Pentti Lund was the NHL’s rookie of the year in 1948-49 and became a sensational sophomore the following season, guiding the New York Rangers to an upset playoff win over the future Hall of Famer-laden Montreal Canadiens.
The Finnish-born left winger was assigned by Blueshirts coach Lynn Patrick to shadow the NHL’s leading goal scorer that year, Rocket Richard. Nobody expected Lund to shut down the Rocket, or for New York to win the series. This was considered somewhere in the realm of fantasy since the Rangers finished the campaign under .500 (28-31-11) while the Canadiens, along with Detroit Red Wings, were among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
But the affable Lund, who died in Thunder Bay, Ont., April 16, 2013, at the age of 87, startled the hockey world by spearheading a five-game upset of the Habs. Lund, originally a Bruins find, not only beat six-time Vezina Trophy-winner Bill Durnan five times, his performance caused the legendary Habs goaltender to retire.
As for Richard, the only goal he managed over five games came on the power play when Lund was on the bench. Otherwise, he went oh-for-five-games with Lund checking him at full strength.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Lund once told me in one of our many conversations about his career.
Unfortunately for Lund, the magic didn’t last long enough to get his name on the Stanley Cup. In the final, the Rangers took Detroit to overtime of Game 7, where Lund’s teammate Edgar Laprade hit the post in the first OT. Detroit secured the Cup with a goal in the second extra frame.
“The odds were against us again,” Lund said. “We were denied use of our home ice, Madison Square Garden, for all seven games.”
In those days when the circus came to MSG, the elephants had priority over the stickhandlers. NHL president Clarence Campbell did the Rangers a big “favor” by allowing them to play two “home” games at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto while the other five were held at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. Playing on a line with Don ‘Bones’ Raleigh and Ed Slowinski, Lund put New York in position to win the Cup by setting up Raleigh’s overtime goal in Game 5. It gave the vagabond Rangers a 3-2 series lead.
Thanks to Lund, the Blueshirts appeared to have the Cup gift-wrapped in the second period of Game 6 when he beat Red Wings goalie Harry Lumley, providing the visitors with a 3-1 lead. But Detroit rallied to force a seventh game that appeared to be sealed for the Rangers in the first overtime by Lund’s Thunder Bay neighbor, 93-year-old Laprade on a breakaway.
“I cut in from the right side,” Laprade says, “and Lumley came out about three feet. My shot beat him, but hit the inside of the post and bounded out.”
Stan Saplin, who handled publicity for the Rangers, told me Lund’s performance “was one for the ages, coming ‘this’ close to the upset of all hockey upsets, considering all our final round games were on the road.” Lund tied for the playoff goal-scoring lead with Sid Abel (six) and led in points as well (11).
Another interesting angle of Lund’s hockey life is the manner in which the Bruins allowed him to slip through their grasp. Born in Karijoki, Finland, six-year-old Lund and his kid brother, Joe, travelled alone to Canada from Finland in 1932 to join their father and mother, who had arrived in 1927 and 1930, respectively. Lund picked up hockey so quickly and so well that by the time he was 17 the Bruins placed him on their semi-pro Eastern Amateur Hockey League club, the Boston Olympics. He won the 1946 playoff scoring title and a year later paced the Olympics to the U.S. Senior Open title over the Los Angeles Monarchs.
But in 1948, the Bruins traded Lund to the Rangers. As a freshman in 1949, he won the Calder Trophy, edging runner-up and teammate, Allan Stanley, a future Hall of Famer and previously a member of the Olympics as well.
In later years, as sports editor of the Fort William Times Journal, Lund met with neighbor and former teammate Laprade to recall those halcyon days in Manhattan.
“I’ll always remember Pentti as one fine player and a perfect gentleman as well,” Laprade says. “On the ice he reminded me of Toe Blake of the Canadiens, who played alongside the Rocket. Pentti went up and down his wing; so steady and so reliable. And as we know, he could score the big ones.”
Lund finished his NHL career with the Bruins, but he’ll always be remembered as the Ranger who defused the Rocket.
Stan Fischler is an award-winning writer and broadcaster who's covered the game since 1954. He's been a contributor to The Hockey News since 1955 and you can continue to find his Strange But True features in almost every issue. He's also produced the hockey newsletter, The Fischler Report, for the past 20 years. Fischler's latest book is Behind the Net: 101Incredible Hockey Stories.