If the Vegas Golden Knights are going to complete this improbable storybook season and win the Stanley Cup they are going to have to make some more history and do something that only one other team in NHL history has ever done: Overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the Stanley Cup Final.
While several teams have overcome such a deficit in the playoffs (including, improbably, five teams against the Washington Capitals!) only one team has actually done it in the Stanley Cup Final series.
It has not happened since 1942 when the Toronto Maple Leafs did it against the Detroit Red Wings.
Since then teams that have faced such a deficit in the Final series are holding an 0-31 record when it comes to winning the series. Obviously, history is not on the Golden Knights’ side. But Vegas has been making history all year and doing things that no other team has ever done.
[Related: Golden Knights hoping to learn from mistakes and mount Cup comeback]
So what is one more improbable accomplishment to add to the list?
If they are going to do it they are probably going to need Marc-Andre Fleury to return to the form he displayed in the first three rounds. They are going to need their top-line to get back on track and get some secondary scoring from pretty much any other line. They have to put the puck in open nets when they have the chance. They are going to have to find an answer for Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
All of those are tall tasks.
Given what Vegas has to do let’s hop in a time machine and take a look back at the only team to actually complete such a comeback — the aforementioned 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs — because it might be one of the wildest Stanley Cup Final series in league history.
First, it was an historic accomplishment because it was the first time a Stanley Cup Final series had ever gone to a seventh game. It was not just that the Maple Leafs overcame a 3-1 series deficit, they overcome a 3-0 series deficit becoming the first team to ever do it in any sport.
It was in Game 4 of that series in Detroit where everything started to shift in Toronto’s favor, and it was in that game where all hell broke loose.
The Maple Leafs won that game by a 4-3 margin thanks to a late goal from Nick Metz.
But that goal was probably not the series-altering moment.
The game ended in a near riot thanks to some controversial officiating and then-Red Wings coach Jack Adams getting into a literal physical altercation with referee Mel Harwood, resulting in league president Frank Calder suspending him for the rest of the series.
Don’t believe me? Don’t take my word for it, take the Canadian Press’ word for it.
From the April 13, 1942 edition:
“The game ended in a near-riot, when manager Jack Adams of the Red Wings ran across the ice at the final whistle and started trading punches with referee Mel Harwood. Other players joined in and Harwood was escorted out of the rink by police.”
What prompted Adams’ meltdown? In the closing minutes of the game Harwood issued consecutive penalties to Red Wings players Eddie Wares and Don Grosso, infuriating the team and Adams. It all started when Wares was issued a misconduct penalty and refused to leave the ice in protest.
At that point Harwood dropped the puck with Wares still on the ice, resulting in him promptly calling a too-many-men on the ice penalty and sending off Grosso.
Let’s go back to the CP for the full play-by-play:
The final-whistle blowoff started with a last-minute faceoff when Wares was handed a misconduct penalty, and then a $50 fine for repeated arguments and refusal to leave the ice. When the faceoff came, Wares was still on the ice and Detroit drew another penalty. With Grosso also sent to the bench, Grosso threw down his stick and gloves and promptly drew a $25 fine from referee Harwood.
That ended the game on a wild note, and the excitement flared again when Adams rushed on the ice and started swinging with Harwood. It was then that Calder jumped from his box to get the referee’s report on the incident.
Calder’s statement said: ‘For an attack on officials at the Stanley Cup game between the Detroit Re Wings and the Toronto MAple Leafs at Detroit Olympia April 12 of which I was an eye-witness, manager Jack Adams of Detroit is indefinitely suspended and prohibited from taking any further part in the bench management of the Detroit Red Wings. For their part in the affair, players Wares and Grosso are each fined $100.”
The Canadian Press report also included the nugget that The Olympia crowd had shown a dislike for the officiating by “constant booing and littering the rink with everything from paper and peanuts to a woman’s shoe.”
So much to take in here.
First, how crazy is it that on-ice officials could just hand out fines to players during games?
Then the fact that a coach actually raced across the ice and literally traded punches with an official!
Try to imagine that scene unfolding today.
Try to imagine Tom Wilson taking a penalty in the final minute of a game, refusing to leave the ice as he argues with Wes McCauley, then McCauley getting all sorts of petty and dropping the puck with Wilson still on the ice just so he could assess a too many men on the ice penalty to Jay Beagle, and then Barry Trotz storming across the ice to punch McCauley in the face. All while peanuts and women’s shoes rained down from the stands.
It was a different time, I guess.
After the game Wares told the CP, “You know what’s going to happen. It is going to go seven games.”
He was right.
With Adams suspended for the remainder of the series the Maple Leafs came out flying in Game 5 and routed the Red Wings 9-3 thanks to an unlikely hat trick from Don Metz (a player that had scored just 20 goals in 170 career games).
That was followed by Maple Leafs goalie Turk Broda recording a Game 6 shutout to send the series to a decisive seventh game where the Maple Leafs would take it 3-1, completing the comeback.
Nobody has ever done it in the Stanley Cup Final since.
Maybe it will happen this year?
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Guide
• Stanley Cup Final schedule
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.