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NHL Notebook: 50 years later, Bruins legends re-live and reflect on Bobby Orr’s memorable flight

(Staff by Ray Lussier/MediaNews Group/Boston Record American)

Harry Sinden doesn't need to look through the lens of Ray Lussier to re-live the afternoon of May 10, 1970.

He did have a front-row seat from the Bruins' bench, after all.

“I can actually recall at any moment at any time I want," the former coach and longtime Bruins executive said. "So I've looked at it a million times in my head.”

For those not among the lucky 14,000+ packed into a muggy Boston Garden that Sunday, the outpouring of joy and revelry that spilled out from the B's barn on to Causeway Street could only be encapsulated by a single photo — captured by Lussier a split-second after Boston captured its first Cup in 29 years.

The snapshot, that of a 22-year-0ld defenseman soaring through the air and into hockey immortality, may only be 50 years old, but it's as rooted into the fabric of this town as the cobblestones laid out upon Acorn Street centuries before — a revered relic mounted on the wall of every dive bar, watering hole and rink within the Commonwealth and beyond.

We've all seen the picture countless times over by now. Hell, most of you reading this might have a framed copy in your parlor already.

But for many, Lussier's photo of Bobby Orr's Cup-clinching goal in Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final stands as the lone highlight from the B's triumph over the St. Louis Blues. Not too many remember what transpired over the two-plus hours before Derek Sanderson hit Orr in stride from behind the opposing net.

With this Mother's Day marking the 50th anniversary of the Bruins' fourth Stanley Cup title, a number of regulars on that roster took the time over the last week to document what transpired leading up to and during that memorable Sunday afternoon — a contest forever etched into the annals of Boston's rich sporting history, and the game of hockey itself.

Here are their stories:

The Blues, in their third season of existence and third straight trek to the Stanley Cup Final, might have held home-ice advantage against the B's in 1970 (a byproduct of winning the West Division by 22 points over second-place Pittsburgh), but few impartial parties gave St. Louis much of a shot against the "Big Bad Bruins."

After missing out on the playoffs for eight straight seasons in the early '60s, the Bruins orchestrated a roster overhaul that saw the Original Six club punch a ticket to the playoffs in 1968 — starting a run that saw Boston advance to postseason play in 29 consecutive campaigns.

With key cogs like Johnny BucykJohn McKenzieDerek Sanderson, Dallas Smith and Gerry Cheevers in place, the Bruins were already a formidable crew on the upswing. But the arrival of a fleet-footed defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario gave Boston an advantage never seen before from the blue line.

By the time 1969-70 rolled around, Bobby Orr was already far and away the top talent in the league — well on his way to his third of eight Norris Trophies and the first of three consecutive Hart Trophies.

"Bobby Orr had a Cinderella year," Sanderson said. "I mean, not that it was a fluke. But he had an absolute did everything. Did everything right. Got into another planet."

Along with Orr's mastery that season (120 points in 76 games), the Bruins' 1967 trade with Chicago that brought aboard Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield continued to pay major dividends — with the trio combining for 91 goals and 211 total points that season.

Whether it be the skill of Orr and Esposito, the goaltending from Cheevers or the snarl from Wayne Cashman, McKenzie, Smith, Sanderson and others  — there were few weaknesses on this Bruins roster. More than anything, the largest threat to this club and Harry Sinden's efforts of keeping his players in check were the regularly scheduled off days on the weekend.

"Unfortunately, I have to go by the rule of — 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas' with our team," Cheevers said.

"Our Monday practices were brutal," Sinden added. "They know it was going to be brutal … John McKenzie was a character of most of them — he'd lie on his back towards the end of practice and put his feet and hands in the air and start acting like a toddler and a tantrum. Just say I've had enough, but it was kind of a ritual for the team to know what was coming the following week. ... We did have a host of characters, but they were able to separate that from the business at hand."

[caption id="attachment_566291" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Sanderson & Ed Westfall (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)[/caption]

Boston took care of business through the first three games of its bout with St. Louis — winning all three contests by a lopsided score of 16-4.

As thousands packed into Boston Garden on a sweltering Sunday afternoon for Game 4 — many in Boston's room felt as though seizing Lord Stanley's Cup was all but inevitable. As such, Sanderson and Co. weren't feeling the pressure all that much.

"I wore a tuxedo that night," Sanderson said. "St. Louis, they're not going to beat us. So I wore a tuxedo to the Garden and a guy said to me, 'What are you doing?' They had the Stanley Cup there and everything. No one expected it to be that close. Teddy Green said to me, 'What are you gonna do if we lose this?' I said, 'I never thought of that.'"

St. Louis, as they did for most of the first three games, appeared to be on the ropes in the early going of Sunday's clincher, as Rick Smith took a feed from Sanderson and buried his first goal of the postseason at 5:28 in the first — handing Boston a 1-0 lead.

"Really, two unsung heroes to me were Dallas and Ricky Smith," Cheevers said. "The "Cough Drops" is what we used to call them, the Smith brothers. Donnie Marcotte was a left wing with Turk (Sanderson) and Eddie Westfall — what a line that was. I mean, he didn't get much fanfare, Donny,  but I'll tell you, when that line was on the ice, I sort of took a coffee break most of the time, that's how good they were."

However, both clubs ultimately entered the first intermission knotted in a 1-1 deadlock, with Blues forward Red Berenson lighting the lamp with just 43 seconds remaining in the opening frame. A little over three minutes into the second period, Frank St. Marseille's efforts of bringing the puck through the neutral zone and opening himself up to a heavy hit from Dallas Smith gave Gary Sabourin the window he needed to fire the biscuit past Cheevers, making it a 2-1 game in favor of the visitors.

In need of an equalizer, the Bruins turned to Esposito, who snapped a puck home against Glen Hall at 14:22 in the second to tie things up at 2-2. Esposito set a then-NHL record that playoff run with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in just 14 games.

"I don't recall exactly the stats, but I think Phil led the league six consecutive years in goal scoring," Orr said. "And I think won four scoring races. His numbers are crazy and it's kind of sad to me sometimes when they talk about great goal scorers. You know, Phil should be brought up every time. He was one of the great scorers in the game."

Cheever's signature stitched-up mask lived up to its reputation just 19 seconds into the final period of regulation, as a shot from Larry Keenan ricocheted off goalie's mask and bounced upwards. Unfortunately for Boston, the puck's efforts of sailing into orbit were halted by the crossbar, which knocked it back behind Cheevers and into Boston's net, giving St. Louis a 3-2 lead.

"I let two of the worst goals in history in," Cheevers said. "It was a game that we were probably 10-to-one favorites. No one was serious ...  it was the type of game like 'Hey, we're just going to win it, win the Cup."

In desperate need of another counter, Boston promptly peppered Hall in net over the remainder of regulation. In fitting fashion, it was Bucyk, in his 13th season with the Bruins, that forced overtime with 6:32 to go in regulation — taking a feed from McKenzie and tipping it over Hall's shoulder from his usual spot down in the crease.

"He was such a good player for us," Sinden said of Bucyk. "I think most of you might agree that he was one of the three great left wingers of his era with Bobby Hull and maybe Frank Mahovlich. ... As a goal scorer, he was what we call a short-range goal scorer, maybe a little once in a while mid-range, but mostly short range. And he knew how to stop at the edge of the crease and take the pass and score it like no one that I knew before him, and really no one since."

(A look at Bucyk's game-tying goal in the final minutes of the third period.)

Before Orr's heroics could take place, the Blues nearly shocked the Garden crowd with just 15 seconds to go in the third, with Cheevers stoning Keenan on a point-blank shot to prevent a crushing loss.

"St. Louis played a hell of a game — and I really let two terrible goals in to force it into overtime," Cheevers said. "Now if I didn't do that, you might not have heard of Bobby Orr."

Boston's confidence wasn't wavering in the moments before overtime, with Esposito chomping at the bit to roll the Bruins' top line out on the ice an effort to end things quickly.

But Sinden opted for a different strategy, starting overtime with Boston's defensive-minded checking line of Sanderson, Marcotte and Westfall — and Orr, of course.

"I did it for two reasons," Sinden explained. "The first reason, I thought that if they were going to have any chance, it would be early. ... (Tom) Johnson and I, we had an ongoing bet that the over and under for overtime was five minutes. And I thought about the bet and I said that I think it's true, that if the goal is going to be scored, it's going to be scored in the first five minutes. But I was guarding against them scoring it in the first five minutes, not us.

"It was on my mind. And I thought, I'm not gonna let them score in the first five minutes because the longer this goes, the better chance we might have. ... Bobby started, of course. I wouldn't make that mistake. But that's the reason I did that and Phil — he wanted to start badly. He was upset. He didn't complain in the locker room or anything. But he wanted to start, he wanted to score the goal that gave us a Stanley Cup for the city and for the team and so did probably everybody else. But I felt that our best chance was to have our best checking line out there  and go with the under five minutes thing that if we can stop them in the first five minutes, we'll probably win."

Sinden's gamble paid off immediately.

"Once we got it in their end zone, we never got it out," Sanderson said. "Donnie already made a great way to keep it in, or they would have broke out earlier. But it was over pretty quickly."

Sinden could see the scoring chance manifest in short order, with Orr pinching up from the blue line and snagging a clearing attempt from Keenan. Feeding Sanderson behind St. Louis' net, Orr glided towards the crease, with Blues skater Jean-Guy Talbot attempt to tie up Sanderson before he could feed the puck back out.

"What I was worried about, was not so much what great play Derek and Bobby were going to make," Sinden said. "It was who was going to cover up for Bobby when he went in? Because our team was very aware of what kind of a player we had in Bobby Orr and that for him to be at his absolute greatest, we had to be aware of what he might do offensively as a defenseman. My eyes turn to Westfall ... he was the man responsible for covering up for him on the point. And as soon as I saw Bobby go in and leave the point, I'd like to see where Eddie was. And the next thing you know, all hell broke loose."

Sanderson added: "Bobby took a chance along the wall — broke to the net, give and go. Jean-Guy Talbot should never have come to me. ... When he reached, that was it. That's all I needed. Just a little opening. You make a play and you hope it works."

Before Hall had time to react, Orr redirected Sanderson's offering into twine.

"When I went across,  I did see the puck go in —and I was jumping," Orr said. "Noel Picard did have his stick under my ankle. He did lift me, yes," Orr said. "But I saw it go in, so I was also jumping with joy."

Not long after an emphatic Orr landed back on the slushy sheet of Garden ice, was he mobbed his Bruins teammates, their cheers drowned by the cacophony of jubilation expelled from a raucous Garden crowd.

"I was pumped," Sanderson said. "I saw it hit the back in the net. I said, 'Hey, well that's it.' I never really reacted right away. It's kind of like in the NFL, you're waiting for a penalty flag, right? 'Is everything okay?' It was a lot of fun. ... For him to get that goal, Bobby, that was what I was happiest about, is that he did everything for everybody. And it came to him."

"I have the puck," Orr added." ... I had my gloves. I had all my equipment. And when I came back from Chicago, I threw my duffel bag in the basement. Our babysitter had a cat. And I was going to play an old timers game and I called Peg (Orr's wife) and I said, 'Would you mind getting the bag out of the basement? Just air it out. Because I'm going to use it for a couple of weeks.' The cat had been using it as a litter box. The equipment was all gone."

[caption id="attachment_566296" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Getty Images[/caption]

Amid the chaos that spilled out onto the ice, Bucyk was handed the greatest trophy in sports — with the veteran winger celebrating Boston's latest prize with a lap around the arena.

"Skating with the Cup was a big thrill," Bucyk. "I did it then, and I did it in New York (in 1972). I think it was the last time that the individual captain would take the Cup and skate around with it. Now they do it as a group. But I was honored and very happy to be able to do that.

"You know, the cup weighs 35 pounds — at that moment it probably weighed like five pounds."

Fifty years after Orr and the "Big Bad Bruins" were crowned as the kings of the hockey world, the legacy of that brash, dynamic crop of players continues to live on.

Forty years after Orr took flight, the Bruins honored the occasion by commissioning a bronze state of the defenseman — immortalizing Lussier's famous photo just steps outside of the club's new home at TD Garden.

The ever-humble Orr was touched by such a gesture. However, he did have one request.

These days, Orr's statue is often surrounded in the hours before a game — both by future generations of Bruins fans and the old guard that all remember where they were that warm Mother's Day afternoon.

Just below Orr's likeness, there lies a plaque on the base of the statue that reads: "The Goal — Bobby Orr's famous Stanley Cup winning goal."

But on the back of the statue, at Orr's request, the Bruins added another plaque, listing the names of every player, coach and executive from the 1969-70 team — all of whom played a part in clinching

"We were a team and everybody should be there," Orr said. "Everyone had a role to play in our championship — and I was a piece of the puzzle and everybody else on the team were all pieces of the puzzle. They all should be there."

Orr added: "We were loved in the community and loved the community, people weren’t afraid of us. Our guys were out doing clinics and charity, so we were around the people a lot. Hockey was starting to grow. Rinks were starting to be built so there were more fans. I think as much as the championship, it was the group that won the championship also. ... “I just think we were part of the family. And that's how people looked at us. And we were happy that it was like that."

[caption id="attachment_566084" align="alignnone" width="1600"] (Photo by Michael Tureski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)[/caption]

OTHER NOTES

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, but the Bruins' scheduled 2020 trip to Mannheim, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic this fall has been postponed due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. The NHL announced Friday morning that all international events for 2020 have been called off, including a two-game set between the Avalanche and Blue Jackets in Helsinki, Finland.

The statement read: "The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association today announced the postponement of its 2020 international games. The NHLPA and the NHL remain committed to maintaining and growing our international presence. We hope that our fans overseas understand the need to postpone the 2020 games, but we look forward to being back with them in 2021."

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Gerry Cheevers hasn't played for the Bruins since the 1980 season, but it appears as though the B's netminder still doesn't have any love lost for the Montreal Canadiens.

When asked to compare the goaltending of his era to what he sees on the ice these days, Cheevers had plenty of praise for Tuukka Rask, who was in contention for his second Vezina Trophy at the top of the NHL's stoppage.

"Nowadays they are so big and so largely padded," Cheevers said. "They go down as the puck is over the blue line and they’re already in a position like that. Today’s goalies, I love Tuukka. He’s big. He fills the net. I would say he’s in the top 2 or 3 in the league right now. I’m not a big (Carey) Price fan. He hasn’t won. And he loses certain games that he shouldn’t lose.”