Johnny McKenzie, the pie-faced agitator of the Boston Bruins, clutched a glass of prune juice as if it were the head of Brad Park, a tough defenseman for the New York Rangers who has described McKenzie in unflattering terms. "I didn't bother to read his book but some of my friends did," McKenzie said. "They took it back—and got a full refund, too." Suddenly the prune juice disappeared with a gulp. "Let's face it, this series is not going to be one of those love-hate things. No way, believe me. There's no love between the Bruins and the Rangers. A lot of hate, maybe, but no love."
And so, at last, here it was in living black and blue—Boston playing New York for the Stanley Cup. Who could forget the last time they met for the cup? More precisely, who could remember? It was 1929, and both the Rangers and the stock market crashed that year. During the Second World War both teams collapsed, and they spent most of the succeeding years struggling to avoid last place. Now they were indisputably the two best teams in hockey: Boston No. 1, New York No. 2 and trying harder, and oh, what a lovely war the cup finals promised to be. The street guys from Boston against the Goody-Two-Shoes kids from New York. Nickels and dimes against Madison Avenue millions. As one New York advertising type said, "If the Rangers win the cup, we'll discover hockey. If the Bruins win, we'll rediscover baseball or something."
All season long the feisty Bruins had mugged the Rangers and stolen their candy money. "They beat us five straight games by the combined score of 24 to 4," reflected Ranger boss Emile Francis, "and they won all three games played in our building. You don't do that unless you have a strong hockey team." Like New York, though, Boston had some past to forget. "I hope we all learned a good lesson last year when Montreal upset us in the playoffs," said Bobby Orr. "Now we're beginning a new season."
Few championships in any sport could offer such contrasting teams. The Bruins frivolous and cocky, the Rangers quiet and serious. The Bruins practice when the mood sets in; the Rangers work six days a week and sometimes seven. The Bruins have a loose rapport with their coach, Tom Johnson, and usually call him Tommy; the Rangers stiffen at the sight or mention of Francis, and out of respect for his unchallenged authority they always call him Mister.
On the ice the Bruins have a marauding, one-punch-knockout style that emphasizes body contact and goal scoring at the expense of everything else. The Rangers, on the other hand, float like butterflies, try to avoid physical conflict and work harder to prevent goals than score them. Basically, the Bruins beat the Rangers all season (after New York's opening win) by repeatedly knocking them down in center ice and never letting them get across the blue line cleanly to set up the crisp, short passing game that devastated the other teams in the NHL. "If we had done that against the Rangers," says Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman, "we would have beaten them."
In addition to the muscular and spiritual differences, there was the superstar gap: Boston had Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito (see cover); New York had no one with comparable skills. All season when the Bruins got in trouble they gave the puck to Orr, the game's most dominant player, or Esposito, who scored nearly a goal a game. While the Rangers had several players with star quality, they still did not have the one man—the Orr, the Esposito—who could turn a game around. The best New York line—Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert—could manage only two goals against Boston all year, both by Gilbert, and now the recently injured Ratelle was skating on a fourth line while Bobby Rousseau, no mauler, was between Rod and Vic. Park, the league's No. 2 defenseman after Orr and scorer of 24 goals, had been ineffective against the Bruins because players like McKenzie and Wayne Cashman kept getting him into fights.
As the Bruins prepared for Sunday's opener in the Boston Garden they were looser than one of Ted Williams' ties. The Rangers? Nobody knew what they were. Francis had closed the doors at all his practices, and afterward the players would run out the back and return to their hideaway commune in Long Beach. The team had taken to the mattresses, Godfather style. "Francis must be working up a new plan," McKenzie said mockingly. But Defenseman Don Awrey had a deeper thought. "The Rangers probably have one of their young kids dressed as No. 4 and another kid dressed as No. 7," he said. "The only problem is that there's only one Orr and only one Esposito." Well, two Espositos. Tony, the Chicago goalie, was the goat of last year's finals.
True to tradition, the Bruins' practices were about as secret as a family picnic. Friends, neighbors, relatives—even a few spies, maybe—sat around the Boston Garden and collected autographs, shook hands and snapped pictures while the Bruins leisurely went about their exercises. The dressing room, far from being out of bounds, resembled an airport terminal at rush hour.
Goaltender Gerry Cheevers sat in a corner on one afternoon, looking perplexed. Not about the Rangers, mind you. After all, he had scored four straight wins over them, including a shutout. "Is Riva Ridge for real?" Cheevers wanted to know, glancing up from the Daily Racing Form. Esposito slouched against a wall and complained that a photographer had insulted him. "Yeah, the guy said to me, 'Tony, would you mind....' That's all I had to hear. I told him to buzz off." Wayne Cashman, the meanest Bruin, was psyching himself for a return engagement with Gilbert. "No, I don't talk to Gilbert," Cashman said, "because he's French and I'd need an interpreter."
Orr was busy telling everyone that the Bruins would have to stop Walt Tkaczuk. "We saw a few of their games on television," Orr said, "and he was by far their best player." Derek Sanderson, who had missed the St. Louis semifinal series because of various ailments, including colitis, viruses and fatigue, figured Tkaczuk was a certainty for the best player award. And Boston a cinch for the cup. Said Derek: "Don't worry about a thing."
But the relaxed atmosphere gradually faded as the first game drew closer, and by the time the Bruins checked into their suburban Boston hotel on Saturday night they were more serious than most people had ever seen them. "It will all come down to one thing," said Awrey. "We've got to be physical with the Rangers. If we let them stand around in front of the net, the way Montreal and Chicago did, then we're in trouble. But if we play our game and crash a few bodies early, we should be all right."
For approximately half the game in the steamy Garden the Bruins bounced the Rangers all over the ice—and the scoreboard. Nor were the Rangers entirely meek. They had a wild one of their own in Gary Doak, a former Bruin, who drew a penalty and then shoved and sassed an official and was sent to the showers. The teams traded early goals, but then with four minutes remaining in the first period Ken Hodge and Esposito barreled past two Ranger defensemen and Hodge flipped the puck over flailing Ranger Goalie Ed Giacomin. A minute later Awrey was penalized for elbowing Gilbert, a particular target of the Boston hitters, and the Rangers pressed their power play furiously. However, the Bruin antipower play proved quite a bit better. In an outrageous display of bravado, first Sanderson and then Hodge scored for the Bruins while they were shorthanded. The crowd shrieked its joy; hated New York was being humiliated. The Rangers looked not only bruised but crushed as they skated off the ice at the end of the period.
Midway through the second period Hodge completed a hat trick by rapping an Esposito rebound past Giacomin. That put Boston ahead 5-1, but the Bruins apparently do not like 5-1 leads. Last year they led Montreal by the same score in the second game of their cup debacle—and lost 7-5. Once again they chose this magic moment to give up their forceful approach to hockey, and suddenly the Rangers were free to work their sweet passing game. Gilbert promptly got a goal. 5-2. In the third period Hadfield got another at 1:46. 5-3. Now the Bruins were uneasy. Rightfully, for the Rangers were far from through. At 7:48 Tkaczuk fired a bullet from the faceoff circle. 5-4. At 9:17 Bruce MacGregor made like Riva Ridge and galloped in on Cheevers for another. 5-5. Hysteria. Humiliation. The crowd shrieked; not with joy. "I knew we'd come back," Francis said later, revealing an insight no one else on earth had shared as the period began.
Then came the end, a cut so quick New York didn't even bleed. The Rangers were still dominating play when the Bruins slipped out for what looked like an abortive move up ice. The puck skipped from Ed Westfall to Mike Walton to Garnet (Ace) Bailey, who flew down the left wing against Brad Park. "I thought I had him in the corner," Park said. What he actually had was a splendid view as Bailey sliced around him, cradling the puck on his stick, and raced in toward Giacomin.
"I think they expected me to go behind the net and pass the puck out," Bailey said later. Instead he cut in, switched the puck to his backhand and, with 2:16 remaining, flipped the disk between the goalie and the near post. 6-5. Boston. Score one for muscle. Just.
Understandably, the Rangers were not downcast as they headed home to Long Beach and the mattresses before returning to Boston for Tuesday's second game. "We proved we can come back," said Hadfield. "Aw," said Boston's Sanderson, "we just wanted to tease them." Sure. What Coach Johnson said was more to the point: "We were lucky to get out alive."