Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Boston Bruins - 1969-72
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Boston Bruins - 1969-72

19 MARCH 2013
Johnny Bucyk spent over 20 seasons
with the Boston Bruins.
(Photo by Portnoy/HHOF)
After a dismal decade of futility, the Boston Bruins put together a roster that soon became the elite of the National Hockey League.

In 1969-70, the Bruins finished with 99 points, which tied them for first overall with Chicago's Black Hawks, although the Hawks officially took first on the basis of winning more games. But the Bruins were explosive, scoring 277 goals through the regular season; 27 more than Chicago. Incredibly, Bobby Orr won the scoring championship, the first time a defenseman would win the Art Ross Trophy. Orr also won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player, the Norris Trophy as best defenseman, and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team. Phil Esposito finished second in scoring with 99 points and was also named to the First All-Star Team, while Johnny McKenzie was a Second Team All-Star.

Gerry Cheevers backstopped the Bruins to two Stanley Cup titles in three years
Gerry Cheevers backstopped the Bruins to two Stanley Cup titles in three years. (Photo by Frank Prazak/HHOF)
Boston faced the archrival Rangers in the opening round of the playoffs. The two teams hated each other, and it was evident through the series. In Game Three, played in New York, there were 24 penalties for 132 penalty minutes; an NHL record. The teams combined for 174 penalty minutes in a 4-3 Bruins loss. Eventually, Boston prevailed four games to two. Fans at Madison Square Garden threw debris onto the ice and set fires in the mezzanine.

The Chicago Black Hawks should have given Boston an epic battle in the next playoff round, but instead, the anticlimactic series saw the Bruins sweep the Hawks in four games.

Bobby Orr's 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal skates that were later bronzed-plated for posterity.
Bobby Orr's 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal skates that were later bronzed-plated for posterity.
The Stanley Cup final pitted Boston, the cream of the East Division, against the St. Louis Blues, the best of the west. The Blues were an expansion team, but loaded with veterans, managed a valiant effort. Boston beat the Blues 6-1 and 6-2 in St. Louis to start the series. Game Three, in Boston, was a 4-1 win for the home team. But refusing to surrender, St. Louis battled Boston to a 3-all tie at the end of regulation in Game Four.

Bruins' coach Harry Sinden surprised everyone by starting Derek Sanderson's line to begin overtime. Popular thinking would have placed Phil Esposito's line out to start the extra period. Forty seconds later, however, the puck was behind Glenn Hall in the Blues' net and Bobby Orr was sailing through the air, perfectly horizontal, in a magnificent ending to the Boston Bruins' season.

With the Bruins, Phil Esposito became one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history.
With the Bruins, Phil Esposito became one of the
most prolific scorers in NHL history.
(Photo by Portnoy/HHOF)
"I got a little lucky," Orr admitted. "The puck was coming up the boards and if it had got by me, it might have been a two-on-one against me, but it hit me. I did see Derek (Sanderson). I threw the puck back to him and I went to the net. That's the way I played and Derek gave me a great pass right on the stick. As I started to move across, Glenn Hall had to move with me and it's pretty difficult to move across and keep your legs closed. I was just trying to put the puck on net."

"Winning the Stanley Cup was a great feeling," added Derek Sanderson. "I was happiest for Bobby. It was a Cinderella year for him, and it only seemed fitting that he should score the winning goal. No one has the heart, the guts or the toughness that he did." Orr was named recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff mvp.

The knee brace worn by Bobby Orr when he scored the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime, vaulting his Bruins to their first championship in 29 years.
The knee brace worn by Bobby Orr when he scored the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime, vaulting his Bruins to their first championship in 29 years.
The Bruins ran away with the league in 1970-71, finishing first overall with a staggering 121 points; a full 12 points more than the second-place Rangers. Again, Boston had no trouble putting the puck in the net, scoring 399 times through the regular season. Montreal's 291 goals was a distant second-highest! Phil Esposito won the Art Ross with 152 points, including 76 goals. Bobby Orr finished second with 139 points. Ten Bruins scored 20+ goals: Esposito, Johnny Bucyk (51), Ken Hodge (43), Bobby Orr (37), Johnny McKenzie (31), Derek Sanderson (29), Ed Westfall (25), Fred Stanfield (24), Wayne Carleton (22) and Wayne Cashman (21). Esposito, Orr, Hodge and Bucyk were all selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team. But, Boston met the white-hot Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, and the Habs, riding the sensational rookie goaltending of Ken Dryden, stopped the Bruins cold, eliminating them in seven games.

Bobby Orr poses with the Stanley Cup following the Bruins win
Bobby Orr poses with the Stanley Cup following the Bruins win.
(Photo by Al Ruelle/HHOF)
Boston again dominated the NHL in 1971-72, finishing first overall with 119 points. Again, the goal-scoring was prolific with 330 tallies to lead the league. Esposito won the scoring championship for a second straight year. Eight Bruins surpassed the 20-goal plateau in this season. Orr and Esposito were selected for the NHL's First All-Star Team. Orr was also awarded the Hart Trophy and the Norris once again.

In the first round, Boston dumped Toronto in five games. A four-game sweep eliminated St. Louis. And then it was a clash of the titans for the Stanley Cup - Boston versus the New York Rangers. It was the first Boston/New York final since 1929.

The series began in Boston, and the Bruins won 6-5 and 2-1. Moving to New York, the Rangers bounced back with a 5-2 win in Game Three, but Boston edged the Rangers 3-2 in Game Four. "Bobby Orr scored twice for us," recalled Sanderson. "He controlled the puck for 40 minutes and let the other 35 players use it for the other 20."

New York outscored Boston 3-2 in Game Five at the Boston Gardens. Game Six returned to Madison Square Garden. "We wanted to end the series right then, whether we were on enemy soil or not," stated Sanderson. Orr was on fire. He scored a powerplay goal in the first period, which turned out to be the Stanley Cup-winning goal, and he earned an assist on a Wayne Cashman goal in the third. It was a 3-0 win for Boston with Gerry Cheevers earning the shutout, but Orr was the difference. "He was the difference in the whole series," shrugged Sanderson. Orr was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, his second win, and collected an NHL record 24 points (most for a defenseman in the playoffs), including a record 19 assists, again, most for a defenseman in the playoffs.

"What made that team so special was that we had grown together since 1967," explained Derek Sanderson. "We had so much fun on that team. And as hard as we played on the ice, we played just as hard off it."

1970 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. (Photo by Hockey Hall of Fame)

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.