Despite the fact that they didn’t win the most Cups in the latter half of the 1930s, the Boston Bruins were undoubtedly the strongest team of the era. The Bruins started off the 1935-36 season quite poorly, but improved as the season went along. Eddie Shore, a remnant of their previous era of dominance in the 1920s, was still around and very good, but couldn’t carry the team by himself. To shore up the defense, the Bruins traded for young 23-year old defender Flash Hollett near the end of the season. A large part of the reason that the Bruins were able to turn their losing record into a winning record by the season’s end was because of Tiny Thompson’s outstanding play in net. The Bruins made the playoffs, but lost in the first round. The Bruins lack an offensive game-changer to complement Thompson and Shore’s play, but that would change in the years to come.
While the 1936-37 Bruins didn’t take the league by storm, there were a more consistently good team, maintaining a winning record throughout most of the season. Offensively, the Bruins still lacked a true game-changer, but forward Bill Cowley did put forth a strong season, finishing 10th in points in the league. They also got a taste of two new young forwards who would be core to the Bruins in the eras to come, Woody Dumart and Milt Schmidt. Where the Bruins suffered in this season was on defense, as Shore was injured for more than half the season and Hollett wasn’t able to hold the fort on his own. Thompson’s GAA inflated a bit and the Bruins experienced a worsened defense to go with their improved offense. The Bruins again lost in the first round of the playoffs and decided to make some changes. They moved Dit Clapper, previously being used as a forward, back to his original position of defense to shore up that position for the next season.
Dit Clapper’s move to defense was a massive success. The Bruins roared out of the gate in the 1937-38 season and never looked back. With a full season from Shore and Clapper as a pairing, the Bruins were much more sturdy on the back end. On the front end, Cowley improved again, as he started to become the game-changing offensive forward the Bruins needed. Schmidt and Dumart provided a solid amount of secondary scoring as well. Finally, aided by a healthy Shore, Thompson played very admirably in net, leading the NHL with a 1.80 GAA. The Bruins had the best defensive corps in the league and the third best offense to boot. But although the Bruins thought it was now their time, they were upset in the semi-finals before even making it to the finals.
The Bruins, like many good teams, weren’t happy with being shut down so early in the playoffs and came back into the NHL in the 1938-39 with a fervor for success. They had one of the most dominant seasons of the entire decade and were able to do everything. Offense? Check. Defense? Check. Goaltending? Check. They were nigh unstoppable. On offense, Cowley grew from being a star player, to being the best forward in the league. He missed 14 games but still led the league in assists and finished third in points. Roy Conacher, brother of NHL players Lionel and Charlie, joined the Bruins and was the goal scorer benefiting from Cowley’s playmaking as he led the NHL with 26 goals. On defense, Hollett exploded, leading the league’s defense in points, followed in second place by veteran Dit Clapper. Even old Eddie Shore still finished 5th in points. To complement that incredible defense was new young goaltender, Frank Brimsek. Thompson, while performing well, was traded to the Red Wings after five games and Brimsek took over, absolutely dominating the rest of the NHL’s goalies. The Bruins finished the season with a staggering 36-10-2 record, a point percentage of .771. This time, the Bruins didn’t slow down when they hit the playoffs and dominated their way to a Stanley Cup victory.
The Bruins knew they would have a tough time topping their impressive 1938-39 season, but they would try their darnedest. The Bruins started out the season with a rough patch, but quickly picked up the slack and pick up their dominant ways again. That said, a change in player personnel was clearly in progress. Cowley was still one of the better players, but it was Schmidt, Dumart, and line-mate Bobby Bauer that led the Bruins in scoring, all younger players than Cowley, who was just 27 years old himself. Incredibly, that top line, known as the “Kraut Line”, finished 1-2-3 in NHL scoring and Cowley finished 5th. Game-breakers were no longer a weakness for the Bruins, but a strength. Hollett and Clapper led the way on defense, both leading the NHL in points as Shore left to the Americans. While Brimsek didn’t have the same level of season he had the prior season, it would be unreasonable to assume that his level of play was sustainable. He still performed very well with a 1.99 GAA, good for third in the league. The Bruins made it to the semi-finals, but ran into the only goaltender who had outplayed Brimsek in the regular season, Dave Kerr. Kerr played out of his mind and shut down the dominant Bruins, upsetting them in the second round en route to a Stanley Cup victory.
While the Bruins had a number of disappointments, they also had one of the most dominant seasons of the pre-Original Six era in 1938-39. The Kraut Line, which formed in the latter half of the five-year period, was one of the most dominant lines the NHL had seen and would go on to continue dominating in the 1940s. The Bruins would continue to be a strong team into the early 40s before entering a long period of mediocrity that would only be broken by Bobby Orr and other Bruins of the late 1960s.