(February 21, 2003) -- The New York Rangers had last won the Stanley Cup in 1939-40. In the ensuing decade, the team had only participated in the playoffs three times. The drought had been tough on the team, but even harder on the fans. Chuck Rayner took time to reflect back on the 1949-50 season, a surprising yet exciting time that proved to be the pinnacle of a wonderful, if not frustrating career.
"We had to win a game in Chicago just to get into the playoffs," recalled Rayner. The Rangers finished the regular season with 67 points, good for fourth place in 1949-50. Their opponent in the first round would be the Montreal Canadiens, owners of a 77-point finish and second place overall. "When we left for Montreal, we were told to pack one shirt because we would be home in a hurry," laughed Rayner.
The Rangers surprised the Canadiens, and the hockey world, by defeating Montreal four games to one. The victory gave New York the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup, facing the Red Wings. Detroit finished in first place during the regular season, 21 points ahead of the Rangers.
Madison Square Garden had already been booked for a series of circus performances, and the Rangers therefore did not have a home arena in which to play. The Canadiens offered the Forum to New York to use as a home rink, but the Rangers decided to play in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens instead.
The first game, played in Detroit, was a 4-1 Red Wing victory. New York came back in game 2, played in Toronto, winning 3-1. Game 3, still at Maple Leaf Gardens, was a 4-0 Detroit shutout. Game 4 saw the series return to Detroit, but it was the visitors who won 4-3 on an overtime goal by Don Raleigh. In game 5, New York was again victorious over the hometown Red Wings, winning 2-1. Rayner was sensational, and it took Don Raleigh to be the hero once again, scoring the winning goal in overtime for a second straight game. Detroit tied the series in game six, again played in Detroit, defeating New York 5-4.
Game 7 was played at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit. At the end of the first period, the Rangers were up 2-0. Then, with Allan Stanley in the penalty box, the Red Wings scored two goals in 21 seconds to tie the score in the second period. Both teams would add another goal by the end of the second. The third period was scoreless, setting up a sudden death overtime to determine a Stanley Cup champion. "It was a wonderful hockey game," remembered Chuck. "We were ahead by two, they tied it up, we went up again. We ran into a couple of penalties in the third period and they tied it up."
The first overtime proved nothing. Then, in the second overtime, Don Raleigh missed an opportunity to score a third game-winning goal. "The puck just rolled over his stick," recalled Rayner. Utility forward Pete Babando of the Red Wings finally scored at 8:31 of the second overtime to dash the dream of Rayner and the Rangers. "George Gee took a faceoff for them and got the puck back to Pete Babando. He let a low shot go at the point that went through a maze of bodies and nicked the shinpad of Frank Eddolls, our defenseman. The puck barely caught the corner. I never seen it until it was in the net," sighed Rayner.
|The 1949-50 Stanley Cup finalist New York Rangers
A few years back, Charlie Rayner reflected back on that Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and his New York Rangers. "To this day, I still wake up thinking how close we came to the Cup that year. What a shame that was. Just one goal and there never would have been a 54-year drought."
Kevin Shea is co-author of several hockey biographies. His most recent book is "Over The Boards - The Ron Ellis Story" (H.B. Fenn), released November 2002.