It has become a ritual. Before each period of a game Bobby Orr (see cover) sits down in the Boston Bruins' dressing room with two hockey sticks in his hands. For the next 10 minutes or so he repeatedly lifts the sticks and lets them fall, occasionally flicking an imaginary puck into a nonexistent net. Like the weighted bat in baseball, the second stick makes the first feel lighter during the game. Just before the bell rings to summon the Bruins onto the ice, Orr gets up and walks across the room to the spot where Ted Green, the team's leader when he got his skull fractured in a stick-swinging battle last fall, used to dress. Starting with the man sitting in Green's place, Orr moves through the room, tapping the pads of every Bruin with his sticks. "Bobby is the leader now," says Goalie Gerry Cheevers. "You watch him with the sticks and, well, let's just say it could be pretty embarrassing for the guy who wasn't ready to play."
Orr's emergence as the spiritual cement binding the Bruins together is one clue to an understanding of the mysterious Stanley Cup events of last week. But this only helps explain why the Bruins played so well as they humiliated the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight games, not why the Hawks stumbled so badly. Admittedly, Orr is the finest player in the game today. Does he also have hypnotic powers? In the past, respect for excellence never prevented opponents from breaking lances with a Rocket Richard or a Gordie Howe. Yet there was Orr, gliding along as if shielded by an invisible barrier as the Hawks sleep-skated sheeplike in his wake. One of the most amazing moments of any cup series came in the third game when Orr skated behind the Chicago net with three Hawks chasing after him and then leisurely set up the easiest kind of goal.
These were the same Hawks, winged and taloned then, who made such an impressive rush through the last half of the regular season to win the East title, the team of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita and the prize rookie goalie, Tony Esposito, the Hawks who disposed of Detroit in four straight in their cup opener. These were the Bruins who, despite Orr's presence, had blown the pennant in the season's last few games, a team that had terrible trouble on the road, a team previously vulnerable in goal.
Fans who might reasonably have expected Chicago to put up a stiff fight—or even win, considering its home-game advantage—had to adjust not only to the unexpected slaughter itself but also to the strangely delicate way in which Boston disposed of its victims. Remember when the Bruins "lived by the sword," in Coach Harry Sinden's apt words? In this series the Bruins discovered that they could daze the Hawks with their reputations and spook them with a few ugly growls. "People read that the Bruins are coming to town," said a man close to the team, "and they think we're going to rob all the banks and rape all their daughters."
Throughout the third game, the first in Boston, the Bruins' impudent Derek Sanderson directed a steady stream of chatter at Bobby Hull. "Bobby, you're a real gentleman," he would say. "Bobby, you're a credit to the game, you've done more for the game than anyone. Bobby, don't ever change." At one point in the second period Hull and Sanderson wound up nose to nose, scowling at each other at the Boston goalmouth, but that was as close as they came to taking the gloves off. "I wasn't sorry about that," Sanderson said later. "He could eat me up if he wanted to."
The Boston feast began in the first period of the first game in Chicago Stadium when Phil Esposito flipped a backhander over the shoulder of his brother Tony. Boston went on to win 6-3, followed with another easy 4-1 victory on Tuesday night and then went home to the Boston Garden to wrap up the series, 5-2 on Thursday night and 5-4 Sunday afternoon. The anticipated duels between the two Bobbys, Orr and Hull, and the brothers Esposito were as one-sided as the series itself. Orr dominated the games as only he can these days, playing magnificently on defense, averaging 35 minutes on the ice. Meanwhile, Hull was unable to shake the close checking of Boston's Ed Westfall. He not only failed to score a goal but managed only eight shots on the net in the series.
Although Phil Esposito said he felt sorry for his brother—he spent several solicitous hours with him after the first game, in which Tony had been felled briefly by a close-in shot that cracked into the side of his head—Phil showed no mercy on the ice. The Boston center's five goals in the four games, plus the six he scored in the preceding six-game series with New York, pulled him within one goal of Richard's 1944 record of 12 (in nine playoff games), which was tied in 10 games by Jean Beliveau in 1956. And, sadly, on Tuesday night many in the stadium crowd of 20,000 booed Tony as he left the ice. "Sometimes I just can't understand people," Phil said. "Here he puts them where they are, but when he happens to get scored on a few times they let him have it."
Unfortunately for Tony, the Black Hawk defense never seemed to get its bearings. First-year men Keith Magnuson and Paul Shmyr had a particularly rough time and got little help from veterans Doug Jarrett, Bill White and Doug Mohns. At least Magnuson and rookie Wing Cliff Koroll earned some respect for grit. "Chicago only had a couple guys out there who were willing to mix it—the redhead and Koroll," said one Bruin. "Hell, everybody else was just standing around watching Bobby fly, like they were in awe or something."
Apart from the brilliance of Orr, perhaps the most significant thing about the Bruins was the cool, unhurried way in which they played. They have never performed better as a unit. Supporting players like Wayne Cashman, Fred Stan-field, Don Awrey, Dallas Smith and Cheevers complemented perfectly the heroics of Orr and Esposito.
"Actually, this has become a very easy team to play for," said John McKenzie. "There aren't any cliques, everybody's one of the gang."
Boston's assistant general manager, Tom Johnson, said the esprit de corps of the Bruins was something so special it reminded him of his days as a defenseman for the Montreal Canadien teams of the '50s. "We've tried to keep this club together, making a minimum of personnel changes," he said. "It's starting to pay off now."
"I can remember exactly when we began to get this feeling of togetherness," said Stanfield. "It was three years ago in training camp. Phil and Kenny Hodge and I had just come over from Chicago in that trade, and there were a bunch of other guys like Sanderson and Don Awrey and Cash who were up for the first time. We were strangers; we started going everywhere together."
"Let's face it," said Goalie Ed Johnston, "we're just a bunch of kooks and degenerates who get along."
At one time the most powerful cement was applied by Ted Green. "Greenie is one tough sonovagun," Sanderson said. "In training camp that year Greenie said he was sick and tired of fighting alone, that he'd better start getting some help or all hell was going to break loose. Teddy has this way of staring at you—a long, cold, hard, deep stare. Well, before you knew it everybody on the team was a fighter."
When Green fell to the ice last September the Bruins were not prepared to believe what they saw. Green was the man who couldn't get hurt. The team was both shaken and leaderless. "We couldn't be ourselves," Orr said. "We could still see Teddy lying there. Then one day Greenie was well enough to come back to Boston for a press conference. We were getting ready to practice. Ted walked into the room and sat down right over there, where he used to dress. His head was shaved from the operation and everything, and he didn't say a word. He just sat down, undressed and started to put on his underwear—as if he were getting ready for practice. As the guys came in he'd look up and swear at them or give them a shot—just like the old Greenie, like nothing had happened. We were all right after that."
"With Greenie gone, there was no question about who had to be our leader," Sanderson said, "but Bobby wasn't too crazy about it. He's a great kid, but a modest kid. One night after a game in Chicago I sat next to him on the bus to the airport and told him, dammit, he had no choice. We needed him, and he was it, whether he liked it or not."
So—reluctantly, but oh, so beautifully—Bobby Orr took charge of the Bruins and the several rinks of the NHL. "Orr," says King Clancy, Toronto's vice-president, "is the best player his age I've ever seen." Bobby is 22, Clancy is 67, which means he has seen them all.
Against the Black Hawks, Orr speeded up and slowed down the action as it suited him. "Like Gordie, Bobby has learned how to control a game," Harry Sinden said. "Before, if we were ahead 4-1 he'd be out to make it 6-1. Now he's learned to protect a lead."
It is getting a little difficult to select a single play by Orr as "best" in a series. Perhaps the most adroit occurred Tuesday night, with five minutes gone in the first period. In an end-to-end dash Bobby eluded one, two, finally three Black Hawks and, after a perfect give-and-go with Stanfield at the Chicago blue line, motored in on Tony Esposito, who was doomed and knew it.
In desperation, Chicago Coach Billy Reay switched Bobby Hull from left wing to center, partly to get him away from Ed Westfall's octopus attentions and partly to give the Hawks more muscle down the middle. It didn't work; Bobby managed only his second and third shots in two games, while his teammates fired on Cheevers from long range or in frustration dumped the puck into the Boston end. With Orr on the ice, the latter approach is an exercise in futility. "Whenever you do that," Reay conceded, "you can just kiss the puck goodby. That's just another part of the game Orr has spoiled for everybody."
Reay yearned for his team to get ahead once, just once, to see what effect it might have on Boston. Thursday night he got his wish. The Bruins spotted Chicago 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period, only to come back with three quick goals in the second period—their best of the series—to win easily. Hull, back on left wing, got but one shot on goal.
It was only in Sunday's finale that the Hawks showed a talent for anything more than nonviolence, and this made for an exciting game. The score was 3-3 in the second period when Cliff Koroll accidentally cut Boston's Rick Smith with his stick, drawing an automatic five-minute penalty. Less than a minute later Bobby Hull followed him off for tripping. Chicago not only killed these penalties but went ahead 4-3 in the third period, and even after Ken Hodge pulled Boston abreast, the Hawks seemed headed for whatever solace overtime might offer. Johnny McKenzie snuffed that faint flame by scoring for Boston with less than two minutes left.