Orr Once Owned Beantown
Richard Nixon was in the White House and U.S. troops were in Vietnam. Simon and Garfunkel were in and the Beatles were out, the former producing the album of the year with "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the latter announcing they had disbanded.
A postage stamp cost 6 cents, a gallon of gas went for 36 cents, a 5-pound bag of potatoes was a whopping 45 cents. The average price of a home was $26,600, and it cost $2,400 to attend Harvard.
On this date in 1970, Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins were rulers of the National Hockey League after Orr's legendary overtime goal beat the St. Louis Blues to clinch the Stanley Cup at the old Boston Garden. The goal cemented Orr's legacy as one of the most beloved figures in Boston sports history.
Like Carlton Fisk's home run and Doug Flutie's Hail Mary pass, it's one of the great milestone moments in the annals of New England sports. Ask anyone who is old enough to remember and they'll tell you where they were and who they were with on that Sunday afternoon 40 years ago.
Back then, the Bruins were the kings in Boston. The Patriots were a relatively new team seeking an identity as well as a place to call home, having bounced between Nickerson Field, Fenway Park, Alumni Stadium and Harvard Stadium in their first 10 seasons. The Red Sox had a steady following, but tickets were readily available for games at Fenway Park, where the Sox averaged 19,625 spectators that year. Despite all their championships, the Celtics continued to play in a half-empty arena, averaging 7,504 spectators in 1969-70.
No, the hot ticket then was for Orr and the big, bad Bruins. Every game was sold out, and the exorbitant prices demanded by scalpers became the stuff of legend on Causeway Street.
Daily papers chronicled the on-ice exploits of Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Johnny McKenzie and the off-ice exploits of Derek Sanderson, who drove a Rolls-Royce, wore a mink coat and was named one of the sexiest men in America by Cosmopolitan magazine.
And while Espo & Co. were big attractions, Orr was the star of the show. The 22-year-old from Parry Sound, Ontario, was in only his fourth season with the B's, but he was already considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game. In the 1969-70 season, Orr led the NHL with 120 points, becoming the first defenseman to break the 100-point mark, while setting a league record with 87 assists.
The Bruins finished the regular season with 99 points, the same as the Chicago Blackhawks, but the 'Hawks were awarded first place in the six-team Eastern Division because they had more wins in the regular season.
In the first round of the playoffs, the B's beat the pesky New York Rangers in six games, then stunned Chicago with a four-game sweep in the best-of-seven divisional final. That set up the Stanley Cup final against the winner of the Western Division, the Blues.
The Bruins were heavy favorites to beat the Blues. St. Louis was essentially an expansion team, having joined the league in 1966-67 when the NHL went from six franchises to 12. All six of the expansion franchises constituted the Western Division, whose teams were generally beaten with ease by their original-six counterparts in the Eastern Division.
The best-of-seven final opened in St. Louis, where the B's breezed to 6-1 and 6-2 victories. The series shifted to Boston for Game 3, and the B's again were dominant, earning a 4-1 win.
In Game 4, the Blues refused to roll over and play dead, forcing the game into overtime tied at 3. It didn't take long for the B's to win their first Stanley Cup in 28 years as Orr, taking a pass from Sanderson, slipped the puck past St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall 40 seconds into OT.
As he scored "The Goal," Orr was tripped by St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard. The photo of Orr soaring through the air, his arms stretched out in triumph, has become one of the most iconic images in the history of sports.
The Bruins would win the Stanley Cup two seasons later, with Orr again scoring the clinching goal, and they would challenge for the Cup again in 1974, losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the finals. By this time, though, knee injuries were taking their toll on Orr. In 1976, the Bobby Orr era ended when he signed as a free agent with the Blackhawks, for whom he played only 26 games before retiring.
The departure of Orr caused the departure of a lot of fans. And while the Bruins have had some great teams since, most notably the Terry O'Reilly squads of the late '70s and the Ray Bourque-Cam Neely teams of the 1980s and '90s, they have never come close to recapturing the magic of the Orr era. Many fans, insisting that ownership was too stingy, and frustrated by a Stanley Cup drought, abandoned the Bruins.
But this spring, the Bruins are bringing back many of those fans. Playing in front of packed houses, they defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the playoffs and can advance to the Eastern Conference final with a victory tonight over the Flyers. There's a buzz about the Bruins that's been absent for years.
Today, the team planned to unveil a statue of Bobby Orr at TD Garden, in a ceremony featuring the greatest player to ever don skates. He will also attend the game tonight. Here's hoping a little bit of the Bobby Orr magic rubs off on the Bruins because another golden era is long overdue.
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