Some days, like March 4, are filled with highs and lows. In 1941, the Boston Bruins bombarded the Chicago Blackhawks’ goalie with 83 shots on goal. Nearly 60 years later, in 1999, the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to win with only 9 shots on the St. Louis Blues. Such a difference between 83 and 9, imagine if that were the high and low temperature forecast!
In the year that would see the Americans officially join the Second World War, the Bruins were fighting for first place while the Blackhawks just needed one win to clinch a playoffs berth. The Bruins had defeated the Blackhawks (4-3) in Chicago on March 2, and two nights later, the rematch was played at Boston Garden before a crowd of 11,000.
The action seemed centered solely on the net of Blackhawks’ rookie Sam LoPresti. He (and the Bruins’ goaltender) had been born in Eveleth, Minnesota 24 years back. His NHL debut came on January 5, 1941, against the Bruins. On March 4, despite already having faced 42 shots, LoPresti had a shutout going until Roy Conacher finally started the Bruins’ scoring at 4:24 of the second period. It was not until the 55th shot on his net, at 18:52 that period, that the Bruins managed another, from Milt Schmidt’s stick. LoPresti stayed firm until 17:29 of the final period, when Eddie Wiseman ““golfed his original shot at Big Sam, who flopped and deflected it out of a wild melee” before Wiseman backhanded his own rebound.
Despite facing 13 shots by Dit Clapper, 12 shots by Bill Cowley, 10 shots by Eddie Wiseman, and 32 shots by the Bruins’ four defensemen, LoPresti only allowed three goals. The exhausted goalie exclaimed, “Whew. They certainly kept me busy. Why I’ll bet I lost a couple of pounds.” According to the Boston Globe, “For the first time in Garden history, announcer Eddie Cummings was instructed to make known the official stops over the amplifiers.” LoPresti had made 27 saves in the first period, 31 in the second, and 22 in the third, for a total of 80 saves. “Easy or hard, they all had to be handled. They could have scored just as well on an easy one as a hard one,” explained LoPresti. “Eighty stops, eh? That beats my previous record of 62 which I made with St. Paul a couple of years ago.” In truth, as the Boston Globe crowed, “LoPresti smashed all known records for goalers, professional, amateur or otherwise, when he blocked 80 (count ‘em) of the 83 shots fired at him by the relentless Ross Rollers.” As best as could be determined, the only goalies close to that many saves were Bill Beveridge and Benny Grant, with 70-odd saves each. Bruins defenseman Jack Crawford said of LoPresti, “He was good all right. If he hadn’t been good he wouldn’t be alive now.”
LoPresti only played that season and the next in the NHL before leaving to serve his country. One month shy of two years after his record-setting night, LoPresti escaped the sinking SS Roger B. Taney after a German submarine torpedoed the ship. It took over a month (42 days) for the remaining crew to be rescued (off the coast of Brazil).
In the Bruins’ net, Frankie Brimsek had so little to do that “he complained between stanzas that he got cold out there in the rink.” During the game, he only faced 20 shots and made 18 saves. He faltered early on, when Blackhawks’ “Mush” March scored the first goal at 4:07 of the opening period. Eight minutes into the third, Brimsek allowed Max Bentley to even the score (on a rebound).
The other news of the night were Bill Cowley’s assists. He assisted Conacher and Wiseman for his 37th and 38th assists of the season. With that, he passed Toronto’s Joe Premeau, who had held the record since the 1931-32 season. Combined with his 14 goals (for a total of 52 points), Cowley was then leading the scoring race by eight points. Cowley finished the season as scoring champion with 62 points. The closest rivals were five players with 44 points each.
The 3-2 win put the Bruins in first place. After the game, Dit Clapper said, “Toronto had better forget first place and start resting for the playoffs. We are on top now and we are going to stay there.” They did, and they went on to beat first the Maple Leafs and then the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup.
Only the Bruins have come close to breaking their own shots on goal record, as no other team has even shot more than 70 in one game. Boston topped that at least twice, shooting 73 on March 21, 1991 (in a 3-3 tie against the Quebec Nordiques) and shooting 72 on December 10, 1970 (in an 8-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres). Only recently, on October 21, 2018 (against the Tampa Bay Lightning), have the Blackhawks faced so many shots on goal in one period (33).
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to win a game on March 4, 1999 with only nine shots on net. At the Kiel Center in St. Louis that night, the issue seemed to be in the goaltenders.
The Blues chose to start their rookie, Brent Johnson. At 11:03 of the first period, he missed Steve Sullivan’s breakaway shot. That let Toronto score on one of only three shots that frame. Then, in the second period, Mats Sundin “fired a partially screened and deflected shot past him at 2:13 of the second period.” Less than four minutes later, at 5:58, Lonnie Bohonos blew a “slapper through his pads on a rush off the right rig.” All in all, Johnson had let in three goals on only five shots, so his coach pulled him. “I couldn’t save a beach ball tonight. There’s no excuse for the way I played. I was no good. … I didn’t try hard enough to keep the puck out of the net. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind,” commented an ashamed Johnson. ““The team expects a lot more from a goaltender than what they got tonight. I want to get another chance out there so I can redeem myself.”
To replace him, the Blues sent Jim Carey to the net. He had been playing in the NHL since 1994 and had received the Vezina in 1996), but this was his first game for St. Louis. At 18:29 of the second period, Carey was the victim of “a goal that never should have happened.” Garry Valk had tripped Jim Campbell by the Blues’ bench, but instead of being called, he skated off with Igor Korolev. Once Korolev had drawn everyone’s attention, he passed to Valk, who “fired the puck into a wide open net.” Carey only faced four shots and made three saves.
In the other net, Curtis Joseph, who had tended goal for St. Louis between 1989 and 1995, played his first season with Toronto. That night, he faced 28 shots on goal, three times that of his opponents. The difference was, he did not let any in his net. With the 4-0 victory, Joseph earned his third shutout and eighth win in the past eleven bouts with the Blues.
Meanwhile, the Blues had been handed their eighth shutout that season, which was the most since the 1977-78 season. Coach Joel Quenneville realized, “I can’t blame it on the goaltending because we didn’t score any goals. It’s across the board. You need to score in this league.”
Nine shots on goal is the fewest ever for the Maple Leafs and the fewest for an NHL win.
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018), kindle version.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 49-50.
- Gerry Moore, “LoPresti Makes 80 Stops as Bruins Win by 3 to 2,” Boston Globe, 5 March 1941, p. 19.
- Herbert Ralby, “LoPresti’s 80 Stops in One Night Reduce Goalie’s Extra Poundage,” Boston Globe, 5 March 1941, p. 21.
- “Bruins Beat Hawks, 3-2; Take Lead League Lead,” Chicago Tribune, 5 March 1941, p. 25.
- Dave Luecking, “Joseph shuts down Blues,” St. Louis Dispatch, 5 March 1999, pp. D1 and D7.