Even old W. C. Fields himself might have loved being in Philadelphia last Sunday afternoon. It was a day when that much-abused city finally laughed at the world, a day when Bobby Clarke, the gap-toothed diabetic rink rat with the guts of 10 dozen burglars, and Bernie Parent, the nimble goaltender, skated around the frenzied streamer-filled Spectrum holding the Stanley Cup aloft for Kate Smith and the whole world to see. Sorry, Boston. Pity, New York. Adieu, Montreal. Sayonara, Chicago.
There were no Philadelphia Flyers seven years ago, but now they own the hockey world after Parent's spectacular goal-tending and Clarke's tenacious fore-checking and mastery of the face-offs destroyed Bobby Orr and the Bruins in the decisive sixth game. With their 1-0 cliffhanger of a victory, the Flyers joined the few expansion teams ever to whip the haughty Establishment and win a championship.
Although they did not realize it at the time, the Bruins were dead from the moment Miss Smith—Philadelphia's most ballyhooed weapon, with a 36-3-1 record—sang God Bless America before the game. Normally the Flyers play a taped recording, but for this crucial encounter they displayed Miss Smith in person. In a brave attempt to minimize her effectiveness, Orr and Phil Esposito both skated to her side and extended their hands in friendship. "Couldn't you sing 'As the caissons go rolling along'?" Esposito asked plaintively. Kate shook her head.
Nevertheless the Bruins dominated the early part of the game, taking 16 shots to eight for the Flyers in the first period, but they fell behind when Philadelphia's Rick MacLeish scored a power-play goal at 14:48 of the period while Boston's Terry O'Reilly was in the penalty box along with Orr and Clarke. At the time it seemed like just another goal that would be forgotten in a 4-3 or a 5-2 game. MacLeish rolled the puck back to Moose Dupont off a face-off to the left of Boston Goalie Gilles Gilbert, then headed for the net. Dupont skated forward a few strides and fired a routine shot. Gilbert, as brilliant in defeat as Parent was in victory, moved out to stop the puck, but MacLeish intercepted it inches before it would have reached Gilbert, tipping the disk over his stick and into the net.
May 26, 1974
That slender lead was good enough for Parent, even though the Bruins repeatedly stormed his cage the rest of the game in an attempt to avoid not only the end of the cup road but their first shutout of the year. Parent plainly robbed Orr twice and Esposito once, and then made his best save in the third period when Carol Vadnais flipped a backhander from in close only to have Parent detour the puck with his glove hand. Gilbert, meanwhile, kept the Bruins in the game with a series of exceptional saves, including astonishing stops on Simon Nolet's deflection from the crease and a backhand flip by Clarke from the slot. At 5:02 p.m. Parent gloved a long Orr shot—and the game was over. Suddenly the NHL had parity and Philadelphia had a Stanley Cup.
Parent's playoff-long magnificence aside, Clarke and Orr were the pivotal figures throughout the punishing series. Orr won the 3-2 opener in Boston when he ripped a bouncing slap shot past Parent with only 22 seconds to play in the final period. The unflappable Mr. Clarke had tied the score 14 minutes before. In the second game Clarke singlehandedly rallied the Flyers from an early 2-0 deficit as he scored their first goal, helped set up Dupont's tying goal in the last minute of regulation time and then scored the winning goal after 12 minutes of sudden death. For the Flyers it was their first victory at the Boston Garden in more than six years, and only their second triumph over the Bruins anywhere in a stretch of 30 games.
Both games in Boston were semi-placid, marked by only minor flare-ups, and so was the third game at the Spectrum when Clarke and friends routed the sagging Bruins 4-1 and took a 2-1 lead in the series. Following that embarrassing defeat there was a great debate among the Bruins as to just how many of them had been earning their large salaries. Orr thought four. Coach Bep Guidolin said six. Gregg Sheppard, Boston's best forward in the playoffs, suggested a maximum of eight. "Baloney," Clarke commented gruffly. "Forget those excuses. The way I saw it, the Bruins didn't skate because we never gave them room to skate. How can you skate if someone's on top of you and hitting you all the time? And we've been on top of the Bruins and hitting them in every game so far."
Before the start of the series, in a desperate attempt to develop some special strategy to stop Orr and his goal-scoring sidekick, Esposito, Philadelphia Coach Fred Shero had spent long hours analyzing films of his team's repeated losses to the Bruins as well as clips of the Russian national team's checking tactics against Team Canada. "We're a hitting team," Shero concluded, "but we've always made the mistake of treating Orr and Esposito as untouchables. As a result they have killed us, particularly Orr. The referees think that Orr is God, too. He's not God. And we've got to stop treating him like God." As a reminder, Philadelphia General Manager Keith Allen taped this sign onto his own suitcase: ORR'S NOT GOD. HIT HIM!
Most teams attempt to forecheck Orr with one player, who stands patiently in front of the Boston net, waits for Orr to make a move and then tries to skate with him. "It's almost a hopeless job," Clarke says, "because there aren't many players who can skate with Orr." Rather than have one man wait for Orr, Shero decided to have all of his forward lines swirl around in front of the net, usually in a crossing pattern, to serve as mobile roadblocks in Orr's path. Consequently, Orr was forced to abandon his normal lanes to center ice and skate slow, serpentine, hazardous routes instead. "The idea," Shero said, "was to make Orr work harder than he normally has to work." Once Orr did skate out with the puck, the Flyers immediately hit him with solid body checks. It was Ross Lonsberry who caught Orr with a devastating hip check early in the overtime period of the second game and left him stretched out on the ice for several seconds. "Seeing Bobby down on the ice has to depress the other Bruins," said Lonsberry.
Guidolin, meanwhile, recognized the Boston problem. "Every time one of our guys touches the puck," he said, "he passes it back to Bobby. Always it's Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. How much is one guy supposed to do? They're playing right into Philadelphia's hands. If they'd skate themselves, then there's no way the Flyers would be able to stop Orr."
Clarke helped the Stop Orr! campaign in two distinct ways. He chased Orr behind the net at times and pinned him to the boards, thus forcing face-offs near the Boston goaltender, and he kept his stick attached to Orr's navel whenever Bobby managed to elude the Flyer forecheckers and gain a half step on them in the race up the ice. More important, Clarke completely nullified Esposito by hawking him relentlessly, hitting him into the boards and embarrassing him almost to the point of ridicule by winning 48 of their 66 face-offs in the first three games. All season long Esposito had logged more than 30 minutes a game for the Bruins. In this series he clearly was exhausted, and hardly an adequate match for the exuberant Clarke.
Clarke's overwhelming superiority in the face-off circle repeatedly thwarted the Bruins after they had exerted strong pressure on Parent. "We'd get two or three good shots at him," Guidolin muttered, "and then Clarke would win the next face-off and get the puck out of trouble." Even when Clarke lost a face-off he managed to tie up Esposito and prevent him from getting off a good shot. "When Clarke loses a face-off," Guidolin said, "you don't move, because he's got his stick between your legs or else he's grabbed your stick. He doesn't let you move until he moves. The kid's always thinking."
Understandably, Guidolin was in an irate mood before the start of the fourth game, played at the Spectrum. He had scheduled an optional practice for the previous day, but only the Boston irregulars felt they needed the exercise. "The Philadelphia guys practiced," Guidolin said, "but my team was at the racetrack." Then, indirectly criticizing Esposito, he said, "I wish we had a Godfather."
If the Bruins lacked spirit in the earlier games, they were practically men of machismo in the fourth as they rallied from an early two-goal Philadelphia blitz and tied the game midway through the first period, with Esposito scoring one of the goals on a deft maneuver around the net. Boston then dominated for almost 40 minutes, but Parent stymied the Bruins with a string of sensational saves and some pure luck, particularly when Bobby Schmautz missed an open net. Then, late in the third period, Bill Barber won the game for the delirious Flyers with what Orr rightly called "the best wrist shot I have ever seen." Or not seen, perhaps. Orr and Lonsberry had whacked at the puck, and it dropped to the ice just inside the Boston blue line. Barber, trailing the play and unchecked by any Bruin, collected the puck and, using Orr as a screen, snapped a 35-foot blur past Gilbert's glove.
The Flyers packed champagne for their trip to Boston last Thursday night, but Orr kept the corks on with his best skating exhibition of the entire season. Taking personal command of a game that featured spearing, kneeing, butt-ending, a record 43 penalties, six fights and that latest weapon in Dave Schultz' fighting arsenal, the Bruno Sammartino head butt, Orr defeated the Flyers by setting up Boston's first goal after a brilliant shorthanded rush and scoring the next two himself as the Bruins won 5-1. "For the first time, we gave Orr too much room," Shero lamented. Orr's aching knees, unfortunately, limit the times when he can play like the youth who revolutionized the sport in the late 1960s. "You can have all the Bobby Clarkes in the world," said Harry Sinden, the managing director of the Bruins. "I'll take one game like that from Orr. He made 30 moves no one has ever seen before."
But on Sunday afternoon Parent stopped all of Orr's maneuvers, and when it was over, as the Flyers poured the bubbly and the Bruins consoled themselves with Michelob, Orr saluted his conquerors. "The Bruins," he said glumly, "are only No. 2."