As Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans know too well, the last Stanley Cup the team won was in 1967. The NHL was a very different league then, and the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs were historic. That season was the last time the NHL had a six-team league before doubling in size with the addition of six new teams.
This expansion also marked a significant turning point in the league’s history, and the ’67 Cup was the end of an era.
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The Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Format
The Maple Leafs’ victory was significant for several reasons. But, one was their aging roster. The average age of Maple Leafs’ players was over 30 years old. In fact, this season’s Mark Giordano would have been young on this 1967 team. Four of the Maple Leafs’ players were over the age of 40, including the legendary goaltender Johnny Bower, who played a critical role in the team’s postseason success.
The 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs followed a format of four teams, with the top four teams in the NHL qualifying for the postseason. The first-place Chicago Blackhawks faced off against the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs in one semi-final series. In the other semi-final series, the second-place Montreal Canadiens played the fourth-place New York Rangers.
The winners of each series then advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals to compete for the championship. It was the last time this format was used because the NHL expanded from six to twelve teams the following season.
The 1967 Stanley Cup Semi-Finals
The Blackhawks and Maple Leafs’ semi-final series went six games, with the Maple Leafs splitting the first two games played in Chicago. In the first game back in Toronto, the Maple Leafs won. However, the Blackhawks tied the series in Toronto, forcing the shift to Chicago for Game 5.
In Game 5, the Maple Leafs again faced Blackhawks’ goalie Denis DeJordy, who was one of the NHL’s best goalies during the regular season. However, Toronto managed to take an early one-goal lead in Game 5 with Mike Walton scoring his second goal of the playoffs.
The Blackhawks came back with two unanswered goals, but Frank Mahovlich tied the game before the end of the first period with a power play goal. The Maple Leafs then scored two third-period goals, winning Game 5. That gave Toronto a 3-2 series lead headed back to Toronto.
In Game 6, the Maple Leafs took an early lead with Brian Conacher scoring his first goal of the playoffs five minutes into the first period. The Blackhawks tied it before the end of the period with a shorthanded goal. The second period was scoreless. In the third period, Conacher scored his second goal of the playoffs just under five minutes into the third period. That was the series game-winner clinching the semi-final series and the Maple Leafs left with a 3-1 win.
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The Other Stanley Cup Semi-Final Series
The other semi-final series saw the Montreal Canadiens sweep the New York Rangers in four games.
In the first game of the other semi-final series, the Canadiens won 3-0 behind a shutout performance by goaltender Gump Worsley. The second game was closer, but Montreal still won 2-1. The Canadiens won Game 3 5-2 on home ice, with Jean Beliveau scoring two goals. In the fourth and final game of the series, the Canadiens won 4-1. In that game, Beliveau scored again, and rookie Yvan Cournoyer got his first playoff goal.
The Rangers could not keep up with the Canadiens’ scoring, with the Canadiens outscoring the Rangers 14-4 in the series. The Canadiens looked like a powerhouse heading into their matchup with the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Stanley Cup Final Series
The 1967 Stanley Cup Finals was unique because it was a series between these two iconic Canadian Original Six teams. After splitting the first two games in Montreal, the series shifted to Toronto for Games 3 and 4. Toronto won both of those games, taking a 3-1 series lead. Montreal bounced back to win Game 5 at home, but Toronto won Game 6 in Toronto to win the series.
In Game 6, Maple Leafs forward Jim Pappin scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal midway through the third period. The Maple Leafs’ defense, led by Tim Horton and Allan Stanley, was strong in the closing minutes to secure the win.
The Maple Leafs became the first team to win the Stanley Cup in the expansion era, and it was their last championship (to date). As noted, the team’s averaged over 30 years old, making it the oldest team ever to win the Cup.
Maple Leafs’ center Dave Keon was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. He is the only Maple Leafs’ player to win the trophy, and his eight playoff points in 1967 are the fewest ever by a non-goalie Conn Smythe winner.
Interestingly, the two games the Canadiens won were blowouts, both by scores of 6-2. However, the Maple Leafs played them tighter in the other games and carried the series.
Leading Scorers in the Stanley Cup Final Series
During the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, several players stood out as statistical leaders. Jim Pappin led all Maple Leafs’ players in points with 15, scoring seven goals and adding eight assists in 12 games played. His teammate Pete Stemkowski finished second in team scoring with 12 points, scoring five goals and adding seven assists.
Jean Beliveau of the Canadiens was the leading scorer for his team, recording six goals and five assists for a total of 11 points in 10 games played. Bob Pulford of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a goal and 10 assists for 11 points, while Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens had four goals and six assists for a total of 10 points.
Frank Mahovlich of the Toronto Maple Leafs also had a strong performance, scoring three goals and adding seven assists for 10 points in 12 games played.
The Two Top Stanley Cup Final Goalies
During the 1967 Stanley Cup finals, two goalies stood out as leading players. Terry Sawchuk of the Maple Leafs played in 10 games and allowed 25 goals, giving him a goals-against-average of 2.65. Meanwhile, Rogatien Vachon of the Canadiens played in nine games and allowed 22 goals, giving him a lower goals-against-average of 2.38.
Although Sawchuk allowed more goals, his strong performances in the games he played helped lead the Maple Leafs to victory in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Last Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Remembered Still
The Maple Leafs’ 1967 Stanley Cup win was a historic moment in the team’s history. Not only did they defeat the two-time defending champion Canadiens, but they did so with the oldest team in the league. Their average age was over 30 years old.
The Maple Leafs were led by standout performances from Jim Pappin and Pete Stemkowski, as well as the steady play of goalie Terry Sawchuk. With the win, the Maple Leafs were able to secure their thirteenth championship in franchise history.
As Maple Leafs’ fans know too well, the team has yet to return to the Cup Finals since 1967. The memory of their improbable 1967 win remains cherished among the team’s loyal fanbase. It also remains a bit of a curse that will only go away with another Stanley Cup victory.
Is this the season?
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April 1, 2023 at 2:28 am
April 1, 2023 at 11:29 pm
Thanks for reading, Al
April 1, 2023 at 6:32 am
Excellent piece OP. I was born right around the time Jim Pappin scored in the second period of Game 3. Been asking the same question as your ending every year around this time since.
April 1, 2023 at 11:28 pm
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