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NHL President Frank Calder presents the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins.

The 1938-39 NHL season was the 22nd season of the National Hockey League. Seven teams each played 48 games. The Boston Bruins were the Stanley Cup winners as they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs four games to one in the final series.

Regular Season

Just prior to the start of the 1937-38 season, the league held a meeting to decide the fate of the Maroons. They requested a shift to St. Louis, but this was rejected after considerable discussion. And so, the Montreal Maroons dropped out of the league. They sold most of their players to the Canadiens, and it was evident that the Maroons were through for good. With only seven teams left, the NHL decided to go back to the one division format.

Also prior to the start of the season, the Boston Bruins sold their star goaltender, Tiny Thompson, who had just won a record 4th Vezina Trophy, to the Detroit Red Wings The fans thought Art Ross was crazy,but soon they were applauding rookie Frank Brimsek, would go on to back-stop the Bruins to a first overall finish and a Stanley Cup victory. He wiped out Thompson's shutout sequence record with three consecutive shutouts. He nearly equalled his new record with three more. He ended the season with 10 shutouts, and earned the nickname "Mr.Zero". He also became the first goaltender to win both the Vezina Trophy and Calder Trophy in the same season.

A sad event took place December 7, as Joseph Cattarinich died of a heart attack following an eye operation. Cattarinich was the original goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens when they were formed in 1909. He was 57.

The Montreal Canadiens eroded to the point where Jules Dugal replaced Cecil Hart as manager and coach. Dugal wasn't much better and the Canadiens finished 6th. One bright note was that Toe Blake won the scoring title, however, despite the poor showing of the team.

Earl Robertson makes a save while #4 Wilf Field looks on, January 26, 1939.

Chicago, after its Stanley Cup win the previous season, began floundering at mid-season and owner Frederic McLaughlin was displeased. Accordingly, he fired coach Bill Stewart and hired left wing Paul Thompson in his place. But the Black Hawks continued to lose and finished last.

The New York Americans, up in third place at mid-season, proceeded to fall into a big slump in the second half and though they finished 4th, they were below .500 and had the worst defence in the league. Part of the problem was the retirements of Ching Johnson and Hap Day on defence. Al Murray was also out of action for quite a time. Still, goaltender Earl Robertson found himself on the Second All-star team.

The NHL instituted the icing rule on March 13, 1939.

Final Standings

National Hockey League
Boston Bruins 48 36 10 2 156 76 74
New York Rangers 48 26 16 6 149 105 58
Toronto Maple Leafs 48 19 20 9 114 107 47
New York Americans 48 17 21 10 119 157 44
Detroit Red Wings 48 18 24 6 107 128 42
Montreal Canadiens 48 15 24 9 115 146 39
Chicago Black Hawks 48 12 28 8 91 132 32

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against
Teams that qualified for the playoffs are highlighted in bold.

Scoring Leaders

Note: GP = Games played, G = Goals, A = Assists, PTS = Points, PIM = Penalties in minutes

Player Team GP G A PTS PIM
Toe Blake Montreal Canadiens 48 24 23 47 10
Sweeney Schriner New York Americans 48 13 31 44 20
Bill Cowley Boston Bruins 34 8 34 42 2
Clint Smith New York Rangers 48 21 20 41 2
Marty Barry Detroit Red Wings 48 13 28 41 4

Leading Goaltenders

Note: GP = Games played; Mins – Minutes played; GA = Goals against; GAA = Goals against average; W = Wins; L = Losses; T = Ties; SO = Shutouts

Player Team GP Mins GA W L T SO GAA
Frank Brimsek Boston Bruins 43 2620 68 39 9 1 10 1.56
Dave Kerr New York Rangers 48 2970 104 26 16 6 6 2.10
Turk Broda Toronto Maple Leafs 48 2990 107 19 20 9 8 2.15
Tiny Thompson Detroit Red Wings 44 2707 108 19 18 7 4 2.39
Mike Karakas Chicago Black Hawks 48 2990 130 12 28 8 5 2.61
Claude Bourque Montreal Canadiens 25 1560 69 9 12 4 2 2.65
Earl Robertson New York Americans 46 2850 136 17 18 10 3 2.86
Wilf Cude Montreal Canadiens 23 1440 77 6 12 5 2 3.21

Stanley Cup Playoffs

see 1939 Stanley Cup Finals

Playoff Bracket

  Quarterfinals Semifinals Finals
  1  Boston Bruins 4  
    2  New York Rangers 3  
    1  Boston Bruins 4
  3  Toronto Maple Leafs 1
  3  Toronto Maple Leafs 2  
4  New York Americans 0  
3  Toronto Maple Leafs 2
    5  Detroit Red Wings 1  
5  Detroit Red Wings 2
  6  Montreal Canadiens 1  

Boston Bruins 4, New York Rangers 3

This series is best remembered for Mel Hill scoring three OT goals, still an NHL record for OT goals in a series by one player. Game 4 was one of the most violent in NHL history with six major penalties, stick swinging and a battered and concussed Eddie Shore insisting on playing and returning to game action with a broken nose.

Milt Schmidt's disallowed goal, Game 1 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 21, 1939.

Game 1 opened at Madison Square Garden in New York. Due to a charley horse, Charlie Sands was replaced in the Bruins line-up by Red Hamill. It was a clean, hard-checking game in which goalies Dave Kerr and Frank Brimsek dominated. In the first period, Woody Dumart checked Ott Heller, stripped him of the puck and sent it to Milt Schmidt who scored. However, referee Mickey Ion disallowed the goal and called a penalty on Dumart for fouling Heller. Late in the second period, Gord Pettinger was penalized for tripping Lynn Patrick. Neil Colville retrieved the puck out of a goalmouth scramble and passed to Alex Shibicky who broke the ice. Early in the third period on the power play, Milt Schmidt carried the puck in the Rangers zone and was knocked down by Muzz Patrick. Ion was also bowled over but Bobby Bauer picked up the puck and scored. Incredibly, Ion ruled the goal invalid because he didn't witness it, despite the goal judge indicating it counted.[1]

Mel Hill's triple OT winner, Game 1 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 21, 1939.

Shortly after, Ion called a penalty on Heller. Bill Cowley tied the game up at 4:40 of the third, on a great deflection of a Dit Clapper pass. A few minutes later, Jack Crawford was sent off for high-sticking. Frank Brimsek made two great saves off George Allen and Lynn Patrick to keep the score 1-1. The teams played to a stand-off and the game went into overtime. In the first OT, Mel Hill was sent in alone on Dave Kerr who made a great glove save. Cowley was then dazed by a hit but stayed in the game. In the third OT, Roy Conacher collided with Kerr, whose shoulder was injured. The game was halted for ten minutes while Kerr received treatment. In the last minute of the period, Cowley drifted into the left corner by the Rangers net and zipped a pass out front to Mel Hill who whacked it in for a 2-1 Bruins win.

Frank Brimsek stops Neil Colville, Game 2 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 24, 1939.

Game 2 moved to the Boston Garden, where another clean, hard-fought game ensued. The Rangers received bad news that goalie Dave Kerr was out with a separated shoulder, from his collision with Roy Conacher. Bert Gardiner took his place. Cecil Dillon also missed the game with a leg injury, the first game he'd missed in a decade. Past the halfway mark of the first period, Conacher and Neil Colville were given co-incidental penalties for high-sticking but with three minutes left, Jack Crawford was tripped by George Allen. Conacher scored on the power play and while still short-handed, Gardiner caught another Conacher shot and threw the puck into the crowd. A penalty shot was awarded which Gardiner saved with his knee on Conacher's attempt.[2] However, just after Allen stepped out the penalty box, Boll Cowley poked in a rebound of a Mel Hill shot to make it 2-0 Bruins.

Cartoon celebrating the Bruins OT wins, March, 1939.

Shibicky cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period and began to attack in four man waves for the rest of regulation. With a little over three minutes left, Phil Watson fed a cross-crease pass to Dutch Hiller who tied it at 2-2. The Kraut Line played the first five minutes of overtime and switched off. After several close chances for the Rangers, Bill Cowley carried the puck into New York's zone and drew both defensemen to him. His drop pass to Hill was driven in from 40', his second straight OT winner. Gardiner made 35 saves but the "B's" were up 2-0 in the series. Dit Clapper picked up the overtime winning pucks from both Games 1 and 2.[3]

Cartoon of Milt Schmidt's two goals, Game 3 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 26, 1939.

Game 3 in Boston saw Bert Gardiner still in the nets for the injured Dave Kerr. During their first shift of the game, the Bruins third line scored, as Gord Pettinger took a Flash Hollett pass in front of Gardiner, spun, and fired a shot into the top corner. Pettinger had been a Ranger but was traded because after languishing on the bench for nearly an entire game, he took his skates off and was unable to fulfill Frank Patrick's call to go on.[4] Early in the second period, the Kraut Line scored their first playoff points, with Woody Dumart setting up Milt Schmidt. Schmidt brushed off a check by Babe Pratt and fooled Gardiner with a backhand-forehand move.

The Bruins goal scorers, Game 3 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 26, 1939.

The Rangers got their only goal of the game at 13:06 when Babe Pratt's long shot deflected in off Jack Portland's stick to make it 2-1. Furious pressure on Frank Brimsek ensued with the Bruins breaking out on several odd man rushes. Dumart broke in alone during one, deked Gardiner, but hit the post. Three minutes into the third period, Neil Colville missed a great opportunity to tie the game, sliding under a shot under Frank Brimsek, a hair wide of the post. At the halfway mark, Milt Schmidt victimized Babe Pratt again, spun off him and backhanded a goal in from a sharp angle. This deflated the Blueshirts, made worse when a little over two minutes later on the power play, Bill Cowley went through the entire Rangers team to make it 4-1 Bruins. Gardiner made 29 saves to Brimsek's 23. Boston wasn't penalized during the game and took a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

Violence from Game 4 of 1939 Semis. #2 Eddie Shore battles Muzz Patrick with #8 Jack Portland and #16 Red Hamill.

Game 4 at MSG saw the Rangers facing elimination which looked likely after Milt Schmidt scored his 3rd goal of the playoffs less than a minute into the game. Mac Colville tied it up at 8:58 but the game got progressively chippy. Phil Watson when charging after Jack Portland behind the Bruins net, resulting in some high sticking. Bryan Hextall jumped Portland from behind resulting in Eddie Shore wading in after Hextall. Rangers defensemen Muzz Patrick went after Shore and a brawl ensued. Patrick, who'd been a Canadian boxing champion and outweighed Shore by 30 pounds, broke Shore's nose during a fight with him. Shore left the game for repairs but came back in the second period and played with plaster over his broken nose. The Rangers Dutch Hiller, Babe Pratt, Patrick and Watson received major penalties as did the Bruins Jack Crawford, Gord Pettinger, Shore and Portland. Referee Mickey Ion handled out 60 minutes in penalties during the game. Having served his penalty time, in the second period, Muzz Patrick scored a Shorthanded goal at the 10:02 mark which proved to be the game winner. The series shifted back to Boston with the Bruins leading 3-1.

Bobby Bauer's tying goal, Game 5 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 30, 1939.

Game 5 was in Boston and the Bruins were seething from what they regarded as the Rangers attempt to knock Eddie Shore out of the series in Game 4. They were particularly incensed that Art Coulter punched Frank Brimsek.[5] However, there were no fights in Game 5 and with his nose bandaged, Eddie Shore played. The first period was wide-open until Red Hamill was called for interference. During the power play, a scramble in front of the Bruins net saw the puck cleared to Coulter. His shot hit a leg, the post and went in. Less than a minute later, Ott Heller tripped Bobby Bauer and was sent off. Flash Hollett stopped a Ranger clearing attempt at the blueline and two passes later, Bauer slid a rebound between Bert Gardiner's pads to tie the game 1-1 at 7:39.

Clint Smith's OT winner, Game 5 of the 1939 Semi-finals, March 30, 1939.

The second period saw three Ranger and two Bruins penalties called but neither team could convert. Both teams started the third period conservatively with rushes rarely involving more than two skaters. After Roy Conacher was mugged by Ott Heller with no penalty called, Eddie Shore was left writhing on the ice after a hit from behind. Another non-call by referee Norm Lamport resulted in the crowd showering the ice with debris. Muzz Patrick got into an altercation with an ice cleaner which made the situation worse. When play resumed, Dit Clapper hit every Ranger in sight and was finally penalized for a clean check, despite Jack Crawford being subjected to the same treatment with no call. Garbage showered down but Lamport refused to allow the ice to be cleaned so the Bruins killed off the penalty while dodging the refuse.[6] The game went into overtime where Clint Smith was the hero, beating Brimsek with a long shot at the 17:19 mark. The Rangers were back in the series, trailing 3-2.

Game 6 was in New York and saw no goals in the first period. The Bruins took the lead on Mel Hill's third goal of the playoffs before Phil Watson tied it up in the second. Bruins penalties in the third would be costly as Bill Carse and Alex Shibicky capitalized to lead the Rangers to a 3-1 win and tied the series.

Woody Dumart crashes into the net, Game 7 of the 1939 Semi-finals, April 2, 1939.

Game 7 in Boston saw over 17,000 in attendance, the largest crowd in Bruins history to that point. It was a tense affair with the Bruins close to becoming the first team to blow a 3-0 series lead. After a scoreless first, George Allen fell in the Rangers zone with the puck. Gord Pettinger flipped the disk to Ray Getliffe who smacked it by Bert Gardiner at 15:52. Less than two minutes later, the Bruins couldn't clear the puck from their zone. Muzz Patrick caught the puck at the blueline and fired a skimmer that went through a crowd to tie the game. Alex Shibicky hurt his back and didn't play in the third period with Bob Carse taking his place. Referee Mickey Ion put his whistle away and called no penalties in the second nor third periods. The third period solved nothing though a fight nearly broke out between Milt Schmidt and Art Coulter just before the bell sent the series into its fourth overtime game.

Cartoon celebrating Mel Hill's three OT goals.

Bobby Bauer came close to ending the series in the 1st OT with a backhander that beat Gardiner but hit the post. In the 3rd OT, Mel Hill and Muzz Patrick took matching minor penalties at the 5:00 mark. Exiting the box, Hill rushed into the Rangers zone. Conacher took a heavy shot on Gardiner who steered it behind the net. Cowley beat the Rangers' defensemen to the puck, slid it out front to Hill who waited until Gardiner made the first move and then fired the series winner through his pads. [7] The "Sudden Death" Hill moniker was born with all three of his record overtime goals assisted by Bill Cowley.

# Date Visitor Score Home Record
1 March 21 Boston Bruins 2–1 (3OT) New York Rangers 1–0
2 March 23 New York Rangers 2–3 (OT) Boston Bruins 0–2
3 March 26 New York Rangers 1–4 Boston Bruins 0–3
4 March 28 Boston Bruins 1–2 New York Rangers 3–1
5 March 30 New York Rangers 2–1 (OT) Boston Bruins 2–3
6 April 1 Boston Bruins 1–3 New York Rangers 3–3
7 April 2 New York Rangers 1–2 (3OT) Boston Bruins 3–4

NHL Awards

O'Brien Trophy: Toronto Maple Leafs
Prince of Wales Trophy: Boston Bruins
Calder Memorial Trophy: Frank Brimsek, Boston Bruins
Hart Memorial Trophy: Toe Blake, Montreal Canadiens
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy: Clint Smith, New York Rangers
Vezina Trophy: Frank Brimsek, Boston Bruins

All-Star Teams

First Team   Position   Second Team
Frank Brimsek, Boston Bruins G Earl Robertson, New York Americans
Eddie Shore, Boston Bruins D Earl Seibert, Chicago Black Hawks
Dit Clapper, Boston Bruins D Art Coulter, New York Rangers
Syl Apps, Toronto Maple Leafs C Neil Colville, New York Rangers
Gordie Drillon, Toronto Maple Leafs RW Bobby Bauer, Boston Bruins
Toe Blake, Montreal Canadiens LW Johnny Gottselig, Chicago Black Hawks
Art Ross, Boston Bruins Coach Red Dutton, New York Americans


The following is a list of players of note who played their first NHL game in 1938-39 (listed with their first team, asterisk(*) marks debut in playoffs):

Last Games

The following is a list of players of note that played their last game in the NHL in 1938-39 (listed with their last team):



A minute worth of footage from the home opener of the Chicago Black Hawks which they won over the Americans 6-1. First period goals by Cully Dahlstrom and Johnny Gottselig are shown.

A minute worth of footage from the Americans home opener on November 13, 1938 in which they defeated the Boston Bruins 2-1. The Americans goals by #9 Lorne Carr and #10 Eddie Wiseman are shown. Both teams play in white jerseys making it a challenge to distinguish between them at times. The end of the clip shows Milt Schmidt setting up Bobby Bauer who nearly scores. Schmidt then bodychecks an American player and appears hurt.

See Also


NHL Seasons

1934-35 | 1935-36 | 1936-37 | 1937-38 | 1938-39 | 1939-40 | 1940-41 | 1941-42 | 1942-43

  1. Boston Globe, p.21, March 22, 1939.
  2. Boston Globe, p.28, March 24, 1939.
  3. Boston Globe, p.22, March 24, 1939.
  4. Boston Globe, p.4, March 27, 1939.
  5. Boston Globe, p.22, March 30, 1939.
  6. Boston Globe, p.26, March 31, 1939.
  7. Boston Globe, p.8, April 3, 1939.