Between 1950 and 1956, the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs met in the Stanley Cup semi-finals five times. Detroit won every series.
Only the 1950 best-of-seven series was close with the Red Wings needing a Game 7 overtime goal by Leo Reise Jr. to eliminate the Leafs. In Game 1 of that series, Gordie Howe had collided with Leaf captain Ted Kennedy and crashed heavily into the boards, fracturing his skull and re-arranging his facial features. Doctors moved quickly to save Howe’s life, let alone his hockey career. The heroic Wings won the series and later the Cup for Gordie.
In 1952, the Wings swept the Leafs in 4 straight. In 1954, it took the favored Red Wings just five games to bounce Toronto. In 1955, Detroit once again swept the Leafs on their way to their fourth Stanley Cup in six years.
By 1956, disgruntled Leaf fans were growing a bit restless. After the Wings won the first two games of the ’56 semi-final at home, the series moved to Toronto. Two nights earlier, in Game 2, Gordie Howe had knocked the Leafs’ leading scorer Tod Sloan out for the year with a vicious, but clean body check that broke Sloan’s shoulder. An angry lunatic in Toronto telephoned two local newspapers before Game 3 with the following threat: “Don’t worry about Howe and Lindsay tonight, I’m going to shoot them.”
If this idiot’s plan was to throw Gordie Howe and Wings’ captain Ted Lindsay off their game, it backfired. Instead, it made them mad, very mad. It turned out to be a rather stupid idea for the Leafs and the rest of their fans. Word of the death threat reached Gordie Howe’s 70 year-old mother back in Saskatchewan and naturally it upset her. That’s what made Howe really furious.
That night, near the half way point of the third period of Game 3, the Leafs held a 4-2 lead. Howe scored at 9:11 to make it close at 4-3. A few minutes later, Lindsay tied it up. It remained that way for the rest of regulation time. At 4:22 of the first overtime period, Ted Lindsay scored again, assisted by Gordie Howe and Bob Goldham, securing a 3-0 games stranglehold for the Wings.
Before leaving the ice, Ted Lindsay inverted his stick, cocked it like a rifle and skated around the ice of Maple Leaf Gardens, pretending to shoot Leaf fans. “ If I ever wanted two or three goals in my life, this was the night,” Terrible Ted said afterward.
“You don’t scare players like Howe and Lindsay, that easily,” commented Wings coach Jimmy Skinner. They’ll be mad enough to play greater than ever.” They did.
The Red Wings went on to win the series in five games and faced Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.