Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Detroit Red Wings - 1949-55
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Turning Point - Detroit Red Wings - 1949-55
Detroit's 'Production Line' - Gordie Howe, Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay finished first, second and third in scoring during the 1949-50 regular season. (HHOF Images)
The 1949-50 season proved to be the turning point in the ongoing successes of the Detroit Red Wings through the early 1950s.

Leading the charge was the Production Line, one of the greatest trios in hockey's long history. Sid Abel, whoserved as mentor to the young players on the team, specifically his linemates, was also the playmaking centre. Feisty left winger Ted Lindsay took no prisoners, commanding possession of the puck by going around, through or over opponents, and right winger Gordie Howe was a great finisher, but no less aggressive than his fellow winger.

The three finished first, second and third in scoring during the regular season. Lindsay won the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer with 78 points, and he and Abel were named to the NHL's First All-Star Team, with Howe and defencemen Red Kelly and Leo Reise selected for the Second Team.

The opening playoff series against the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs proved to be particularly vicious. In Game One, a 5-0 Toronto victory, Howe was badly injured."Every player threw and every player received punches," wrote Vartan Kupelan of the Detroit News. Howe suffered a severe head injury when he tried to check Toronto's Ted Kennedy, missed and crashed head-first into the boards. "Teeder Kennedy's stick caught me under the right eye and scraped the eye," stated the star right winger in his autobiography, 'And Howe.'"It also broke my nose and cheekbone. Complications set in and I had trephine surgery to relieve fluid on the brain."

The Red Wings used the loss of Gordie Howe as added incentive to capture the Stanley Cup in 1950. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Red Wings sought retribution for the loss of Howe. "Kennedy, the man who was involved in the Howe collision and injury, speared (Leo) Reise in the face, and Reise retaliated by dropping Toronto's Jimmy Thomson with high stick," described Kupelan. "Lindsay went after Kennedy, and Toronto's Gus Mortson intervened on behalf of his teammate, only to be equalized by Sid Abel."

The Red Wings used the loss of Howe as added incentive to capture the Stanley Cup. The edged out the Leafs in six games, two of which were decided in overtime. The goaltenders excelled at both ends of the ice. Turk Broda collected three shutouts in a losing cause while Terry Sawchuk earned two shutouts for the victors.

Detroit advanced to the final against the New York Rangers, who had finished fourth, a full 21 points behind the Wings. But the Rangers put in a valiant effort, despite not having a home rink in which to play. The series went seven games, five of which were played at Detroit's Olympia Stadium, while Games Two and Three were played at the neutral Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Detroit took Game One with a 4-1 win, but New York rebounded in Game Two, winning 3-1. Sawchuk stoned the Rangers 4-0 in Game Three. New York took Games Four and Five, both won on overtime goals from Don Raleigh. With the Rangers up three games to two, the Red Wings edged the Rangers 5-4 to even the series and set up a dramatic Game Seven conclusion to the 1949-50 season.

The Wings were down by two when Pete Babando and Sid Abel scored 21 seconds apart to tie the game at three, and send the game into overtime. It took a second overtime to decide the winner. "I didn't aim," Babando admitted. "I just banged it." It didn't matter. At 8:31 of that second overtime, he became the Stanley Cup hero.

Team captain Sid Abel accepted the Cup on behalf of his teammates. The hometown crowd roared its approval, which evolved into a chant of, "We want Howe!" Gordie, dressed in civilian clothes, gingerly stepped to centre ice to join his teammates. His head was shaved close to the scalp after having suffered the near-fatal head injury only weeks before.

It was the first of four Stanley Cup championships the Detroit Red Wings would win through the mid-1950s and the one best-remembered because it was dedicated to their fallen teammate; the same player who would be largely responsible for the following three Cup victories.

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