The playoff slingshot to stardom


Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin certainly had an interesting week. The second overall choice in the NHL Entry Draft last June, Seguin had an undistinguished rookie season and had yet to dress for a playoff game. But with Patrice Bergeron injured, Seguin was inserted into Boston’s lineup for the start of the Conference Championship series against Tampa Bay, scored three goals and three assists in his first two games.

When Bergeron rejoined the team for Game 3, Seguin stayed in the lineup on the B’s third line with Chris Kelly and ex-Canadien Michael Ryder, giving the Bruins an element of speed and skill that could charge up their previously average offense.

There have been many rookies who starred in their first Stanley Cup playoffs (and Adam Proteau in The Hockey News had a list of 10 all-time great rookie performances on their website this week), but it’s very unusual for a player to do what Seguin did — make his first big splash in the playoffs, the most difficult level of play in the sport.

In fact, the playoffs have catapulted a few very notable NHL careers.

Probably the most famous was the Canadiens Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden who, as is well-known, played most of his first pro season for the Habs Montreal Voyageurs AHL club before the Canadiens summoned him at the end of the 1970-71 campaign. He played six regular season games, and only allowed nine goals, and then was surprisingly named starting goalie over Rogie Vachon for the Habs when they opened the playoffs against the Bruins.

Dryden backstopped the Canadiens over Boston, Minnesota and Chicago to the Stanley Cup, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs even before his official rookie season the following year. Here’s some video of that 1971 Cup run.

Four seasons earlier, the Canadiens summoned another rookie goalie when they called up Vachon from the Houston Apollos of the Central Hockey League as a midseason injury replacement for Gump Worsley. Vachon got into 19 games and did well enough for coach Toe Blake to name him starting goalie for the first round against Rangers.

The Habs swept New York, then took on the Maple Leafs, who had beaten the regular season champion Blackhawks in the first round. Leaf Coach Punch Imlach chided Vachon before the series started by saying “You can tell that Junior B goaltender he won’t be playing against a bunch of pea-shooters when he plays against the Leafs.” Vachon beat the Leafs twice in the first four games, but stumbled badly in Game 5 and Worsley took over for the third period of that game and was in net for the Game 6 loss that ended the series.

But winning six of his nine playoff starts earned Vachon a regular job in the NHL, and he was the Habs starting goalie when they won the Cup in 1969 before achieving full-fledged stardom for the Los Angeles Kings in the 1970s.

Here are Danny Gallivan and Dick Irvin, the best who ever did it, describing some of the action in Game 1 of the Canadiens-Leafs Stanley Cup final series in 1967, a 6-2 win for the Habs and their “Jr. B. goalie.”

In the 1961 playoffs, the Rangers lost the first two games to the Maple Leafs when they called up a young Montreal native Rod Gilbert from Kitchener-Waterloo of the Eastern Professional Hockey League. Gilbert was inserted on a line with Dave Balon and Johnny Wilson, and they scored three goals — one of which was set up by Gilbert — as the Rangers won.

Two nights later, Gilbert scored inside the first minute of play and again later in the first period, then set up Balon for the game winner as New York evened the series. Toronto won the semifinal round in six games, but Gilbert notched five points in four games to begin his Hall of Fame run on Broadway.

No footage of Rod Gilbert from back then on YouTube, but here’s an example of his celebrity at the height of his career.

And one other NHLer, Modere (Mud) Bruneteau, also made his first big splash in the postseason. A Manitoba native, Bruneteau split the 1935-36 season between the Red Wings and their Detroit Olympics farm team in the International Hockey League. He only managed two goals in his first 24 N.H.L. games that season, and was in the IHL two weeks before the playoffs began that year. But he was in the lineup for the Wings first playoff game on March 24 against the Montreal Maroons. That game didn’t end until March 25 as the teams played more than nine periods of scoreless hockey.

It was Brunetau who ended the longest Stanley Cup game ever played, the first he ever played in with a goal against Maroons goalie Lorne Chabot at 2:25 AM, after 116 minutes 30 seconds of overtime.

Detroit went on to win the Cup and Bruneteau became a regular after that. Detroit won next season as well and one other time during Brunetau’s 10-year NHL career. He scored 35 goals in 1943-44 (three more than Rocket Richard did that year) and served as the Red Wings’ co-captain before his last NHL season in 1944-45.

Don’t know if this is the actual radio call of that goal or not, but let’s pretend it is.


  1. jew4jah says:

    didn’t PK have his coming-out party in the playoffs last year?

    chara = חרה

  2. Habitoba says:

    Wow, I’ve never been the first to comment on these things… I’m a little shocked, I have nothing prepared other than it was a fun article to read.

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