only were the first place team they were also fresh from their record fifth Stanley Cup victory in a row. The year before they'd won the cup in the minimal, octopus sized, eight games, they had swept these same Blackhawks in the first round the year before. After that fifth Stanley Cup, Canadiens GM Frank Selke Jr. in a rather self-congratulatory way stated, "This is the greatest team of all time."
That was what the young Blackhawks were bumping into in that first round of the playoffs.
This was the same year that Frank Mahovlich of the Leafs and Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion of the Canadiens battled to match or break the just retired Rocket Richard's record of 50 goals in a season. That finally ended with Mahovlich falling short with 48 goals while Bernie equalled Maurice Richard's record with 50 goals, albeit while playing 64 games. Richard of course managed his 50 goals in the old 50 game NHL season.
There wasn't a Blackhawk in the top 10 of the scoring race or on the end of season first all-star team. Pierre Pilote and Glenn Hall were the only Blackhawks to be honored that year when they both made the end of year second all-star team.
Still the underdogs went into that first round series with great expectations. They got a lead but couldn't hold it and lost the first game in Montreal 6-3. The Blackhawks had set a regular season record for most penalty minutes for a team with 1,072 that year. Canadiens fans claimed they were a dirty team as they saw Billy Hicke, Don Marshall, and Jean Beliveau all injured in game one.
Chicago won game two 4-3 with captain Ed Litzenberger getting the crucial goal. Back in Chicago the great Glenn Hall backstopped his team to a 2-1 triple overtime victory where Murray Balfour finally got the game winning goal. Canadiens coach Toe Blake took a swing at the NHL referee in this game and was fined $2000 by the league. The Canadiens leading scorer Bernie Geoffrion was put in a cast after the overtime game.
The Canadiens stormed back in game four with 60 shots on Glenn Hall and a 5-2 victory.
Chicago and Hall blanked the Canadiens 3-0 in game five in Montreal.
Geoffrion tried to come back for game six in Chicago but his leg wouldn't hold up. Glenn Hall earned his second 3-0 shutout of the playoffs to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings handled the Leafs and their young star Frank Mahovlich in the other first round playoff series. Toronto won the first game in overtime but then Detroit won the next four games to set up the first all US team Stanley Cup final in over a decade.
Chicago got off to a quick start in game one at home with a 3-0 lead. They hung on for a 3-2 win. Game two saw Gordie Howe holding Bobby Hull in check while the Red Wings evened things up with a 3-1 win. Game three went to Chicago 3-1 and the Blackhawks were said to be banging the smaller Red Wings around pretty well.
The Red Wings managed a tight 2-1 win in game four but appeared to be wilting. The Blackhawks won the last two games of the series 6-3 and 5-1. They had won their first Stanley Cup since 1938-39.
The team had been led by their 28-year-old goalie Glenn Hall. Their hard rock defense featured Pierre Pilote, Elmer 'Moose' Vasko, tough guy Reggie Flemming, Jack Evans, the veteran Dollard St Laurent, and a 27-year-old Al Arbour. Pierre Pilote led the NHL in scoring those playoffs, tied with Gordie Howe with 15 points. Bobby Hull had 14 and Mikita had 11 with the next highest totals for the Blackhawks. In an era five years before the Conn Smythe trophy was awarded, Pilote or Hall or possibly Hull looked like the most valuable player on that Hawks Stanley Cup winner.
It was almost as if the Blackhawks had won too early. Hull and Mikita were obviously just beginning their careers. Kenny Wharram, Glenn Hall, captain Ed Litzenberger, and Pierre Pilote were all 27 or 28 years old. The Blackhawks were an NHL force for at least a decade after winning this cup with three more finals appearances in the next 10 years. Yet they haven't won another cup since.
48 years represents the longest current active streak among NHL teams who have played without winning a cup. Chicago goes into this 2010 Stanley Cup final as a favorite for the first time probably since they lost to the Canadiens in 1971. If they win and end this streak of futility it's the Toronto Maple Leafs who will have the longest active streak without a Stanley Cup to show for it.
By winning the cup in the last pre-expansion season 1966-67 they put themselves just those four months ahead of the 1967 teams, the St Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings who have yet to win a cup. The Maple Leaf fans have to be dreading the thought of holding the record for operating for the longest time without winning a cup.
If the Blackhawks win the Leafs will hold the record at 43 years and counting. No Leaf fan wants to be reminded of that year after year, so no doubt they'll be hoping passionately for the Philadelphia Flyers in this year's Stanley Cup Finals.
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