On April 13, 1940, Bryan Hextall Sr. scored at 2:07 of overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and deliver the Blueshirts the third Stanley Cup in their 14 years of existence. With a deep roster that included Hextall, the NHL’s leading goal scorer that season; goaltender Davey Kerr, the Vezina Trophy winner, and Calder Trophy winner Kilby MacDonald, the Blueshirts looked set up to be a power in the league for years to come.
Things didn’t pan out that way, of course.
They came close to winning the Cup again in 1950, losing in double overtime in Game 7 of the finals against the Detroit Red Wings in a series in which they were forced to play every game away from home because the circus was at Madison Square Garden. They made the finals again in 1979, when they upset the Islanders in the semifinals and lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the final. Ultimately, though, they would go 54 years between championships, until the 1994 group, led by Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, et al, ended the drought.
Winning in ’94 meant the end of the painful “1940’’ chant that Islanders fans had taunted them with for more than a decade, after the Islanders had won the first of their four Stanley Cups in 1980. The chant hurt because it was a reminder of how long it had been since the Rangers had won a championship. But the truth is, that 1940 Rangers team was a champion that should have been more greatly celebrated in franchise lore.
The Rangers entered the NHL in 1926, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, and the NHL expanded to 10 teams that season. The Broadway Blueshirts, as they became known, won their division and made the playoffs in their first year, and then won the Stanley Cup in their second season of existence, 1927-28. They would win it again five years later, in 1932-33.
In 1939-40, according to the book, “The Big 50; The men and moments that made the New York Rangers,’’ by former Newsday sportswriter Steve Zipay, the Rangers were a team built to win. They had, according to Zipay, “a set roster, filled with home grown players. A star goaltender. Two top-shelf lines.’’
Guided by rookie coach Frank Boucher – who had starred for the Rangers and played on their first two Cup champions – they started slowly. But at the end of November, they went on a 19-game unbeaten streak (14-0-5) that included 10 straight wins. After the streak ended in early January, they ran off five more wins, extending their run to 19-1-5. They finished the 48-game regular season with a 27-11-10 record, second-best in the league, three points behind the 1939 champion Boston Bruins, whom they beat in the semifinals. Kerr had three shutouts as the Rangers won the best-of-seven series in six games.
In the finals against the Maple Leafs, they won the first two games at home, lost the next two in Toronto, and then won Games 5 and 6, also in Toronto, to win the Cup. They won Game 5 in double-overtime on a goal by Muzz Patrick, then rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the third period of Game 6, with goals by Neil Colville and Alex Shibicky tying the score to force overtime and set the stage for Hextall. Shibicky had suffered a broken ankle in Game 3 of the series – broken in three places, according to Zipay’s book – and missed Game 4 before returning for Game 5, with the ankle numbed.
World War II affected the rosters of many teams, including the Rangers, and the Blueshirts did not fare well in the rest of the 1940s. They missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, from 1942-43 to 1947-48. In ’49-50, with Boucher now their general manager, they made the playoffs as the fourth-place team in what was then a six-team league. They upset the Canadiens in the semifinals and came close in the final. But the drought wouldn't end until 44 years later.