An excerpt from

The Montreal Maroons: The Forgotten Stanley Cup Champions
by William Brown

When the 1927-28 season ended, the Canadiens were right where they had been from virtually the first day of the season - at the head of the Canadian Division. They had the best record in the NHL with 26 wins, 11 losses, and seven ties. The Maroons had captured second spot (24-14-6), thanks to a good second half, and the Ottawa Senators finished in third place. If the Maroons were going to face the Canadiens in the playoffs, they would first have to knock off the Senators in a home-and-home series. The good news for the Maroons was that the team had solved its goal-scoring problem of the previous season. Stewart was back on the beam, scoring 27 goals and finishing fifth in the scoring race. Smith and Ward contributed 14 and 10 goals respectively, and the productive second line of Philips, Oatman and Lamb combined for another 23. Even the defensemen were getting into the act, with Dutton scoring seven times. As a team, only the Canadiens scored more than the Maroons did that season (Howie Morenz and Aurle Joliat finished first and second in the scoring race).

With their two effective forward lines, the Maroons didn't have too much trouble beating the Senators, although the score was close in both games. The Phillips-Lamb-Oatman combination made the difference in the first game, with Lamb scoring through a maze of Ottawa defenders to give his team a 1-0 decision. The second game, played at the Forum, was a 2-1 win for Montreal with Smith and Siebert providing the goals. Playoff fever was definitely in the air as hundreds of people gathered in front of Morgan's department store on St. Catherine Street (later The Bay) to hear the news of the game broadcast over loudspeakers. A few days later, when the Maroons and Canadians started their two-game playoff series to decide the winner of the Canadian division, the crowd outside Morgan's was so big, that a mounted policeman was assigned to keep order.

The 13,000 fans inside the Forum that night in late March saw a brisk opening to the first game, but things soon bogged down. Thirteen penalties were called in the first period, and although most of them were against the Canadiens, three of the Maroons' infractions came at the same time. And as the Canadiens poured on the pressure, taking advantage of their three-player advantage, Clint Benedict lost his stick while making a save. Dutton returned from the penalty box in time to defend against the next Canadiens rush, but Benedict was still without a stick when Battleship Leduc took the pass from winger Art GagnŽ in front of the net. There was little the Maroons goalie could do to prevent Leduc from stuffing the puck behind him for the first goal of the game.

The Maroons were in a real hole when GagnŽ scored early in the second period to give the Canadiens a 2-0 lead. But then it was the Canadiens' turn to get into penalty trouble, allowing the Maroons a two-player advantage. Leduc took a risk by heading up with the puck, leaving only Joliat behind to guard the Canadiens' end, and it looked like it might pay off when he swooped by Munro and went in alone on Benedict. But the cool veteran surprised Leduc by coming straight at him and knocking the puck away. Munro scooped it up and headed the other way, hitting Ward with a pass in front the Canadiens' net. The crafty right winger tricked Hainsworth into diving for the puck and then flipped it over to him to make the score 2-1.

The brave Maroons' fans who stood to cheer amongst the greater numbers of Canadiens supporters (it was a Canadiens' home game) were still thumping each other on the back when Nels Stewart won the face-off at centre ice and descended on the Canadiens' depleted the defense. (At the time, penalized players remained in the box even if their team was scored upon.) Stewart made a quick pass to Smith, who shot immediately and beat Hainsworth. The Maroons had scored two goals in 20 seconds to tie the game.

Instead of providing the players with a jolt of energy, the quick turn of events seemed to make them more cautious. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, which meant that the winner of next game would advance to the Stanley Cup final. After the game, while the Maroons were peeling away their soggy uniforms, a box of cigars arrived at their dressing room door. The players were used to getting gifts from wealthy directors and admirers, but this present came from Howie Morenz, who had just signed on as a spokesman for a tobacco company. Babe Siebert didn't join his teammates for a post-game smoke; he was off to the hospital. It had been a tough season for the defenceman, playing for most of the winter with a cracked ankle and injured ribs. Now he had the flu and was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration.

Due to a combination of chance and future changes to the playoff system, the second game of the series turned out to be the last time the Maroons and the Canadiens would ever meet in the playoffs. It was a game worthy of that distinction. Camillien Houde, the newly elected mayor of Montreal, was there, although he almost made the first slip-up of his administration, losing his balance during a pre-game ceremony. The roly-poly politician was fortunate that a couple of players caught him before he hit the ice.

Unlike the first game, which had been slow, defensive slog with 24 penalties, the second game was a thriller. It was fast-paced with good scoring chances and even better goaltending. When the third period was over, neither team had scored a goal and the season now came down to sudden-death overtime. During the brief rest before rest before first extra period, the Maroons struck some observers as being the fresher of the two teams. It seemed that Eddie Gerard's two-line, short-shift strategy had begun to take its toll on the Canadiens. Gerard's counterpart, Cecil Hart, had tried to match the Maroons' frequent line changes, but didn't have as many good forwards to work with. He had great starters, Morenz, Joliat, and GagnŽ (81 goals among them), but with the exception of Pit Lepine, not much in the way of a supporting cast up-front. The Maroons, however, had two good lines that could share the workload, and they seemed to have a little more zip in the overtime period.

Eight minutes in, with action at both ends of the rink, Dutton pounced on a loose puck deep in his own end and got it over to Oatman. What the brawny winger did next was something the crowd might have expected from Morenz or Joliat, or maybe from Munro or Leduc, but not from Russell Oatman. He took the puck behind his own net and took off up the ice as if he had been fired from a slingshot. When he got to the Canadiens' defense, he blasted a low, extremely hard shot at Hainsworth. The Canadiens goalie stopped the shot, but couldn't control the rebound, and the puck bounced right back in front of the net, just as Oatman fought his way through the defense. Hainsworth made a move to recover, but Oatman drilled the puck between his legs. The red light behind the net flashed on and the thousands of Maroons fans celebrated as the unlikely hero was mobbed by teammates.

The party was still going on an hour after the game, as fans waited outside to grab hold of Oatman and toss him into the air. Some old-timers say they hadn't seen English-speaking hockey fans celebrate so wildly in 25 years. While the pandemonium reigned outside, Senator Donat Raymond quietly collected on a $500 bet with one of the directors of the Canadiens. And Gerard was modestly telling reporters that the series could have gone either way, but that Clint Benedict had made the difference. Indeed, Benedict had collected his second shutout in four playoff games. It reminded some of the people of the way he had earned four shutouts in the 1926 playoffs - all but one of them in the final against Lester Patrick's Victoria Cougars. And speaking of Lester Patrick, his New York Rangers had won the American division title, and would be the Maroons' competition in the upcoming Stanley Cup final.

One unfortunate postscript to the Maroons' victory over the Canadiens was the way some people reacted to the poor performance of Morenz. The Canadians superstar was kept off the score-sheet, and actually hurt his teams' cause by taking six penalties. He received crank phone calls from people accusing him of throwing the series. Jimmy Strachan might have sympathized with Morenz, having been the victim of rumours during the previous season. While in Chicago to see his squad play the Black Hawks, Starchan had been approached by a shady character looking to make a bet. The Maroons' boss denied having anything to do with the man, and the matter went no further. But Frank Calder was forced to look into the possibility that professional gamblers were trying to corrupt NHL players, coaches, and officials. The anonymous calls to Morenz were more than likely the product of this climate of suspicion and, although upsetting to the player, were never taken seriously.