Today in Hockey History: April 21

April 21 has been a hectic day in National Hockey League history. We have seen defensemen shine on the offensive stage, some big hat tricks, and plenty of other memorable Stanley Cup playoff moments on this date. Plus, one of many legends in Toronto began on this date.

The Legend of Bill Barilko

Barilko, a defenseman, played five seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was a member of four Stanley Cup-winning teams during his short time in the NHL. At age 24, he had his biggest moment in the league on April 21, 1951.

In Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Barilko scored less than three minutes into overtime to beat the Montreal Canadiens and give the Maple Leafs their fourth championship in the past five seasons. It was the franchise’s ninth Stanley Cup, which, at the time, was the most in NHL history. This remains as the only Stanley Cup Final in league history where every game of the series was decided in overtime.

Unfortunately, that was the final shift and goal of Barilko’s career and life as he died in a plane crash later that summer. On August 26, 1951, while returning home from a fishing trip in northern Quebec, the single-engine plane he traveled on went missing. The wreckage was not found until June of 1962. A deadly combination of pilot error, bad weather, and too much cargo was deemed the cause of the crash.

Gord Downie and his band The Tragically Hip brought the story of Barilko back to life 30 years after the wreckage was finally found. Their song “Fifty Mission Cap” describes his mysterious disappearance and became one of their most popular songs while exposing Barilko’s story to a whole new generation of fans. It is still played during the pregame skate at Maple Leafs’ home games.  

A Big Date for Defensemen

Maybe it is fitting that a handful of blueliners have had their own playoff success on the anniversary of Barilko’s overtime goal. On April 21, 1978, Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray, then a defenseman for the Chicago Blackhawks, had three assists in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals. Unfortunately for Murray, the Blackhawks lost 4-3 in overtime to the Boston Bruins.

On April 21, 1985, following his first full season in the NHL, Chris Chelios had a goal and two helpers in a 6-4 Canadiens’ win over the Quebec Nordiques in Game 2 of the Adams Division Finals. Chelios had two goals and 10 points in nine playoff games that spring.

Chris Chelios of the Montreal Canadiens
Chelios had plenty of playoff success in Montreal. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Brian Leetch had a big game on April 21, 1994, versus the New York Islanders. He had a goal and three assists to lead the New York Rangers to a 5-1 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They went on to sweep their intra-city rivals on their way to a historic Stanley Cup win.

Brent Seabrook scored the third postseason overtime goal of his career on April 21, 2015. This time, he beat the Nashville Predators just one minute into the third overtime of Game 4 of their first-round series.

The Blackhawks won the series in six games on their way to winning the team’s third Stanley Cup in five seasons.

Throw Your Hats

In addition to those great performances from the defensemen, this date has also seen a handful of playoff hat tricks. Johnny Bucyk’s hat trick for the Bruins on April 21, 1974, tied an NHL record. All three of his goals in an 8-6 win over the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals came on the power play.

Bucyk became the first player since his teammate, Phil Esposito, in 1969, to score three power-play goals in a single playoff game. There have been 12 players to accomplish this feat, with Syd Howe of the Detroit Red Wings doing it first in 1939. Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews was the most recent player to do it during the 2010 run to the Stanley Cup.

John Bucyk Boston Bruins
Bucyk was one of the greatest Bruins of all-time. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

On April 21, 1985, Brian Propp scored the second of his two career postseason hat tricks against the Islanders in Game 2 of the Patrick Division Finals. His teammate Tim Kerr added a goal and three assists in the 5-2 victory.

John Druce was the difference in the Washington Capitals 6-3 win over the Rangers on April 21, 1990. He scored a goal in each period of Game 2 of the Patrick Division Finals for the only postseason hat trick of his career.

Steve Yzerman scored a hat trick on April 21, 1999, to lead the Red Wings to a 5-3 win over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It was the fourth playoff hat trick of his career and set the record for the most in team history. He was tied with Norm Ullman at three heading into the game. Yzerman’s four postseason hat tricks have him tied for sixth on the NHL’s all-time list.

Odds & Ends

Following the 1937-38 season, the Canadiens and Red Wings played a nine-game series of exhibition games in Europe, marking the first time the league played outside of North America. The first of those games were played on April 21, 1938, with Toe Blake scoring in overtime to give Montreal a 5-4 win. The game was played in front of 8,000 fans in Earl’s Court, England. The teams played three games in Earl’s Court, three in Brighton, England, and another three in Paris, France.

The NHL did not return to Europe until 1959 when the Bruins and Rangers took a 23-game tour that included games in England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, West Germany, and Austria. The Rangers had some help as Bobby Hull, Ed Litzenberger, Eric Nesterenko and Pierre Pilote of the Blackhawks joined their roster for the month-long trek.

Gordie Howe made hockey history in a World Hockey Association game between his Hartford Whalers and the Edmonton Oilers on April 21, 1978. He scored on the first shift, just minutes after finding out that he had become a grandfather. Mark and Ginger Howe’s first son Travis made Gordie the first grandfather to play professionally in hockey history.

Gordie Howe
Howe, the goal-scoring grandpa. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

On April 21, 1988, Wayne Gretzky scored a shorthanded goal in overtime to beat the Calgary Flames in Game 2 of the Smythe Division Final. He became just the third player in league history to score a shorthanded overtime goal in the playoffs. Gretzky’s goal came just 10 days after Brent Sutter scored the second one for the Islanders. Tomas Hertl became the ninth player to do it for the San Jose Sharks on this date in 2019.

Defenseman Larry Robinson picked up three assists on April 21, 1989, to lead the Canadiens to a 5-4 win over the Bruins in Game 3 of the Adams Division Finals. With the victory, Pat Burns became the first head coach in NHL history to win the first seven Stanley Cup playoff games of his career. The Canadiens made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Flames in six games.

Bryan Trottier became just the second player in NHL history to appear in 200 career playoff games on April 21, 1992.  At the time, he and Robinson were the only two players to accomplish this feat. Now, 20 players have played in at least 200 Stanley Cup playoff games. Trottier’s 221 games are the 10th most.

Islanders Dynasty
Trottier was a key member of the Islanders’ dynasty. (THW Archives)

The Tampa Lightning hosted its first-ever Stanley Cup playoff game on April 21, 1996. A record crowd of 25,945 packed into the Thunderdome in St. Petersburg, FL, to watch the Lightning beat the Flyers 5-4 in overtime, thanks to a goal from Alexander Selivanov. Tampa Bay became the first franchise in NHL history to pick up its first two playoff wins in overtime.

Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn became the first pair of brothers to both score in a Game 7 on April 21, 2008. Andrei scored twice while Sergei added a late goal in a 5-0 win over the rival Bruins. Carey Price made 25 saves to move the Canadiens into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

On April 21, 2014, Darcy Kuemper made his first Stanley Cup Playoff start for the Minnesota Wild. He made 22 saves in a 1-0 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche. He became the first goaltender since Normie Smith in 1936 to earn a 1-0 overtime win in his first postseason start.

Happy Birthday to You

A pair of Hall of Famers are celebrating birthdays today. Goaltender Ed Belfour turns 56. He is fifth all-time with 484 wins for the Blackhawks, Sharks, Dallas Stars, Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup in 1999, he won the Calder Trophy in 1991 and a pair of Vezina Trophies.

Ed Belfour Dallas Stars
Belfour won his only Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

Belfour’s former teammate in Chicago, Michel Goulet, is celebrating his 61st birthday. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, he scored 548 goals and 1153 points in 1089 games for the Nordiques and Blackhawks. These days, he can be found smiling and joking in American Hockey League press boxes scouting for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Other notable players celebrating another trip around the sun include Nick Beverly (74), Steve Vickers (70), Vincent Lecavalier (41), and Alexander Edler (35).

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