Greatest Comeback In Stanley Cup History
The 1942 Stanley Cup Final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings had all the thrilling drama of a championship series, plus more: a dose of fisticuffs on the ice, unruly fan behavior in the stands, and the greatest comeback in Stanley Cup history.
Facing the Canadian ice masters for the crown, Detroit stunned the hockey world by winning the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final to hold a seemingly insurmountable lead in their pursuit of the trophy.
No NHL team had ever rebounded from a three-game deficit to win a playoff series. Few believed it even remotely possible.
But desperate times called for desperate measures. Leafs coach Hap Day and team owner Conn Smythe decided to replace Bucko McDonald, the Leafs’ most physical defenseman, and bench Gord Drillon, who was mired in a scoring slump.
Among their lineup changes, they inserted Don Metz, who had missed much of the regular season with a broken ankle but had been a reliable defensive substitute. “It took a lot of guts,” remembered Toronto’s Wally Stanowski. “Everybody thought Smythe had lost his mind!”
Legend has it that Coach Day resorted to sentimentality to rally his club prior to Game Four. “Boys,” he began, his head bowed and his voice softened. “I received a letter before tonight’s game, and I’d like to read it to you.”
‘Dear Mr. Day. I am 14 years old and have been a fan of the Maple Leafs my entire life. I live in Detroit and the kids in my school tease me because I like the Leafs. They are all Detroit Red Wings fans. Please, Mr. Day, don’t let your team give up...’
Team captain Syl Apps then stood and spoke of the pride in wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest, and how a city and country were depending on the Leafs. Years later, he recalled, “We were thinking we couldn’t lose four straight and face the people back home.”
They pulled it off. Game Four was tied at three when Nick Metz was fed a pass by Apps to score the winning goal. However, shortly afterwards with just over a minute left to the buzzer, mayhem broke out.
A misconduct penalty against Detroit deteriorated into an all-out melee. Police finally intervened but not before debris rained down on the ice, Red Wings coach Jack Adams and referee Mel Harwood got embroiled in a punching match, and even NHL president Frank Calder was attacked by fans.
In the end, players and officials were given armed escorts back to their hotel, Jack Adams was suspended indefinitely, and Harwood never officiated another NHL game.
The tide had turned for the Canadians. Back in Toronto for Game Five, the Red Wings came unglued. The game ended with Toronto spanking Detroit 9-3. Don Metz led the way with three goals and two assists.
Two nights later at Detroit, Turk Broda blanked the Wings 3-0, with Don Metz contributing a goal 14 seconds into the second period.
The series, miraculously, was tied at three games a piece.
At the deciding seventh, Conn Smythe showed up in full military regalia from his military leave, while Jack Adams was still serving his suspension and listened to the game on the radio.
The Red Wings led 1-0 at the end of the second period. During the intermission, Smythe strutted into the dressing room to deliver a speech, shaming his team with every attack on their courage and masculinity.
Into the third period, Sweeney Schriner potted a goal and then Pete Langelle scored to put Toronto ahead. Schriner then added an insurance tally to cement a 3-1 match win, and a 4-3 series victory.
With jubilation on the streets, coach Day admitted, “We won it the hard way. I had my doubts right up until that final bell rang.”
The Toronto Daily Star wrote, “Day risked his reputation on a chance throw of the dice. He gambled with an important change in his lineup and came away victorious.”
It was the greatest comeback in hockey history.
Based in Toronto, Kevin Shea is a writer and historian who has authored 16 best-selling hockey books. His latest is ‘The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication’, which is available for sale on our site. email: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: kevinsheahockey website: kevinsheahockey.com linkedin: linkedin.com/in/kevin-shea-899a5317