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From the Archives: 1951 Playoffs, Rule Changes and a Game That Was Not a Game

Stan Fischler looks at the crazy 1951 Stanley Cup playoffs, which included a game being cancelled in overtime due to a city ordinance that prohibited games from being played on a Sunday.
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Boston, Montreal, Detroit and Toronto had become hockey-mad burghs with the 1951 National Hockey League playoffs underway. That was normal stuff. It happened every spring.

Most unusual, however, was an event in Toronto where a game was played that turned out not to be a game that could be put in the NHL books. This believe-it-or-not scenario involved the Bruins and Leafs.

It began in a perfectly normal fashion when Boston won the opener, 2-0, in Toronto where the second game also was to be played on a Saturday night.

Game Two started out as just another playoff match at Maple Leaf Gardens. It remained normal after 60 minutes with the score tied 1-1.

Next came 20 minutes of overtime and still no score. This was followed by a most unusual event. The game had to be cancelled.

As it happened in staid Toronto, there were "Blue Laws," including a city ordinance that ordered no games be allowed to be played on Sunday.

By the time the second overtime was about to begin, the clock struck midnight and it was Sunday. Game over! a 1-1 tie. Alas, the match had to be cancelled and another Game Two was scheduled.

The Leafs won the new second contest -- as indicated on the Toronto Globe and Mail sports page under the headline HOCKEY SCORES, STANDINGS. Toronto would then go on to win the next three games and the series.

Meanwhile, there was plenty of off-ice action as well. Newspapers -- including my copy of The Globe and Mail -- loaded up with as much hockey news as possible.

My scrapbook included this page because it gave a big play to NHL meetings and discussions about a number of suggested rules changes.

The Globe's headline tipped me off to the subjects under discussion: GOALIE PROTECTION, HOOKING, CHARGING ARE UNDER SCRUTINY. The subhead -- NHL RULES DISCUSSED -- merely underlined the point.

One contentious issue in that era of maskless goalies was injuries to netminders. For example, New York's Charlie Rayner (see picture, below left) had suffered a number of crease-crashing wounds. "I was all for better protection," said Rayner. So was his manager Frank Boucher and others who attended the four-and-a half meeting.

"As for protection of goalies," wrote Al Nickleson in The Globe, "it was suggested that the crease in front of the net be increased one foot overall from three feet by seven feet to four feet by eight feet.The crease is private property and, if infringed, no goal can result."

Since overtime periods had been cancelled during World War II, the subject of resuming the extra session was bruited about but to no avail. On another subject,

NHL president Clarence Campbell revealed that there was serious discussion about stiffer enforcement of rules against hooking and charging.

Ironically, some rules now in play during the current 2021-22 season actually were brought up 71 years ago. Nickleson wrote about it in detail:

"The question as to the elimination of the red line across center ice to permit forward passing up to the attacking blue line was raised at the meeting. It was agreed that some type of center line be kept so that a team 'icing the puck' would have to carry it over that line before shooting."

Campbell drew some chuckles when he stated that hooking was "a lazy man's habit," and that there was "too much charging" into the boards.

"There's the question of the degree of force which should be permitted in boarding," said Campbell. "A stiffer standard would call for an increased number of penalties including major penalties."

The NHL President wound up the conference saying, "This has been one of the most useful sessions I've ever been in." (He did not mention that five of the six NHL teams had representatives at the meeting.)

Noteworthy was the fact that nobody from Conn Smythe's Maple Leafs -- a team notorious for its clutch and grab hockey -- attended the meeting. Neither Smythe nor his clutch and grab-teaching coach, Hap Day, worried a bit about the rules.

A few weeks later -- on April 21, 1951 -- Day's Leafs happily clutched their fourth Stanley Cup in five years!

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SELLING HOCKEY -- AND BEER:

Canadian beer barons at Molson's, Labatt's and O'Keefe's understood hockey's deep grip on the public. O'Keefe's took advantage of it by hiring "a prominent Canadian sports authority" -- name unknown -- to write a "Canadian Sports Parade" column during the 1951 playoffs. It would appear in all Toronto dailies. (see upper left).

Since the Canadiens were tied, two wins apiece, in the semi-final with Detroit, the O'Keefe's column zeroed in on Habs coach Dick Irvin who was labelled "an innovator." The Canadian Sports Parade column went as follows:

"Irvin's favorite brainchild was the icing of a complete set of forwards and defensemen. "Makes you feel like a field marshall sending out those players," smiled Irvin. "Only you got to watch out that you pick the right moments.

"I remember watching a kids game when one team changed players just as the opposition started to sweep down the ice. Imagine the surprise of the goalie when he found himself all alone facing a whole team. The fresh kids swarmed on the ice just in time to see the red light flash. I'll bet that their coach's face was red too!"

P.S. Irvin's Habs defeated Detroit in the semifinals but were ousted when the Cup chips were down. The Leafs beat them in six games.

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