In continuing our countdown, we introduce you to team #12, the 1971-1972 Boston Bruins . The first few teams we looked at have been recent teams in the 95-96 Avs, the 07-08 Wings, and the 93-94 Rangers. However, we’ll take a look back at one of the greatest teams of all time from the early 1970’s.
The season didn’t start so smoothly for the Bruins. Perhaps feeling the letdown from last year, the Bruins crawled out of the gate, starting 8-5-1, while only scoring 46 goals (3.28 a game which was done big time from their 5.11 the year before), and giving up. The defense was still there as they only gave up 33 goals in those first 14 games (2.36 a game), but this team was not scoring at the clip it did last year. Many wondered if this Bruins team would be able to rise up to their level of play from the previous season. The Bruins answered the call, going a ridiculous 40-3-8 in their next 51 games. No that is not a misprint. This team earned 88 of a possible 102 points in this stretch (86.3% points percentage). During this stretch, Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers posted an NHL record 33 game unbeaten streak, a record that still stands today and probably will never be broken. After starting the season 8-5-1, the Bruins were an astonishing 48-8-9 with 13 games remaining. However, the Bruins slowed down significantly and limped into the playoffs, finishing those final 13 games with a 6-5-2 record. However, the Bruins still had a strong enough showing to clinch the top overall record by 10 points over the New York Rangers.
Statistically, this Bruins team was strong, although not as strong as their 1970-1971 team. This team still led the league in goals scoring, scoring an amazing 4.23 goals per game. Defensively, this team was as stout as the 1970-1971 team, allowing just 2.62 goals against a game, good for 4th in the NHL. However, as I’ve stated before, what set this Bruins team apart was their incredible offense that had both superstars and depth scoring throughout the lineup. The Bruins had an incredible 8 different players score 20 or more goals, led by Phil Esposito and his 66 goals. Two other Bruins punched in 30 or more (Bobby Orr – 37, John Bucyk – 32), and another 5 Bruins chipped in between 22-28 goals. With talented players such as Esposito, Bucyk, and Orr, it’s no wonder that this team’s powerplay clicked at an insane 28.9% (1st overall), or that at even strength they absolutely dominated teams, posting an even strength for/against ratio of 1.58 which was 2nd best that year and it was the 10th best mark of any Stanley Cup Champion in the last 43 years. If we have to nitpick, the penalty killing left a little to be desired as they finished middle of the pack at 82.4%. However, this was a team with so much offensive firepower that they could often make up for any minor defensive lapses that came their way. Let’s not forget also that this was a team that ranked 4th overall in team defense, so things were looking good once again for the Bruins as they headed into the playoffs. First up? The Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs didn’t really have a whole lot going for them against the big bad Bruins. They lost the season series to the Bruins 4-1-1, with the Bruins tallying 19 times to the Leafs 14. The Leafs did not have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Bruins as the Leafs scored 121 fewer goals than the Bruins. The Leafs also only had a +1 goal differential for the entire year, so they were way over their heads as they traveled to meet Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins as they were affectionately termed. The Bruins tore up the Leafs in 5 games, shutting them out twice and outscoring them by a wide margin, 18-10 in the 5 games. Next up for the Bruins were the St. Louis Blues, a team t hat had a fair poor season, but knocked off the Minnesota North Stars in 7 games to reach the 2nd round.
In hindsight, if you asked the Blues after the series, they may have said that they would have rather stayed home than have to play the Bruins juggernaut. The Bruins had had their way with the Blues during the regular season, winning the regular season series 4-1-1, and outscoring the Blues 28-16. The Blues had hoped that the postseason would be a different story, buoyed by their upset of the North Stars. Sadly, they were mistaken. Sorely mistaken. In one of the most impressive NHL buttkickings in postseason history, the Bruins absolutely demolished the Blues in 4 games. The Bruins offense found another gear in this series, pouring in an NHL 28 goals in the four games (Note: The NHL record set here is goals for in a four game series). Again that is not a misprint. That is what this Bruins team was capable of. They outscored the unfortunate Blues 28-8 in the series, and setting up a Stanley Cup Finals matchup with the New York Rangers.
The Rangers finished with the 2nd best record in the NHL, posting a 48-17-13 record. If there was one team that could keep up offensively with the Bruins, it was the New York Rangers, who only scored 13 fewer goals than the Bruins that season. Led by Jean Ratelle, Vic Hadfield, Rod Gilbert, and Brad Park, the Rangers could keep up with the Bruins and posed a serious threat. However, the Bruins were bolstered by their sparkling regular season record against the Rangers (5-1) that included the Bruins outscoring the Rangers 25-8. The Bruins came out strong in game 1, taking a 5-1 lead as Ken Hodge scored a hat trick. However, the Rangers were not finished and rallied to tie the game at 5 in the third period before “Ace” Bailey scored to give the Bruins a 6-5 win. Game 2 such a much tighter defensive game as the Rangers turned to goalie Gilles Villemure. However, the Bruins still managed to squeak out a 2-1 win to take a 2-0 lead in the series heading back to New York. On home ice in New York, the Rangers had a strong showing, as Brad Park and Rod Gilbert each tallied twice to lead the Bruins to a 5-2 win. Game 4 was the pivotal game as Boston knew that if it could take Game 4, they would be able to close out the Rangers on home ice. The Bruins came and did exactly that, stealing Game 4 3-2. Heading back to Boston, the Bruins knew they had a chance to put away the Rangers. The Bruins again started strong, taking a 2-1 lead into the third period. However, Bobby Rousseau, the Rangers leading scorer in the playoffs, refused to let that happen. Rousseau tallied twice in the 3rd period to steal a 3-2 win for the Rangers. As the series returned to Madison Square Garden, the Bruins knew that they had to close it out here. These are the moments were superstars need to be superstars and the Bruins Bobby Orr and Gerry Cheevers did just that. Orr scored the game winner and tallied on another and Cheevers pitched a shutout as the Bruins closed out the Rangers 3-0 in the Garden. The dream was complete and the Bruins had come full circle after their letdown in 1970-1971. However, this would prove to be the last Bruins title for awhile as it took the Bruins until 2010-2011 to win another Stanley Cup. That’s another reason why this Bruins team has so much mystique and lore behind it. This team may not have had the signature moment like the 1970’s Bruins team with Orr’s flying goal to win the Stanley Cup, but from top to bottom they were great.This team has gone down as one of the greatest as all time and rightly so. From Orr to Espo to Cheevers to Bucyk, this team had it all, and thus they have earned their spot as the 12th best team of all time.