It doesn't seem that it is almost 40 years since the photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air after he scored the game-winning overtime goal to give the Boston Bruins the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 29 years was snapped.
The Bruins beat the St. Louis Blues, and Orr forever was frozen in a picture like Superman. And the truth was, for the Boston Bruins, Bobby Orr was Superman.
Bruins ownership will salute that team March 18 prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (more ›
Between 1941 and 1970, there were some years when the Bruins were the worst squad in the NHL. There also were missed opportunities -- in 1958, Boston lost to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final.
There were two key components to the Bruins' turnaround from NHL doormats to Stanley Cup champions. Orr joined the Bruins in 1966, four years after Boston signed him to a contact when he was 14 years old. Bruins General Manager Milt Schmidt also engineered a trade with Chicago, sending Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris to the Blackhawks for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield in June 1967.
Esposito and Orr blended perfectly. Esposito would plant himself in front of the net and pick up a good many goals that were set up by Orr. By the 1969-70 season, Boston had all the ingredients needed to field a championship team.
Boston beat the New York Rangers in six games in the opening round of the 1970 playoffs, then swept Tony Esposito and the Chicago Blackhawks in the semis. Next up was the St. Louis Blues, the winners of the Western Conference playoffs. Boston won the first three games of the series. Game 4 in St. Louis went into overtime with the score tied at 3-3.
"It was my biggest thrill in hockey as far as a team thrill is. I mean, you have some personal thrills that you have done, but as far as my team is concerned and my biggest thrill in hockey, that was it," said Esposito. "That first Stanley Cup in Boston, when Bobby scored in overtime, it was dramatic and it was so fitting that he scored the goal because he was really the greatest player of his era, of his time, and up until recently I always thought he was the greatest player I ever saw until Wayne (Gretzky) made a believer out of me.
"My biggest thrill was winning that Stanley Cup. The party after was unbelievable. I will never forget the parade and the feeling -- you know, you watch these guys on TV after the Super Bowl, after the World Series, after the National Basketball Association championship and the Stanley Cup and the guys really don't know what to say. They say, 'This is unbelievable, this is just the greatest thrill.' I'll tell you, that is just the way it is. You just have no idea the high that you have at that moment winning that championship. It is the greatest feeling."
But in Esposito's case, what should have been the greatest feeling after Orr scored wasn't the case. You see, Esposito was on the bench when Orr put the puck past Glenn Hall into the St. Louis net, yet he was injured on the play.
"Actually, I can remember it pretty plainly," he said. "Somebody shot the puck around the boards, Bobby stopped it. I believe it was Donnie Awrey shot it right around the boards. Bobby went to the right boards and stopped the puck from going out (of the zone). It might have been a St. Louis Blue who was trying to clear the puck.
"Derek (Sanderson) went into the corner and Bobby passed it into the corner for him and Bobby headed for the net. It was a give and go which we used to practice an awful lot and Derek took three strides to his left and hit Bobby and (St. Louis defenseman) Noel Picard was tripping Bobby and Bobby, as he was flying through the air, just flipped the puck past Glenn Hall.
"Glenn Hall went to poke check and dipped his right shoulder and put the stick out and the puck went right over and Bobby just went sailing through the air. It is a wonder he did not fall flat on his face the way he was sailing through the air. I don't think any of us would have felt it."
Esposito got hurt moments later
"I remember I got so excited I went to jump over the boards and I caught my leg and fell flat on my head," he laughed. "I remember the guys were stomping on me. We were all trying to get out to Bob and Derek because it was really the most exciting I ever -- my father was there, too. and that was a big thrill for me."
It took a little while for the injured Esposito to join the pile on the ice where the celebration was going on.
"Oh yeah, I fell flat on my head, and usually when I fall like that, I will hit my nose because it is the biggest thing that protrudes on me. But I did hit my forehead, so I must have tucked my nose in. I had a big lump on it. I remember I had a big bruise on it.
"I don't know. One of the guys may have grabbed my leg, too. I would not have been surprised."
The 1969-70 Boston Bruins were an offensive powerhouse. Orr led the League in scoring during the regular season and became the first player in NHL history to win the Art Ross, Hart, Norris and Conn Smythe trophies in one season. Esposito set records with 13 goals and 27 points in 14 playoff games. It was Orr who finished the Blues, and the picture of Orr flying through the air remains one of the greatest sports photos in history.
Author: Evan Weiner | NHL.com Correspondent