The start of the 1939-40 playoffs would have been typical but for one change in transportation. The Chicago Blackhawks flew to and from their first game.
When the season ended on March 17, 1940, the Blackhawks finished in fourth place with 52 points (23-19-6). Their first playoff opponents would be the Toronto Maple Leafs, who finished in third with 56 points (25-17-6). During the regular season, the two teams had faced each other eight times, with Chicago winning four games, losing three, and tying once.
This was only the fourth time Chicago would participate in the playoffs, and they ended up traveling in style. The 17 players, Dr. Hugh Meacham, manager Paul Thompson, and President Bill Tobin boarded an American Airlines DC-3 flagship at 11:30 on the morning of March 18. Apparently, Thompson was “leading all of his rivals in the voting for the honor of being the league’s No. 1 pilot.” When they arrived at 3 or 4 p.m., it was the first time a plane of that kind had even landed in Toronto. More importantly for the history books, theirs was the first chartered flight for an NHL team.
The Blackhawks still seemed to be flying high on game night, March 19, when they scored two goals in the first period. The Maple Leafs did not respond until the third period, when they managed to tie up the game. That meant that the 13,078 spectators were treated to a sudden-death overtime. At 6:35, with eight seconds remaining on a power play, Sylvanus Apps won the game for Toronto.
Having some ground to make up, the Blackhawks flew back home to Chicago Wednesday afternoon. The second game of the series took place at Chicago Stadium on Thursday, March 21. Although 18,000 were expected to come due to the rivalry with Toronto, the crowd was more like 15,306. The Blackhawks sent a barrage that was effectively blocked by Turk Broda and the Leafs’ defense. With the 2-1 loss, the Chicago Tribune bemoaned the end of their season at 10:54 pm.
Toronto went on to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in two games as well. In the finals, the Leafs lost the first two games, won the next two, and finally lost two more games to the New York Rangers.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 48-49.
- John Kreiser, So You Think You’re a Chicago Blackhawks Fan?: Stars, Stats, Records, and Memories for True Diehards (Simon and Schuster, 2017), kindle version.
- Liam Maguire, Next Goal Wins!: The Ultimate NHL Historian’s One-of-a-Kind Collection of Hockey Trivia (Random House of Canada, 2012), 31.
- “Blackhawks to Open Stanley Cup Series in Toronto Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 March 1940, p. 23.
- Charles Bartlett, “Blackhawks end Season, Beating Red Wings, 3 to 1,” Chicago Tribune, 18 March 1940, pp. 21 and 23.
- “Leafs Beat Hawks in Playoff Opener, 3-2,” Chicago Tribune, 20 March 1940, p. 29.
- Charles Bartlett, “Hawks Battle to Even Hockey Playoff Series,” Chicago Tribune, 21 March 1940, p. 29.
- Charles Bartlett, “Leafs Put Hawks Out of Playoffs, 2 to 1,” Chicago Tribune, 22 March 1940, p. 25.