The Missing Rings is a series looking at some of the best teams in NHL history to not win the Stanley Cup. Whether they lose in the first round or game seven of the finals, these great teams have been forgotten because they could not win the big one. For the next installment, the 1970-71 Boston Bruins are the focus.
The Missing Rings: 1970-71 Boston Bruins
The Bruins finished in second place in the NHL east division. Boston and the Chicago Black Hawks had both put up 99 points, but the Hawks won the tiebreaker with five more wins. Hall of fame defenceman Bobby Orr had one of the best seasons ever. He led the league in scoring, with 120 points, 21 more points than the runner up, teammate Phil Esposito. Orr won the Hart Trophy, Art Ross, Norris Trophy and Conn Smyth Trophy. The team also had John Bucyk, John McKenzie, Ken Hodge, Gerry Cheevers and an emerging Wayne Cashman.
In the playoffs, the Bruins really got to work. They took care of the New York Rangers in six games to meet the Black Hawks in the East semifinal. The Bruins swept Chicago to set up a finals matchup with the St. Louis Blues. In the Finals, Boston swept the Blues to win their first Stanley Cup since 1941. The series has been immortalized by Bobby Orr‘s game four flying overtime goal. With such a loaded team, the Bruins looked poised to dominate the 70’s.
Even with high expectations coming into the season, the 1970-71 Bruins blew the doors off the NHL. As a team, they set new NHL records for wins (57), points (121) and goals for (399). Individually the Bruins were just as impressive. Leading the way was Esposito, who led the league in scoring. He set the record for most goals (78) and points (152) in a season. The Bruins has the top four scoring players in the league, all surpassing 100 points, another NHL first. Behind Esposito was Orr (139 points), Bucyk (116 points) and Hodge (109 points). They had six players in the top eight in scoring and seven in the top eleven.
Needless to say, they ran away with the East division title. The Rangers had a strong season by their own right, but their 109 points were dwarfed by Boston. The Bruins absolutely dominated the NHL with a 57-14-7 record. Bobby Orr won his second consecutive Hart and Norris Trophies. Esposito took home the Art Ross and the newly minted Lester B. Pearson award and John Bucyk took the Lady Byng. Heading into the playoffs, the Bruins were expected to cruise to their second consecutive Cup.
What Went Wrong
It’s hard to pinpoint what goes wrong for such a dominant team when they crash out in the first round. One thing working against them was they met historic rival and playoff tormentor Montreal Canadiens in the first round. At this time, the Bruins had not won a playoff series against Montreal since 1943, an 0-10 stretch. One other thing working against Boston was an unknown goalie just graduated from Cornell named Ken Dryden. Despite the history, the Bruins were very heavy favourites.
Everything started out alright, with Boston taking game one 3-1. Game two seemed to be going according to plan also, with the Bruins holding a 5-2 lead after two periods. Then something happened. The Habs scored five straight third period goals to win game two 7-5. Game three saw the Habs and Dryden hold the Bruins to just one goal in a 3-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Boston rebounded in game four with a 5-2 win. The B’s seemed to be back on track and headed back to Boston with a charge to take control of the series. That they did, with a dominating 56 shot, 7-3 win. The Bruins were one win away from avoiding catastrophe. Back in Montreal for game six, the Habs did not roll over but pushed back with their own impressive 8-3 win to force a game seven.
Back in Boston for game seven, the Bruins tried to dominate again. They pushed the play and took an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, the Habs scored four straight and won the game 4-2. Ken Dryden was superb, making 46 saves.
The initial aftermath was the Habs would go on to win the Stanley Cup over the Black Hawks. The Bruins were able to recover from the bitter loss to win the Cup the following year. Unfortunately for Boston, this extremely talented team would not win another one. They continued to be prolific in the regular season but found little success in the playoffs. They returned to the Cup final in 1973-74 but were upset by the Broad Street Bullies. Then rival Montreal returned to torture Boston more. Boston would lose to Monreal in back to back Stanley Cup finals in 1977 and 1978. They would also fall prey to Montreal in the 1979 semifinals in the infamous Too many men on the ice game.
Boston seemed to have a knack for coming up against dynastic teams. The Bruins were able to assemble a strong team in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Unfortunately, they would run into the Edmonton Oilers twice in the finals (1987,1990) and the Pittsburgh Penguins twice in the Wales Conference finals (1991, 1992) that kept them from tasting ultimate glory. The Bruins would have to wait until 2011 for that.
Still, it’s hard to argue the 1970-71 Boston Bruins were one of the most dominant teams assembled to not win a Cup. While the team did find some success, that roster should have been one of the dominant dynasties in NHL history.