Tough mountain to climb

The Stanley Cup summit seemed an inaccessible Everest to New York as Bobby Orr's Bruins won a crucial game to lead commandingly
May 14, 1972

After 29 penalties and seven fistfights the game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers was over. Bobby Orr had won it for the Bruins, scoring two goals early in the first period and then setting up Don Marcotte for the winning shot as the Bruins defeated the Rangers 3-2 last Sunday at Madison Square Garden and took an imposing three-games-to-one lead in their unholy war for the Stanley Cup. Twice during the game Orr had to go to the dressing room for treatment of his injured left knee. "We kept ice on it, wrapped tape around it and also put a pressure bandage on it," Trainer Dan Canney said. Now Orr sat on a bench, sipping ginger ale and wiping perspiration from his face.

"How's your knee?" someone asked.

"I feel fine, just fine," he answered. "There's nothing wrong with me." As Orr spoke Canney was wrapping another bandage around the knee.

The Rangers had come to bury Orr—but they left praising him. "He was playing hurt, real hurt, and it was so obvious," said Ranger Coach Emile Francis. "But he did the job and won the game for them." Perhaps Brad Park of the Rangers said it best: "I wish I was hurt like that."

Poor Park. No matter how well he plays the NHL's second-best defenseman cannot escape Orr's giant shadow. "Brad," his teammates tease, "you wear No. 2 now. Someday maybe you'll be good enough to wear No. 3, and if Orr retires before you do, well, maybe then you'll get to be No. 4."

Unfortunately for the Rangers, Park frequently has played his worst hockey against Orr and the Bruins. In 75 games this season he seined 24 goals and 49 assists for 73 points. However, in his six games against Orr and Boston, he got no goals and only one assist. This pattern continued into the playoffs while the Rangers were losing the first two games in the Boston Garden. In the first Park allowed Garnet (Ace) Bailey, a reserve center, to skate around him and beat Eddie Giacomin for the winning goal late in the third period. In the second game he repeatedly mishandled the puck as the Rangers failed to convert any of their seven power-play chances and ultimately lost 2-1.

It was thanks mostly to Park, however, that the Great Boston Hex cracked quite abruptly in the third game, a contest played in Madison Square Garden amid a hail of transistor batteries, cigarette lighters, 50¢ pieces, beer cans (empty), shaving cans (filled), bags of cashew nuts ("very tasty," said Boston Goaltender Gerry Cheevers, who stopped one sack with the back of his neck) and rolls of pink toilet paper. The fans, relentless Boston haters, were aiming the missiles at the Bruins and cheering happily as Park revived the Rangers and led them to a 5-2 victory.

"As much as I hate to admit it," Phil Esposito said afterward, "Park was the difference." Park won it in the first 13 minutes of the first period. Three times he produced goals on the Ranger power play, scoring two himself and setting up Rod Gilbert for a third when his dead-on blast from 30 feet left Cheevers in no position to stop Gilbert on the rebound. Perhaps more important, though, Park also helped destroy the Boston power play three times—an assault that has been the most destructive force in hockey—when Orr, Esposito and friends had opportunities to take immediate command of the game and the series.

"When you have that many chances early in a game and don't take advantage of them," Orr said, "it's pretty difficult to stay charged up the rest of the way. And it's worse when the other team scores three straight goals on its power play."

Meanwhile, Orr, though still a superior player, was not the magical man he can be. "His knee must really be bad," Park said. "He didn't rush the puck very often, and when our forecheckers pressed him he didn't seem to have the mobility to get around them the way he used to. I mean, when have you seen Orr lose the puck to the forecheckers?" Orr reinjured his knee 10 weeks ago and will have operation No. 4—tying him with Joe Willie Namath for the national championship—this summer. He has been forced to concentrate primarily on his defensive duties, rushing the puck only out of necessity.

Park and Orr aside, the games reaffirmed a cliché mouthed by all coaches during cup play: "You win or lose because of power plays and face-offs." Yes, you do. Take power plays. The Rangers lost the first game because theirs was so inept that the Bruins scored two shorthanded goals while killing the same two-minute penalty. Then the Bruins won the second game on two power-play goals of their own. One of these was more attributable to Boston Garden geography than to anything else. The penalty boxes are about five feet from the Bruin bench but across the ice from the visitors' bench. Gary Doak of the Rangers was still in the box when penalties to Boston's Carol Vadnais and New York's Glen Sather expired in the first period. Vadnais immediately jumped onto the nearby Boston bench as Johnny Bucyk skated out to take his place on the power play. Sather was still skating across the ice to his own bench. For almost 10 seconds the Bruins had a two-man advantage as they closed in on Goaltender Gilles Villemure. Orr, pirouetting to Villemure's left, suddenly spotted Bucyk alone at the other side and fed him a perfect pass for an easy goal. Later the Bruins scored the winning goal while they were playing with a five-on-three advantage as two Rangers were serving penalties.

But things were different in New York. The Rangers scored their three straight Park-propelled power-play goals in the first period of the third game, and they shut out the Boston power play eight times. "We just started to shoot the puck more," Park said. "In the other games we were making too many passes and then losing the puck carelessly."

As Sunday's pivotal game approached, Phil Esposito had a flash of inspiration. "We have been taking the shots," he said, "but not enough of them have been getting through to the goaltender. Walt Tkaczuk and Billy Fairbairn have been moving me into the slot, about 15 feet in front of their goalie, and the three of us probably have blocked more shots than the goalie. What I'll have to do is move out more—another 15 feet, maybe—or move to the side so that Bobby's shots can get through."

The strategy worked, and once again Boston won the battle of the power plays. Esposito kept the middle clear the first time Boston had a manpower advantage, and in less than a minute Orr blasted home a 35-foot shot for his second goal of the game. Later Orr orchestrated Marcotte's goal while the Bruins were short-handed again.

Although Esposito, who had 66 goals during the season, still had not scored in the cup final, he did seal off victories for the Bruins with his great ability to control face-offs. In the first game Esposito won four face-offs to the left or right of Cheevers in the last 75 seconds. In the second game he won a total of 27, including seven straight against Tkaczuk and Jean Ratelle in the last two minutes. The winning goal for the Bruins, in fact, came from a face-off that Esposito controlled against Pete Stemkowski. "The Bruins killed us on the face-offs in that third period," said Denis Ball, one of Francis' assistants. Indeed, Boston had only a 26-25 advantage after two periods, but in the last the Bruins got 22 and lost only seven. "That's where they won," Ball said. And in Sunday's game, the Bruins took the face-off battle once again.

So Boston was two up and going back home for game No. 5. "I've got a feeling that it will be a long night," Park said. "It's really rather depressing."

PHOTORANGER BOBBY ROUSSEAU gets a leg up on Teddy Green, but can't go anywhere but down.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)