Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Montreal Canadiens - 1955-60
One on One Turning Point

Montreal Canadiens - 1955-60

11 MARCH 2014
Montreal Canadien Jean Beliveau scored seven goals during the 1956 Stanley Cup Final. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"Les Canadiens sont la," indeed!

There's been no team like them, before or since. Certainly it is debatable that there have been teams that may have been better - those Montreal Canadiens squads of the late-1970s and the Edmonton Oilers of the mid-1980s certainly come to mind - but through the glorious history of the National Hockey League, only one team has won the Stanley Cup five times in succession: the Montreal Canadiens of 1955-56 to 1959-60.

"It is a record that I, along with the rest of the players from that era, are proud of," commented Jean Beliveau. "It is a great team record. It is one that just may stand the test of time."

The entire decade had gone exceptionally well for the Canadiens. In the five seasons previous to the start of their dynasty in 1955-56, the Canadiens had lost in the finals on four occasions and had won the Stanley Cup once. But it was all preparation for what was to come.

Montreal's Ab McDonald, Ralph Backstrom and Bernie Geoffrion celebrate after Game 4 of the 1959 Stanley Cup Final. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
With the coaching reins handed to 'Toe' Blake (who replaced Dick Irvin) in 1955-56, the foundation of a dynasty was already in place. Jacques Plante was into his sophomore year as the team's goaltender. The defence was anchored by Butch Bouchard, Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson. Up front, scoring was provided by Jean Beliveau, Bernie 'Boom' Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead and the Richard brothers, Henri and Maurice. All of them went on to become Honoured Members in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and that cast of stars was supported by players like Ralph Backstrom, Don Marshall, Claude Provost and Jean-Guy Talbot.

Mask worn by Montreal's Jacques Plante during the 1959-60 NHL season. (Dave Sandford/Hockey Hall of Fame)
This team simply steamrolled over the league during this five-year period. They finished first in four of the five seasons. In 1955-56, they finished the season 24 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. The Canadiens finished second to the Wings in 1956-57 but bounced back to a first-place finish in 1957-58 that saw them leave the second-place New York Rangers 19 points behind them. In 1958-59, second-place Boston was a distant 14 points behind the Canadiens. In 1959-60, they left the Toronto Maple Leafs 13 points behind them.

Montreal's Maurice "Rocket" Richard celebrating with the Stanley Cup in 1960. (Studio Alain Brouillard/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Winning the five championships, on paper, anyway, appears almost as though it was effortless. In 1955-56, the Canadiens eliminated the New York Rangers in five games, and won the Stanley Cup after a five-game series against the Detroit Red Wings. In 1956-57, in spite of finishing second, the Canadiens made short work of the Rangers in the semi-final, and beat the Bruins in five games to claim their second consecutive Stanley Cup. After sweeping the Red Wings in 1957-58, Montreal celebrated their third straight Stanley Cup championship, beating Boston four games to two. In 1958-59, the Canadiens dumped the Chicago Black Hawks to earn the right to defend their Stanley Cup championship, and won a fourth consecutive with a five-game win over Toronto. The last of the championships, earned in 1959-60, saw Montreal first sweep Chicago and then the Maple Leafs to claim their milestone victory.

Just how dominant were les Canadiens? In the very competitive Original Six Era, Montreal won 40 and lost just 9 in the post-season. They won 20 and lost only 5 in the Stanley Cup Finals during those five years. During the five-year supremacy in the playoffs, Montreal outscored their opponents 182 to 95 through the 49 games.

The 1955-56 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
(Hockey Hall of Fame)
Tom Johnson, the All-Star defenceman, admitted, "You're never satisfied. In the room, they expected to win it. The expectations were there." Forward Don Marshall added, "We thought we were going to win every game we'd ever play."

And while the team was all but unstoppable, the individual components were extraordinary. In all, Montreal players earned 25 of a possible 60 All-Star Team selections during the five-year period.

In 1955-56, Jean Beliveau led the NHL in scoring. Along the way, he helped change a league rule. After recording a hat trick during a single powerplay on November 5, 1955, the NHL changed the rule so that the shorthanded team returned to even strength after their team was scored on. Beliveau was also awarded the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. Doug Harvey was awarded the Norris Trophy as the league's premier defenceman and Jacques Plante was the recipient of the Vezina Award for posting the lowest goals-against average during the regular season. The First All-Star Team included Plante in goal, Harvey on defence, Beliveau at centre and Maurice Richard at right wing. The Second Team saw Tom Johnson named on defence and Bert Olmstead at left wing.

Montreal's Bernie Geoffrion along with teammate Ralph Backstrom paced all scorers with seven points apiece in the 1959 Stanley Cup Final. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
In 1956-57, Doug Harvey won the Norris Trophy once again and Jacques Plante earned the Vezina again. Beliveau and Harvey were both named to the NHL's First All-Star Team and 'Rocket' Richard and Plante made the Second Team.

Dickie Moore led the league in scoring in 1957-58. Harvey claimed the Norris again, and Plante claimed the Vezina again.

Moore made the First All-Star Team at left wing, Henri Richard at centre and Doug Harvey on defence. The Second Team included Beliveau at centre and Plante in goal. During the season, Maurice Richard scored his 500th regular season goal.

Montreal's Jacques Plante allowed only five goals in five games during the 1957 Stanley Cup Final. (Frank Prazak/Hockey Hall of Fame)
1958-59 saw Moore repeat as the league's top scorer, Plante once again took the Vezina Award, but it was Tom Johnson who was named the Norris Trophy recipient. Ralph Backstrom was selected as the Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year.

Moore at left wing, Beliveau at centre, Johnson on defence and Plante in goal were all selected to the First All-Star Team. Henri Richard and Doug Harvey were picked for the Second Team.

The 1959-60 season, in which the Canadiens won their unprecedented fifth consecutive Stanley Cup championship, saw Harvey (Norris) and Plante (Vezina) both excel personally. Beliveau and Harvey were both named to the First Team and 'Boom Boom' Geoffrion (right wing) and Plante to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. It was on November 1, 1959, that Plante was struck by an Andy Bathgate shot at Madison Square Garden in New York. The injury prompted Jacques to don a mask that he had been wearing in practices, much to the consternation of Coach Blake.

Twelve players were part of all five Stanley Cup wins: Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Don Marshall, Dickie Moore, Jacques Plante, Claude Provost, Henri Richard, Maurice Richard, Jean-Guy Talbot and Bob Turner.

The team was exceptionally close, as Dickie Moore confirmed. "We had a family team. Everybody cared for each other." Henri Richard concurred. "We were like a family. We used to go out together after the game."

Will another National Hockey League team equal or beat the Montreal Canadiens' record of five straight Stanley Cup championships? "There's no way, not with thirty teams now," stated Henri Richard, shaking his head. "It'll never be done."

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.