With nearly every sports organization on the planet on pause at the moment as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, we feel it’s an opportune time to reminisce about some special moments in sports history.
On this day in 1964, Johnny Bower recorded the first-ever shutout in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-0.
Bower made 33 saves in the win, leading the Maple Leafs to a third consecutive championship and second-straight against his good friend, Gordie Howe, and the Red Wings.
“I’d like to thank the people of Toronto for having so much patience with us,” Bower told the crowd on the ice after the win, according to NHL.com. “I know we did have a few bad games. It’s certainly wonderful to win the Stanley Cup, and I give a lot of credit to Detroit, who played so well.”
Neither team gave up much of an edge in this series with five of the seven games decided by one goal, including two in overtime. The most famous goal of the series came in overtime of Game 6 when Maple Leafs defenceman Bobby Baun scored despite leaving the game earlier on a stretcher with a fractured ankle.
Bower’s shutout was certainly earned in Game 7. The 39-year-old netminder made key saves on shots from the Red Wings’ Larry Jeffrey — off a turnover from Tim Horton — and Parker MacDonald, who was alone in the slot after a setup from Norm Ullman. Ullman also had a shot ring off the post.
Andy Bathgate, who was acquired in a seven-player blockbuster with the New York Rangers that February, scored the game-winner on a first-period breakaway. The Maple Leafs then pulled away with three goals in the final frame from Dave Keon, former Red Wing Red Kelly and captain George Armstrong.
Bower preserved the shutout with a late save on Howe, who gave his fishing buddy a friendly pat on the head before skating back down the ice.
In the handshake line, Howe asked Bower to exchange sticks with him, to which Bower jokingly replied: “I should have taken your stick off you seven games ago.” Mr. Hockey had four goals and eight points in the series.
There have been 17 Game 7s in Stanley Cup Final history but only four have ended in a shutout. After Bower’s performance in 1964, Gump Worsley made 18 saves in 1965 to help the Canadiens beat the Blackhawks 2-0, Martin Brodeur made 24 saves in a 3-0 win by the Devils over Ducks in 2003 and Tim Thomas made 37 saves in 2011 as the Bruins beat the Canucks 4-0. Thomas remains the only goalie to achieve the feat on the road.
After the game, which was the 10th Stanley Cup win by the Maple Leafs, Armstrong had high praise for his goalie.
“Look at Johnny Bower. How else can you account for him? Hell, he gets tuckered out when we go for a walk in the afternoon but look at the way he’s played,” the captain said, according to Eric Zweig’s 2017 book, The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History.
“And with guys like that coming through, the others have an example to live up to and they dig in and work.”