Not surprisingly, as we get down to the final three, the dramatic finishes will only continue.
This one was quite possibly the most dramatic.
It was 1942. In three short seasons, the Capitals had already made themselves one of the American Hockey League's premier franchises. As the Detroit Red Wings' top affiliate in an era when the NHL had only seven teams -- it would soon contract to six -- there was plenty of talent to go around. The Caps won a division title in 1940, their first season, and followed one up in 1942. They sported a young roster led by a lot of guys who would enjoy cups of coffee in the NHL, but the most notable skaters would be young Joe Carveth -- who would skate in 504 NHL games, and veteran Hec Kilrea, who was at the tail end of a long NHL career. Also on the roster was a young Scotsman named Adam Brown. The winger would be called up to Detroit later in the year and play the bulk of the 1940s and early 1950s with several NHL teams. His son Andy would become a local legend in his own right, playing goal for the Racers three decades later. Defensemen Doug McCaig and "Wild Bill" Jennings would also spend quite a bit of time in the major league. But by the postseaon, Adam Brown and Carveth would be in Detroit.
But their ace in the hole was a young goaltender, Joe Turner. The youngster arrived in Indianapolis as a 22-year-old rookie, but was someone the Red Wings had high hopes for in the future. Turner made good on those hopes, posting a stellar regular season.
The Caps won the Western Division, outlasting the Hershey Bears with a 34-15-7 record, winning the title by three points. In the AHL's unusual six-team playoff format at the time, the two division champs met in a best-of-5 semifinal series while the second and third-place teams played each other in a series of best-of-3 tilts to determine the other finalist.
That pitted the Caps against the Springfield Indians, a team that had posted an unremarkable 31-20-5 mark during the regular season, but was led by one of hockey's most flamboyant leaders -- and at the time, one of its greatest players -- Eddie Shore, who was the Indians' player-coach and suited up at right defense. Not only was he one of the toughest players to ever pull on a hockey uniform, he was also one of its masters of gamesmanship. Even at 39 years of age, he was going to be a major factor for the Indians.
In fact, both teams were led by eventual Hockey Hall of Fame members -- Caps coach Herb Lewis would also be inducted into the HOOF like Shore.
The series was close from the outset -- the teams split the first two games in Indianapolis, with the Indians winning 4-2 but the Caps responding with a resounding 10-3 victory in Game 2 in which Les Douglas had three goals and two assists, while Jack Keating and Hal Jackson both registered four-point nights against helpless Indians goaltender Earl Robertson -- who would be injured in the next game and be replaced by Providence Reds goaltender Mike Karakas for the balance of the series. Karakas was the goaltender when the Reds eliminated the Capitals in a similar five-game tilt in 1940 -- with Jackson, then playing for the Reds, scoring a triple-overtime goal in Game 1 to set the tone for that series.
When the series shifted to Springfield, the Indians won the all-important Game 3 by a 6-3 score, tallying four goals in the third period. That put the Caps on the brink of elimination, and things didn't look good when they trailed 3-2 in the third period on enemy ice. But Doug McCaig and Gus Giesebrecht scored goals in the final 10 minutes to extend the series to its fifth and deciding game.
The night was March 26. Eight thousand fans jammed into the Fairgrounds Coliseum knowing they'd see either their Caps advance to the Calder Cup Finals, or see their team's season end. Two years before, their team was in a similar situation, but lost to Providence 2-0 in the deciding game on the road.
This one would be quite a tussle.
Mike Karakas backed into the net at one end of the rink. Joe Turner did so at the other. To start the game, Eddie Shore and veteran Frank Beisler took their spots on defense, while Shore throw out a checking line of Nick Knott, Doug Lewis and 21-goal scorer Bill Summerhill. The Indians had some firepower -- Peanuts O'Flaherty had 18 goals and 44 assists during the season. Winger Pete Kelly had tallied 33 goals. Fred Thurier had a 20-goal season. Those three had been a factor all series. O'Flaherty had tallied four goals in the series, while Kelly, Thurier and Summerhill all had factored in on five goals coming into the night. The Caps had just one 20-goal scorer on the roster -- Joe Fisher. The points leader was Connie Brown, with 19 goals and 53 total points on the regular season. Les Douglas was also dangerous, with 15 goals in just 21 games. Douglas centered Roy Sawyer and Jack Keating at the puck drop.
The Capitals' game was based on speed -- an asset on the 210x90 foot Coliseum rink. The Indians wanted to slow the game down and play defensively.
In the first period, the Capitals came out flying -- sending 17 shots at Karakas. But the substitute goaltender was brilliant, turning aside all 17. Jimmy Peters gave the Indians a 1-0 lead at the 7:29 mark of the period. Norm Larson started the play by carrying in down the right boards, feeding a pass to Max Kaminsky right before being checked. Kaminsky skipped a cross-ice pass to Peters for the tip-in.
Things looked worse when Hec Kilrea was called for tripping at the end of the period, but the Capitals killed off the minor and went to work.
Just over seven minutes into the second, they got the equalizer. Hal Jackson -- who would become a popular defenseman in Indianapolis and later create the Indy Youth Hockey Association -- gained the line and fed the puck to Ken Kilrea for a shot that Karakas stopped with his pads. But Connie Brown jumped on the rebound and poked it into the net to tie the score at 1-1 at the 7:38 mark. Then, with 2:04 remaining on the big clock hanging over center ice, the Ken Kilrea-Connie Brown-Joe Fisher line gave the Caps a lead. Brown won a face-off back to Fisher, who fed Kilrea for a screen shot that made it through several bodies and was likely never seen by Karakas.
It was bedlam at the Coliseum. Their team led 2-1 with a period to go. But the Indians were a scrappy bunch and third periods in this series were anything but predictable. In Game 3, the Caps led going into the third period and lost by three goals. In Game 4, the Indians led with 10 minutes to go and yet saw themselves on th wrong end of the score.
The Capitals carried the play in the period -- which was, like a typical playoff third period, penalty-free. But again, Springfield's best line made them pay. Fred Thurier shot. Turner dove to make the save, but was out of position to stop Peanuts O'Flaherty's rebound chance. O'Flaherty had tallied his fifth goal of the series and knotted the game at 2-2 with 11:55 left. While Springfield managed only four third-period shots, the Indians had some good scoring chances, but Turner stood tall to stop each foray deep into Indianapolis territory.
As the game wore on, things tilted more in Springfield's favor. The Capitals were a speedy team, the Indians a physical one -- both in the mold of their coaches. Herb Lewis was called the fastest player in the NHL during his playing days, Shore universally known as the meanest. But as the game wore on, the Caps began to slow down and the Indians were able to gain more of the play. Yet, Turner stood tall and the third period ended with the game tied 2-2.
AHL rules called for a single 10-minute overtime, which was not sudden death. If the game was still tied, it would then go to 20-minute sudden-death periods until someone scored. Yet, with the way both Karakas and Turner were playing, it was pretty much universally understood that the next goal would be mean the difference between playing for the Calder Cup or going home.
In the first overtime, the Indians swarmed Turner's net, but the Capitals goaltender turned aside all seven shots. The Caps only tested Karakas twice. The ten minutes went, and the game was still tied at 2-2. Now, the entire series rode on one goal.
It kept looking like it might come from a visitor. Again, the ice was tilted in Turner's end, but the Capitals goaltender would stand strong, making seven more saves in the overtime.
Nearly halfway through the period, Indians defenseman Bob Dill began to carry the puck out of his defensive zone. At the time, forward passes across either blueline were not legal -- a rule that would be changed the next year -- so Dill had to carry it out. Hazen McAndrews, his partner, was with him.
Judd McAtee -- a diminutive and distinctive 5-foot-9, 160-pound red-headed forward -- worked his way between the two defensemen and pressured Dill. He poked the puck loose cleanly and had a breakaway. He bore in on Karakas. At the same time, McAndrews wheeled around and tried to interfere with McAtee from behind, knocking him a bit off-balance.
McAtee took two more powerful strides, cradling the puck. McAndrews wrapped his arms around the Capital's waist -- he'd risk a penalty shot to prevent the game-winning goal in overtime.
McAtee tried to shovel at the puck while sprawling towards the cage. He made contact and shoveled it right past Karakas.
The puck nestled into the right corner of the net. McAtee went sprawling past it.
After 79 minutes and 52 seconds of hockey, on one of the most daring plays and dramatic goals that would ever be scored in the Coliseum rink -- which was just in its third season -- the Indianapolis Capitals had managed to survive a late onslaught and advance to the semifinals of the Calder Cup tournament.
The Caps would go the distance in the Calder Cup Finals against the Hershey Bears, winning the championship with an 8-3 victory in Game 5 at the Coliseum -- the only game in the series that wasn't decided by one goal.
It was a championship moment, one round early, but it would become the first of eight Indianapolis hockey teams to bring home their league championships.
Game 5: March 26, 1942 at Fairgrounds Coliseum
Springfield lineup: G-Karakas, D-Beisler, Shore; C-Knott, LW-Summerhill, RW-Lewis. Spares: McAndrews, Dill, O'Flaherty, McPherson, Peters, Kaminsky, Larson, Kelly, Thurrier.
Indianapolis lineup: G-Turner, D-McCaig, Behling; C-Douglas, LW-Keating, RW-Sawyer. Spares: Jackson, Ross, H. Kilrea, Brown, Fisher, K. Kilrea, Giesebrecht, J. McAtee, Jennings.
SPR-Peters 1 (Kaminsky, Larson), 7:29
Penalties: Sawyer (I) high-sticking, time NA; Kelly (S) high-sticking, time NA (coincidental penalties); H. Kilrea (I) tripping, 19th minute.
IND-C. Brown 2 (K. Kilrea, Jackson), 7:38
IND-K. Kilrea 1 (Brown, Fisher), 17:56
Penalties: Summerhill (S) slashing, time NA; Douglas (I) interference, time NA.
SPR-O'Flaherty 5 (Kelly, Thurier), 8:05
First overtime (10 minutes, not sudden death)
No scoring, no penalties.
Second overtime (20 minutes, sudden death)
IND-J. McAtee 2 (unassisted), 9:52
Shots on goal: IND-17-14-8-2-3 -- 44 (Karakas 41 saves); SPR-9-12-5-7-7 -- 40 (Turner 38 saves).
Power play: IND 0-1, SPR 0-2.
Att: 8,000 (est).