With a reputation as the “Big Bad Bruins,” it may not surprise hockey fans that it took over 20 years for the Boston Bruins to play a penalty-free game but rather that they could at all. Still, on November 6, 1946, they visited the Detroit Red Wings at Olympia Stadium, and the referees did not call a single penalty. The Boston Globe printed a one-sentence summary, “Strangely enough, there was not one penalty during the entire game.” After 22 years as a franchise, the Bruins finally had played a penalty-free game.
The Bruins had been on the road ten days without time for training and had a record of 2-1-4. With their record of 2-5-1, the Red Wings sat at last place in the standings, and consequently, they played in front of the “smallest crowd of the year, 11,368.” However, the Red Wings led the scoring, and “Boston spent most of the night catching up.” The Bruins came from behind twice to even the score at 3-3, their fifth stalemate of the season. This was enough to tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs to lead the standings.
The first penalty-free game for the Detroit franchise occurred in its very first season (as the Detroit Cougars). On March 10, 1927, Detroit crushed the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates 7-1. The Red Wings participated in at least two other penalty-free games. They defeated the visiting New York Rangers (2-1) on January 14, 1962, and goalie Terry Sawchuk became the first to win 300 games with their franchise. Then, on April 9, 2000, during the first penalty-free game in the NHL in 20 years, the Colorado Avalanche beat the visiting rival Red Wings 3-2. On the whole, the Red Wings seemed unbeaten when playing penalty-free games at home.
As for the Bruins, more recently, they seemed to play clean games even against their arch-rivals. In early 1966, the Bruins lost to the Montreal Canadiens (3-1) without any penalties, and at their next matchup, the Bruins shutout the Canadiens (2-0) with only one 2-minute penalty called on the Canadiens. The Bruins shutout (3-0) two different teams in two different penalty-free games held in March – the Maple Leafs at Toronto in 2001 and the Washington Capitals at Boston in 2014. Most recently, on January 21, 2016, the Bruins lost to the visiting Vancouver Canucks (4-2). Perhaps the most highlighted penalty-free game in the Bruins’ history was the only one that occurred during playoffs. On May 27, 2011, The Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0) to advance into the Stanley Cup finals, which they won.
Bonus: One day and seventeen years after the Bruins’ first clean game, November 7, 1963, marked the first usage of a partitioned penalty box. Until that point, the home and visiting team shared the same penalty box, which could allow on-ice altercations to continue in the box. After Toronto’s Bob Pulford beat on Montreal’s Terry Harper during their penalties, Maple Leafs president Stafford Smythe said, “It’s ridiculous to ask two guys who’ve been trying to knock each other’s heads off to sit quietly side by side.” The Montreal Forum used steel piping to divide their box, and Maple Leaf Gardens followed their example two nights later.
- “Bruins Tie Wings, 3-3; Split Lead With Leafs,” Boston Globe, 7 Nov. 1946, p. 18.
- Herb Ralby, “B’s Play Into Shape While Climbing,” Boston Globe, 7 Nov. 1946, p. 27.
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018).