End of December, 1938, the Chicago Black Hawks are in Montreal to play the Canadiens. These are two of the worst teams in the league at the time, just as a note on the side: when it’s all over in mid-March, they’ll be worst (Chicago) and second-worst (Montreal) overall. Finishing 15-24-9, the Canadiens will still actually make the playoffs, which doesn’t seem right, or does, depending on how zealous a fan you are. In December, the team is mired in what one local paper identifies as its second deplorable slump of the season. They’re having trouble scoring, and they don’t know why. Toe Blake will end up as the league’s leading scorer, but at the moment he’s as baffled as everybody: if the nets were rink-wide, he says, they’d still be missing. Without getting himself traded to Calgary, teammate Paul Haynes takes the Mike Cammalleri view: “It’s the defeat psychology. Passes and shots that ordinarily would be clicking are going awry, maybe only by a fraction of an inch, but it’s just enough. Nothing breaks right or smoothly when you are down.” As the team is headed onto the ice, Blake notices a silver horseshoe mounted on a wooden base inscribed with the words “Good Luck.” “How long has that been there?” he demands, to which the stick-boy who thought it might be helpful has to own up: “About two weeks.” Blake tears it off the wall, drops it in the garbage. Too late: Chicago wins anyway, 4-1.
But, debris: during the game, Montreal goalie Claude Bourque has Black Hawks’ leading scorer Johnny Gottselig in front of him with the puck when the threat doubles: Gottselig suddenly seems to have two pucks at his disposal. Bourque picks the right one, apparently, and makes the save. Later he learns that the second, sudden puck is in fact an apple, tossed by a fan. Also on this night Montreal’s Johnny Gagnon, the Black Cat, is debating with referee Clarence Campbell when he’s hit on the head by what’s later described as “a very hard lemon” intended (as Gagnon insists) for Campbell.