Heroes of the Valiant 1950 Rangers That Fell Just Short

If you check the Rangers‘ Stanley Cup records from the club’s inception through the 1940s, you’ll find a championship in each decade.

The original champagne-drinkers turned out to be the Lester Patrick-coached squad in 1928; only a year after the Blueshirts entered the National Hockey League.

During the 1930s decade, they won their second Cup — again with Patrick at the helm — in 1933.

The next decade encore performance took place in April 1940 with rookie coach Frank Boucher — player-hero of the previous New York champs — piloting the team at the onset of America’s entry into World War II.

Exactly 10 years later, the Blueshirts nearly won their fourth Cup. It was in April 1950 that they took on the mighty Detroit Red Wings, heavily favored to rout the Rangers.

And why not? Among other things, the seven-game series was scheduled without the Rangers permitted to play a single game at Madison Square Garden.

The World’s Most Famous Arena — then located on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets — gave top priority to its biggest money-maker — the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“When the elephants arrived,” chortled coach Lynn Patrick, Lester’s oldest son, “the Rangers had to leave.”

Right to Left: Lester Patrick, Lynn Patrick, Muzz Patrick.
Right to Left: Lynn Patrick, Lester Patrick, Muzz Patrick.

As a sop to the New Yorkers, NHL President Clarence Campbell designated Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens as the Rangers’ “home” for only two of the seven games. The other five were played at Olympia Stadium in Detroit.

With presidents — and precedents — like that, who needs enemies?

Undaunted, the vagabond New Yorkers took the vaunted Red Wings to a seventh game of the Final Round and then overtime. Already, the Blueshirts’ feat seemed incredible — but true.

Plus, the Blueshirts still had a chance to sip from Lord Stanley’s mug. That’s because up until Game 7, Patrick had a number of heroes, one of whom was center Edgar Laprade, a crafty, smooth-skating center. The other was Pentti Lund, a Finnish-born left wing, whose saga will come up in a moment. Until then, one of Lund’s claims to fame was wearing the same No. 9 as future Hall of Famers Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe.

Finally, the curtain went up on the first overtime period in the finale and Laprade nearly became the Broadway Hockey Hero of Heroes.

Breaking free of Detroit’s defenders, Easy Edgar, who always vowed that he’d rather pass than shoot, beat goalie Harry Lumley with a wrist shot, but the biscuit hit the goal post and bounded out of danger.

Alas, the game extended into double-overtime before the Winged Wheelers won it when Pete Babando’s screened shot beat Rangers heroic goalie Chuck Rayner.

Chuck Rayner in Action at Hockey Net Getty 2017
Chuck Rayner

That was the final bit of bad news for New York’s hockey heroes, but there was plenty for Rangers fans to cheer about before the last goal of the season.

The good news came in the first playoff round when the Blueshirts — and Lund in particular — pulled off one of the Rangers’ all-time upsets.

Lund had been the NHL’s Rookie of the Year in 1948-49 and became a sensational sophomore the following season, as the Montreal Canadiens would attest. Until then, Pentti had been overshadowed by starry Rangers such as center Don (Bones) Raleigh, Laprade and Rayner, who would win the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP.

To beat the heavily-favored Habs, coach Lynn Patrick had a plan and it centered around Lund. The Finnish-born left-winger was assigned by the Blueshirts coach to shadow the NHL’s leading goal-scorer that year, Rocket Richard.

Nobody expected Lund to shut down The Rocket, nor for New York to even win the series. This was considered somewhere in the realm of fantasy since the Rangers finished the campaign under .500 (28-31-11) while the Canadiens, along with the Red Wings, were favored to win The Cup.

But the affable Lund, who died in Thunder Bay, Ontario on April 16, 2013 at the age of 87, startled the hockey world by spearheading a five-game upset of the Habs.

[Read: More From the Rangers 90th Anniversary Series]

Lund, originally a Bruins find, not only beat Montreal’s six-time Vezina Trophy-winner, Bill Durnan, five times, but Pentti’s performance caused the legendary Habs goaltender to retire.

As for the Lund-shadowed Richard, the only goal he managed over five games came on the power play when Pentti was on the bench. Otherwise, The Rocket went oh-for-five-games with Lund checking him at full strength. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Lund once told me in one of our many conversations about his career.

After finishing off the Canadiens, the Rangers appeared to be Cup-bound after taking a three-games-to-two lead over Detroit — thanks to Lund.

Playing on a line with Don Raleigh and Ed Slowinski, Lund put New York in a position to win the Cup by setting up Raleigh’s overtime goal in Game 5. It gave the ousted-from-home Rangers a 3-2 series lead.

Thanks to Lund, the Blueshirts appeared to have the Cup gift-wrapped in the second period of Game 6 when he beat Harry Lumley, providing the visitors with a 3-1 lead.

11/15/1950 - New York, NY - Dr. David F. Tracy (second from left) talks to some Rangers before a tilt with Nov. 15th bout. From left to right are Rangers: Pentti Lund; Tony Leswick; Killer Kaleta and Buddy O'Connor (Photo Courtesy of Getty Images).
11/15/1950 – Dr. David F. Tracy (second from left) talks to some Rangers before a tilt. From left to right are Rangers: Pentti Lund; Tony Leswick; Killer Kaleta and Buddy O’Connor.

But Detroit rallied to force a seventh game that appeared to be sealed for the Rangers in the first overtime by Lund’s Thunder Bay neighbor, Laprade on a breakaway.

“I cut in from the right side,” Laprade remembered, “and Lumley came out about three feet. My shot beat him, but hit the inside of the post and bounded out.”

Stan Saplin, who at the time handled publicity for the Rangers, told me Lund’s performance “was one for the ages, coming ‘this’ close to the upset of all hockey upsets.”

When all the arithmetic was counted, Lund wound up tied for the playoff goal-scoring lead with Detroit’s Sid Abel (six) and in points as well (11).

Another interesting angle of Lund’s hockey life is the manner in which the Bruins allowed him to slip through their grasp. Born in Karijoki, Finland, six-year-old Lund and his kid brother, Joe, traveled alone to Canada from Finland in 1932 to join their father and mother, who arrived in 1927 and 1930, respectively.

Pentti picked up hockey so quickly and so well that by the time he was 17, the Bruins placed him on their semi-pro Eastern Amateur Hockey League club, the Boston Olympics.

Lund then won the 1946 playoff scoring title and a year later paced the Olympics to the U.S. Senior Open title over the Los Angeles Monarchs.

But in 1948, the Bruins traded Lund to the Rangers. As a freshman in 1949, he won the Calder Trophy, edging runner-up and teammate, Allan Stanley, a future Hall of Famer and previously a member of the Olympics as well.

When Pentti finally hung up his skates, he did what few hockey players did, he became a newspaperman; and a good one at that.

As sports editor of the Fort William Times Journal, Lund met with his neighbor and former teammate Laprade to recall those halcyon days in Manhattan.

“I’ll always remember Pentti as one fine player and a perfect gentleman as well,” Laprade said. “On ice, he reminded me of Toe Blake of the Canadiens, who played alongside The Rocket. Pentti went up and down his wing; so steady and so reliable. And as we know, he could score the big ones.”

Although Lund finished his NHL career with the Bruins, he’ll always be remembered as the Ranger who defused The Rocket — and in the Spring of 1950 — almost helped the Blueshirts win their fourth Stanley Cup.

Ah, to think of it, if the goal post was only an inch thinner!