The Blackhawks faced the Red Wings in the 1961 Stanley Cup Final. The Red Wings faced the Maple Leafs and got crushed, losing handily in five games, while Detroit’s keeper Terry Sawchuk played brilliantly.
With both squads, the Blackhawks and Red Wings, being on American soil, the perfect underdog story was set no matter who won.
The teams split the first four games with each team taking a close game on the other’s ice.
Game 5 had Chicago’s stars show up in a major way, with Pilote scoring a goal. Balfour and Mikita each scored two goals of their own, Mikita’s both being in the third period. A three-goal last period allowed the Hawks to have a rousing 6-3 defeat.
Game 6 was in Detroit and a Parker MacDonald goal for the Red Wings was the only scoring done in the first period. The Red Wings had a hot lineup coming into this series and possibly the best player in NHL history in Howie, could this early goal turn this series in the favor of Detroit?
No, but the players who stepped up for Chicago were not who you would expect.
An unassisted goal by Reg Fleming came 6 minutes and 45 seconds into the second period. Fleming had only played 45 games during the regular season, scored only two goals during the season and a lonely one point in all the playoffs.
The next three men who scored next for the Blackhawks were Ab McDonald, Eric Nesterenko, and Jack Evans. All three men had not scored until that last game. The Kenny Wharram goal with two minutes left in the game was enough to clinch the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks.
When the team’s best players weren’t showing up, their role players all came through. That’s what makes this team so good. Their stars were legendary, players who had good careers played well, and when their role players needed to, they came through.
They also had to go through the highest level of competition that any team ever has, with a schedule that forced them to play each opponent over a dozen times. Gretzky’s Oilers, the 70s Canadiens teams, modern era teams, or any other team in history never had and never will go through something like that.
Because of all these reasons, and probably a little personal bias, I believe the 1960-61 Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in NHL history. Many may not remember them, and people may not fully recognize their success, yet they still live in history as one of the most legendary teams of all time.