Top 10 Greatest Teams to Not Win The Stanley Cup: 5-1
THIS IS THE 2ND OF A TWO-PART SERIES. TO READ THE 1ST PART WHICH COUNTS DOWN THE #10-6 BEST TEAMS TO NOT WIN THE CUP, CLICK HERE.
NOTE: THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS OF MICHAEL BEDA DO IN NO WAY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE HOCKEY HALL OF FAME OR ANY OTHER MEDIUM FOR HOCKEY HISTORY.
Source: Montreal Gazette (Taken from 1952, but is symbolic for the purposes of this list)
5) 1929-30 BOSTON BRUINS & 1944-45 MONTREAL CANADIENS
It was a tough decision, but in the end, I have to include both these remarkable teams. Though they are separated by over fifteen years, both of these respective campaigns defined the eras in which they occurred. For the 1930 Bruins, they were coming off their franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and it would be the first season that allowed forward passing in the attacking zone (inside the opponent’s blue line). For the 1945 Canadiens, it was smack dab in the middle of two fantastic Cup victories, as the enlisted players slowly began making their way home in the midst of the Second World War’s culmination.
Both teams won the league title by a landslide, and along the way, specific individuals set major records and/or accomplishments that wouldn’t be broken for decades. The overall team play was fantastic as well, and both starting netminders were in the peak of their success, earning numerous Vezina trophies throughout the course of their careers, these years included.
The 1928-29 season was affectionately known (for goaltenders) as ‘The Year of the Shutout’, as extreme defensive play allowed goalies to post an extraordinary amount of goose-eggs. Montreal’s George Hainsworth still has the all-time record for single-season shutouts, posting 22 that year. Boston’s rookie netminder, Tiny Thompson, posted 12 himself, along with a 1.15 goals against average. Hence, the league hoped for higher scoring by finally allowing players to pass the puck forward in the offensive zone, and oh boy, were they rewarded.
The Bruins had scored 89 goals in 1928-29, and with the new forward passing rule, their output skyrocketed to 179 in 1929-30, the most in the league by a whopping 37 tallies. Though Thompson conceded nearly twice as many goals as well, the 98 goals against were the lowest in the league, giving Thompson the Vezina trophy in his second season.
The inflation in goals was widely attributed to Hall of Famer Ralph ‘Cooney’ Weiland, who shattered the single-season record for points with 73 (the previous record was 51). He was one goal shy of Joe Malone’s single season record, which was set in the league’s inaugural season. In a 44-game regular season, scoring 73 points and breaking the former record by over 20 points is pretty damn good. He and the rest of the ‘Dynamite Line’ (with Dit Clapper and Dutch Gainor), scored 102 of the team’s 179 goals, with Clapper finishing third in league scoring, and Gainor placing ninth.
They had one of the all-time greatest defensemen in Eddie Shore, who scored 31 points, all the while striking terror into the hearts of all forwards who dared to cut across his side of the ice. Other Hall of Famers Marty Barry and Harry Oliver faired quite admirably as well, and the Bruins made mincemeat of all their opponents on their way to an unfathomable record under legendary manager, Art Ross. They won their third consecutive division title by finishing an astonishing 38-5-1 for 77 points. Had it been an 82 game schedule, they were on pace for 144 points, which would have been 12 points ahead of the all-time record.
Their record at home was 21-1, 20 wins of which came consecutively, and their winning percentage of .875% is still the highest the league has ever seen. Their 38 regular season wins wouldn’t be eclipsed for twenty-one years, as the 1951 Red Wings (the team who placed 7th on this list), were victorious in 44 matches, despite having an additional twenty-six games in the schedule to conquer this feat.
It’s always such a shame to have to explain where it all went wrong. Truth be told, it’s hard to say what the main issue was. The Bruins had a first-round bye, used the time off to regroup and dispose of the Montreal Maroons 3-1 in a best of five semi-final series, and then were forced to defend their Cup title against the Canadiens in a best-of 3 tilt. George Hainsworth, perhaps irritated that he finally lost the Vezina (having won it in each of the first three seasons it was presented), proceeded to shut the Bruins out 3-0 in Game 1, the only time the Bruins failed to fill the score sheet all season.
Game 2 was played in the Montreal Forum, and despite the Bruins putting 3 goals past Hainsworth, the Habs beat Thompson four times, the winner scored by the great Howie Morenz, exacting revenge on Weiland for having broken his former scoring record. That was all she wrote, and the Bruins’ remarkable regular season in which they only lost 5 games (still a league record), was all for naught.
As for the 1944-45 Canadiens, they too would win 38 regular season games, finishing a wondrous 38-8-4 (six more games than the 1930 Bruins had to play). They also won 38 games the season prior and were victorious in the playoffs, winning the Cup thanks to the phenomenal goaltending of Bill Durnan and the birth of the ‘Punch Line’. The following year, the big boys were back all the more wiser, and they looked to cement their place as the team that defined the mid 1940s. Dick Irvin Sr. was behind the bench, with captain Toe Blake on one side of Elmer Lach, with Maurice Richard on the other. Deadly.
The Habs steamrolled through the league, which at the time was only in its third year of the Original 6 era. It was as if their quest to beat Boston’s record of 38 wins was strictly personal, as they went a perfect 10-0 against the Bruins this season. Durnan would win his 2nd of 4 consecutive Vezinas, and the Habs finished with a goal differential of +107.
Joe Malone’s record of 44 regular season goals still stood, and Maurice Richard, despite suffering some hampering injuries in his first two seasons, proved the doubters wrong by stamping his name across the record books on the path to one of the most cherished hockey careers in the game.
The Rocket burned the Red Wings for 8 points in a 9-1 romp in late December (5 goals, 3 assists), and as the season progressed, many realized that this could be the best chance to take over Malone’s record. Malone himself was giddy and expressed great desire for Richard to surpass him. He was in attendance to present Richard with the game puck when he was finally successful in scoring his 45th, but now the question was whether Richard could get 50 in the 50 game schedule.
He scored his 49th in the 48th game, and was then held scoreless in the following match. In the 50th and final game of the regular season, the Rocket was able to bury a tying goal with just over two minutes to play against Boston, to which the other members of the ‘Punch Line’ were able to provide two more quick ones to win the game.
When Richard was scoring, Elmer Lach was providing the apples. Lach’s 54 assists and 80 points would earn him the Art Ross trophy for the first of two occasions. He also took home the Hart. Toe Blake would finish with 67 points himself, thus making the ‘Punch Line’ the second line to ever finish 1-2-3 in league scoring (after the fabled ‘Kraut Line’).
With that high-speed attack, brilliant goaltending from Durnan, and shut-down defence from Butch Bouchard and Glen Harmon, the Habs were able to enjoy an 18 game undefeated streak (16 of which were wins). Durnan, Bouchard, Lach, Richard and Blake were all selected to the 1st all-star team, thus rendering Detroit’s Flash Hollett as the only non-Canadien on the squad. Dick Irvin was even selected as ‘coach’ for the 1st team. Harmon was the only Hab player chosen for the 2nd team.
As tough as it is for me to admit, the Canadiens’ kryptonite this year were their archrivals, THE BUDS! Toronto was able to dethrone the Canadiens for five of their eight losses, and their semi-final matchup was highly anticipated. Notwithstanding the 28 point deficit in the regular season standings, the Leafs simply played better when faced with the most imposing competition. The Leafs stole both games while on the road at the Forum by one goal in each, and then responded to a Habs Game 3 overtime win with an overtime win of their own.
They took a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Montreal, where the Habs just absolutely disrespected the Leafs by shellacking them 10-3, Richard scoring four goals and assisting on another. However, whatever momentum was generated in that Game 5 blowout was soon extinguished as the Leafs dumped the regular season champs with a tough 3-2 decision in Game 6 to advance to the Cup final. The Leafs would squeak by the Wings in seven games to win the championship, though Montreal would take the Cup back in 1946.
Considering the outcome in 1944 with a brilliant regular season in 1944-45, the chances of potentially enjoying a three-peat were quite high. However, it would be the Leafs who would earn the first ever NHL Stanley Cup three-peat with their titles in 1947, 1948, and 1949.
Source: Pittsburgh Penguins
4) 1992-93 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Speaking of three-peats, the Penguins of the early 1990s had the chance to do just that. The long struggle of having absolutely garbage teams began to wane once Mario Lemieux arrived in 1984. It may have been slow to see the turnaround, but it was evident by 1989 as Lemieux was one point shy of eclipsing 200 in his fifth season in the league. Two consecutive Cups in 1991 and 1992 under Bob Johnson, then Scotty Bowman, led to many believing that the Pens could run the show in the East for the duration of the entire decade.
It was an extreme season of ups and downs. Most notably, Lemieux shocked the hockey world when he announced that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January of 1993, and was forced to undergo two months of treatments. He had once again been the catalyst in a blistering offence that included Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, and Joe Mullen.
Without Lemieux, the Penguins had their difficulties, enjoying a fruitful record of 29-11-4 upon Lemieux’s announcement, ‘struggling’ through February and holding a record of 39-19-6 before his expected return (not that 10-8-2 during his absence is bad, but that wasn’t up to the typical standard of Penguins hockey in the early 90s).
Lemieux, ever so stubborn, finished his last round of radiation treatment on March 2nd, and promptly flew to Philadelphia for a road game in a characteristically unforgiving environment. Lemieux received a standing ovation from the Flyer fans, and went on to score a goal and an assist in a tough 5-4 loss. After another loss to the Rangers immediately afterward, the Penguins went on to set an astonishing record; winning their next 17 consecutive games.
The aforementioned 1930 Boston Bruins who won 14 straight games finally had their record broken in 1982 by the New York Islanders who set the mark with 15 straight wins. With Lemieux seemingly as healthy as ever, he and his teammates torched every other team in their path on their quest to conquering the record held by their division rivals. The 16th and record-setting win came against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, with Lemieux scoring 5 amazing goals in a 10-4 romp.
After a 17th straight win came against the Rangers the very next night, the New Jersey Devils were able to snap the winning streak in the last game on the schedule, forcing the Penguins to accept a 6-6 tie.
Lemieux was magnificent. Though he missed twenty-four games receiving his cancer treatments, he still managed to catch Buffalo’s Pat LaFontaine who was ahead in the scoring race all season, and pass him cleanly with many games to spare. He finished with a whopping 69 goals and 91 assists for 160 points in only 60 games. At this pace, had he been healthy all season long (1992-93 was the first of only two seasons to have an 84 game schedule), Lemieux would have been on pace for 97 goals (breaking Gretzky’s record of 92) and 225 points (shattering Gretzky’s record of 215).
The 1992-93 season is the highest scoring season in the history of the league, and this was evident in the fact that four Penguins (Lemieux, Stevens, Tocchet and Francis) all surpassed the 100-point mark. The 21-year-old Jagr was nearly there as well with a 94-point campaign.
The Penguins were a wonderful 32-6-4 at home, and scored the 2nd most goals in the league, only two behind league leaders Detroit. Tom Barrasso enjoyed arguably his best year in Pittsburgh, as he earned 2nd all-star team distinctions, winning a career-high 43 games, while the team conceded the 3rd fewest goals behind Chicago and Toronto.
The Igloo was rocking each and every night, and the boys always showed up to play. It also didn’t hurt to introduce that new triangle logo, one of the sexiest things the 1990s had to offer amongst all the nonsense that some teams thought would be cool (Kings and Mighty Ducks alternate jerseys anyone???). Overall, they took home their first President’s Trophy by going 56-21-7, good for 119 points.
Despite the phenomenal numbers put forth by Lemieux and company, the quest for a third straight Stanley Cup went up in flames at the hands of the team who they had wrestled the win streak from; the Islanders. The Penguins faced off in the 1st round against the Devils, who were responsible for forcing that tie which ruined the winning streak. The Pens took them out in 5 games, but then had a much tougher time with the lads from Long Island. A Game 1 loss at home was followed up with a Barrasso shutout in Game 2. A split decision on the road meant it came down to a best 2-out-of-3 series in which the Pens won Game 5.
The Islanders routed the Penguins 7-5 at home in Game 6, thanks to a 4-point outing from Stumpy Thomas, setting up a Game 7 at the Igloo. Despite peppering Glen Healy with 45 shots and keeping the Islanders to only 20 attempts, David Volek got the winner for the Islanders in overtime to eliminate the two-time defending champions who firmly believed this was their best team during their period of success.
Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
3) 1985-86 EDMONTON OILERS
It’s truly remarkable how outstanding the Oilers were from 1983 through 1990. They are the most recent recognized ‘dynasty’, having won five Stanley Cups in a span of seven seasons. A finals appearance in 1983 proved that despite setting the league on fire with a blazing offensive inferno, it was still the era of the New York Islanders. However, a rematch in the 1984 finals indicated that it was now time to pass the torch, and a repeat championship in 1985 and further offensive records ensured that the Oilers and their destined class of Hall of Famers would be around for many more years to come.
1985-86 was supposed to be another example of a three-peat. Heading into the season, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Mark Messier were still only 24-years old, Grant Fuhr was 23, Jari Kurri was 25, with Glenn Anderson turning 25 right at the start of the campaign. These players hadn’t even reached the typical peak of hockey production/output, and they were the undisputed best group of collective stars.
It was only the team’s seventh season in the NHL after having been amalgamated with the rest of the surviving WHA franchises in 1979. In 1981-82, they became the first team to score more than 400 goals during the regular season, something they would do for a fifth consecutive time in 1985-86. Their 426 goals easily led the league, the next closest team being Calgary, who scored 72 fewer (more on them soon).
Some dark events tainted the triumphs of having just won back-to-back Cups, usually stemming from alcohol abuse: Dave Hunter had three impaired driving charges in two years, and Messier received a heavy fine for drunkenly hitting three cars in a parking lot with his Porsche. Craig MacTavish, under contract with the Bruins, had spent the 1984-85 season in jail for vehicular homicide (the guy fucking killed someone with his car), but the Oilers took a chance and signed him. General Manager and coach Glen Sather was rewarded with a 23 goal, 24 assist season from the last player in league history to play without a bucket.
Gretzky, in his seventh season in the league, set the record for points in a season that will most likely never be broken. His 163 assists in 80 games (also an all-time record) to go along with a casual 52 goals, gave him 215 points. That’s correct, 215 points. We were treated to Nikita Kucherov being the first person to break 125 in nearly twenty-five years, while Gretzky had scored over 200 for the fourth time in five seasons. Good Lord.
His gang of flammable Oilers didn’t leave him on his own though. Paul Coffey set a record for goals in a season by a defenseman with 48, breaking an 11-year-old record held by the great Bobby Orr, and his 138 points were just one point shy of Orr’s all-time mark. Jari Kurri led the team with 68 goals, and Glenn Anderson was also able to break the 100-point plateau, finishing with 102 in only 72 games. Messier finished with 84 points in only 63 games.
When some of the stars had to miss action, others would step in and perform heroically. Andy Moog split game time with Grant Fuhr quite evenly, Moog finishing with 27 wins, Fuhr with 29. All in all, the Oilers won the first ever Presidents Trophy by finishing with 119 points on a 56-17-7 record.
Their point total was tied with the mark they set two years prior when they won their first Stanley Cup. Despite finishing in the bottom half of goals allowed (partly because Grant Fuhr is quite overrated), they still finished with a +116 ratio, and won the Smythe division by 30 points. Wayne Gretzky once aimlessly gestured to a trophy and asked myself and another Hall of Fame staff member if he had ever won it. It was the President’s Trophy, to which we numbly replied “uhhhhhh yeah. The first one ever, Wayne”. What a legend.
Aside from that, it goes without saying that Gretzky also waltzed away with his 6th consecutive Art Ross trophy and 7th consecutive Hart. Coffey’s sensational season resulted in his second Norris trophy, and the Edmonton faithful were poised and prepared for yet another parade up 105th street. An opening round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks pitted them for the Smythe division final against their provincial rival, the Calgary Flames.
As I briefly mentioned above, the Flames scored the second most goals that season, even though they finished with only 89 points to the Oilers’ 119. Dan Quinn, Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, the loveable Lanny McDonald, and a young Mike Vernon weren’t going to simply roll over and die. The Flames only managed to beat the Oilers once during the regular season, though it was the second last game in the schedule and the Oilers looked extremely lethargic and lackadaisical.
The Flames shocked the Oilers by coming out of the gate and stealing Game 1 in Edmonton by a score of 4-1. It took a thrilling Glenn Anderson overtime winner to even the series and regroup in Calgary. The Flames were able to win a tight Game 3 before the Oilers restored natural order in the fourth game, potting 7 goals past Vernon.
The Flames echoed their Game 1 win with the same score-line in Game 5, but dicked up when they had a chance to close it out at home. Back at the Northlands Coliseum for the seventh and deciding game, all bets were off as home-ice advantage didn’t seem to matter in the slightest during the series. The Flames took a 2-0 lead early in the 2nd period before Anderson and Messier managed to equalize with one period to go.
Most hockey historians know how this one ends. Defenseman Steve Smith, technically still in his rookie season, attempted an outlet pass while coming around the left side of his own net. The pass got a piece of Grant Fuhr’s skate and promptly redirected into the Edmonton net, the goal being credited to Perry Berezan (hey, I’m sure Berezan would claim any goal he could, especially if it was such a blatant own-goal that very few folks remember who the last Flames player was to touch the puck).
Smith’s gaffe occurred with plenty of time left (just under 15 minutes of game time), but the Flames defence sat back and Vernon wasn’t troubled excessively, and the Oilers were helpless and watched their chances at a three-peat disappear. They probably still feel that twinge of agony, knowing they could have won five consecutive trophies after roaring back to brilliance with Cup titles in 1987 and 1988.
Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
2) 1995-96 DETROIT RED WINGS
In the wake of the lockout shortened 1994-95 season, the Detroit Red Wings had set up quite the entourage of skilled and gritty players. After years of mediocrity throughout the 1970s and early 80s, the emergence of Steve Yzerman brought them some hope, including two consecutive Conference Final appearances in 1987 and 1988.
The early 90s saw the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and subsequent signings of Soviet players is exactly what the Red Wings needed to become contenders. Notable Soviet players such as Sergei Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov put together an admirable run through the shortened campaign, though they were humbled in the finals with the New Jersey Devils pulling out the brooms for the sweep.
Within a few weeks of the 1995-96 season, General Manager Jim Devellano (with fellow GMs Scotty Bowman and Ken Holland) traded for veteran centre Igor Larionov, cementing ‘the Russian 5’. At times, Bowman, who was also the Head Coach, would play all five Soviet born all-stars, entertaining fans with their exquisite finesse. The gradual improvements made all throughout the tenure of Yzerman, who was now in his 13th season, were finally coming to fruition, and it seemed evident that the 1996 Red Wings would be definite Cup contenders.
With additional players of note that included Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Keith Primeau, Dino Ciccarelli, Darren McCarty, and Kris Draper, the Red Wings actually struggled a little bit out of the gates, dropping their first game to the brand new Colorado Avalanche (who had just relocated from Quebec City). Their record of 5-5-2 at the beginning of November was nothing to be pleased with, but soon the disjointed cogs would all come together to get the red machine rolling.
In early December, they walloped the Montreal Canadiens 11-1 at the Forum in what would turn out to be Patrick Roy’s final game with the Habs, angrily storming past coach Mario Tremblay after getting the hook and telling President Ronald Corey that it was his last game for the cherished club.
The Wings lost only one game in December, and at the turn of the new year, they seemed poised to maintain their supposed stranglehold on the league. By the end of January, they were 35-9-4, and the entire ensemble were firing on all cylinders. Chris Osgood enjoyed a breakout season in his third year in the league, taking over the bulk of goaltending duties from veteran Mike Vernon, who was still in fine form himself whenever he would see action.
Together, the tandem would win the Jennings trophy by conceding only 181 goals, twenty-one fewer goals than the second place Devils (Osgood finished with a 2.17 GAA, Vernon with 2.26). Osgood even scored a goal against the Hartford Whalers on March 6, becoming only the third goalie to directly shoot the puck the distance of the ice into the empty cage.
February turned to March, and the Wings sat on 96 points with twenty games still remaining in their schedule. After a tough loss to Vancouver, they put together a thirteen-game undefeated streak, with only one tie blanketed amongst twelve wins. They scored three shorthanded goals in a 7-0 thumping of Patrick Roy’s new team, the Colorado Avalanche, and many pundits noticed that they were coming eerily close to breaking the legendary 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens’ record 132-point regular season.
A couple ties in early April put them out of contention of breaking the point record, but four consecutive wins to wrap up the season saw them set a new record of 62 wins (matched only by the 2018-19 Lightning, who were the #8 team on this countdown).
Fedorov led the team in scoring with 107 points in an era that was rapidly becoming more defensive compared to the previous decade’s high scoring standards. Yzerman finished with 95 points, and ‘the Russian 5’ all performed heroics as the Red Wings won the Western Conference by a laughable 27 points. They faced the Winnipeg Jets in the first round of the playoffs, and it was well known that the Jets would be relocating to Phoenix in the offseason. The Wings grounded the Jets in six games, the clincher being the last home game for the Jets until their 2011 revival.
The Western semi-final matchup against the St. Louis Blues would be much more daunting, regardless of how much regular season success the Wings enjoyed. The Blues had acquired Wayne Gretzky from Los Angeles at the trade deadline, and the consistency of Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, a young Chris Pronger, and Dale Hawerchuk made them a formidable foe. Grant Fuhr had started a record 79 games in the regular season, though he was lost for the rest of the playoffs due to a horrific knee injury suffered in the first round against the Leafs.
Backup Jon Casey played wonderfully as the persistent Blues pushed the Red Wings to a seventh game back at the Joe Louis Arena. In a classic and tremendously iconic franchise moment, Steve Yzerman intercepted Gretzky’s lazy handle on the puck and ripped a slapshot high to the blocker side of Casey right from the blue line, one minute into the second overtime period. Their Conference Final opponent would be the team that defeated them in the opening game of the season, the first year Colorado Avalanche.
This gruelling, greasy, ultra competitive series is what sparked the fabled rivalry between these two teams for the rest of the decade, into the 2000s. The Red Wings dropped the first two games at home, including a tough overtime loss in Game 1 and a Roy shutout in Game 2. Trading wins in Colorado and finally winning a game at home saw the Wings down 3-2 heading back to the Mile-High city.
Avalanche agitator Claude Lemieux hit Kris Draper from behind face-first into the boards, breaking his jaw, damaging his orbital bone, and fracturing a cheekbone. This is the dynamite in the powder keg that exploded each and every time these clubs subsequently met. The vicious hit contributed to a 4-1 Avalanche win, ending the Red Wings’ record-setting season prematurely, sending the first year Avs to the finals against third year expansion team, the Florida Panthers. The Avalanche would go on to win in a sweep.
Despite the tumultuous playoff grind that didn’t end the way it should have, Bowman won the Jack Adams trophy for coach of the year, Konstantinov and Osgood earned places on the 2nd all-star team, and Fedorov would win his second Selke trophy.
The Wings were able to rectify their 1996 playoff failures by acquiring a few more pieces to the puzzle, including Brendan Shanahan, going on to win back-to-back Cups by sweeping the Flyers and Capitals in 1997 and 1998. Imagine what a three-peat would have looked like if they were able to couple their immaculate regular season success with an effective playoff run!
Source: Boris Spremo/Toronto Star
1) 1970-71 BOSTON BRUINS
It had to be. It truly was the most dominant season any team has had in terms of individual supremacy contributing to overall team superiority. The Bruins won Stanley Cups in both 1970 and 1972, but 1971 was seemingly a guarantee when the playoffs started. After a couple lucky trips to the finals in the late 1950s, the team entered a lengthy slump, missing the playoffs for eight consecutive years from 1959 to 1967.
For anyone who’s well-versed in NHL years, 1967 was the year that the league expanded from six teams to twelve. Unruly minor leaguers and questionable scouting missions, coupled with the wrong crop of aging veterans made the Bruins cellar-dwellers with the Rangers as the Original 6 era began to wrap up.
In 1966, an eighteen-year-old defenseman named Bobby Orr made his debut, and it was a certainty that he would set the league on fire within a year or two. His 47 points earned him the Calder trophy for rookie of the year, and it would be the only season in which he was healthy for a majority of the games that he didn’t come away with the Norris trophy.
The following year, the Bruins made a big trade with Chicago right before the first post-Original 6 season was underway: they traded Pit Martin, Jack Norris, and Gilles Marotte to the Blackhawks in exchange for Ken Hodge, Fred Stanfield, and a twenty-five-year-old centre named Phil Esposito. Despite a lengthy and respectable career enjoyed by Martin in Chicago, it was evident that Boston won the trade by a wide margin, and they would soon reap the rewards.
Now a two-division league, it would still be the top 4 teams in each division that would qualify for the playoffs. It was a gradual development for the Bruins, as a first round sweep to the Canadiens in 1968 and a semi-final exit at the hands of the Habs in 1969 indicated that the Bruins’ time would certainly come. In 1969-70, it did.
Orr became the first defenseman to ever win the Art Ross trophy by scoring 120 points, and Esposito had established himself as a natural goal scorer who would use his large frame to gain position in front of the net. Supporting (and very integral) members of the team included Esposito’s trade partner Ken Hodge, the feisty Wayne Cashman, the composed and gentlemanly Johnny Bucyk, the two-way demon Derek Sanderson, Ted Green (who spent the previous season sidelined with a fractured skull), the all around good-ol-boy John McKenzie, and the steady goaltending tandem of Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston.
After their 1970 Cup triumph, it seemed as though the Bruins would hold a monopoly over the league for many years to come. 1970-71 seemed indicative of this. With a Hall of Fame executive including General Manager Milt Schmidt and coach Tom Johnson, the Big Bad Bruins set a record by having ten players score at least 20 goals. Esposito, Bucyk, Hodge, Orr, McKenzie, Sanderson, Eddie Westfall, Fred Stanfield (remember him from that Blackhawks trade?), Wayne Carleton and Cashman all managed this outstanding feat.
There seemed to be no shortage of goal scoring with the 1970-71 Bruins. While we associate the high-octane, fast offensive paced attack with the 1980s Oilers, that was more a scene of the times. The early 70s scoring ratios were quite comparable to today, as were standard goaltending statistics. However, the Bruins in this season absolutely LAMBASTED their opponents, scoring a team total of 399 in 78 games, an average of over five goals a game.
They scored 108 more goals than the second place Canadiens, and it was obviously an NHL record. Montreal’s total of 291 goals would have actually set an NHL record as well, just to indicate how much more the Bruins filled the net with rubber.
Just check out some of these score-lines from throughout this season; 7-3 season opener vs. Detroit, 6-0 shutout of the Rangers, 8-4 win in Minnesota, 8-2 over expansion Buffalo (and then a 9-4 win in Buffalo a few weeks later), 7-1 in St. Louis, 9-5 over the Kings, 8-3 over other expansion addition Vancouver, 7-0 whitewash of the California Golden Seals, and then closing out the season with an 8-3 victory over the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens, and a 7-2 thumping of the Canadiens.
Orr had just signed a contract extension which was worth a million dollars over the course of five years. He proved his value, setting a record by becoming the first player to ever have more than 100 assists in a single season, finishing with 102 (plus a casual 37 goals from extraordinary and mesmerizing rushes). His 139 points was second in both the league and the team, as Esposito had a career-high 76 goals to go along with 76 assists (math tells me that equals 152 points). Is that good? Not to be outdone, Bucyk and Hodge surpassed the 100-point mark with 116 and 105 respectively, which believe it or not was good for third and fourth place in the league. It was the first time a team had players finish 1-2-3-4 in league scoring.
Hell, they even drafted really well. Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, and Daniel Bouchard were all picked in the 1970 entry draft, though in hindsight I suppose it was a mistake that they were all let go within a couple years. Leach was the only one of the three to actually see action for Boston, scoring 26 points in 79 games before he landed in dreadful California before his career really took off in Philadelphia.
Throughout the campaign, the team went on many impressive runs. Their first loss didn’t come until the seventh game of the season, a 5-3 defeat to Detroit. They won ten straight matches throughout December, and were 28-6-5 by the 7th of January. They enjoyed a thirteen game unbeaten streak throughout the latter half of January, as well as another thirteen game unbeaten streak from late February to late March.
They finished their regular season with a record of 57-14-7 for 121 points, which might not jump out at you as astonishing, but good enough to clap the rest of the league quite handily. Cheevers and Johnston split goaltending duties down the line, Cheevers having a marginally superior save percentage, though Johnston had a better goals against average and three more victories, plus four shutouts to Cheevers’s three.
I guess now comes the time to try and explain where it went wrong. While many of the previous teams to make this list fell under the ‘simply outplayed offensively’, or ‘succumbed to intimidation’, ‘scored in their own net in a crucial seventh game’, or even the classic ‘we all went on strike during the playoffs and therefore were suspended by the league’ category, for the Bruins 1971 downfall, it can simply be due to overconfidence and a rookie opposition goaltender who was not-so-affectionately known as the ‘Giant Octopus’. Ken Dryden had been called up by the Canadiens for the last month of the regular season, appearing in six games and winning them all, introducing the hockey world to his large frame and now iconic pose in which he leaned on his erect goal stick while play was halted or down at the other end.
As fate would have it, the Bruins were matched up against the Canadiens in the opening round. The Habs finished third in the Eastern Division, and everyone knows how ethical it is to have a 1 vs. 3 seed and 2 vs. 4 seed playoff. The Habs were in this strange limbo between dynasties; veterans from their conquests in the mid-to-late 1960s such as Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau were jumbled with young bucks who would thrive in the latter half of the 1970s dynasty, such as Guy Lapointe and Jacques Lemaire. Yvan Cournoyer seemed to be the only star who was right in their prime.
Things started off as planned for the Bruins, winning Game 1 at the Boston Gardens by a score of 3-1. Game 2 was one for the ages, though it would leave the Bruins with a sour taste in the mouth. Leading by an outrageous score of 5-1 in the dying minutes of the 2nd period, the Habs put together a remarkable final 25 minutes, scoring six unanswered goals to finish on top, 7-5.
That seemed to take a bit of the wind out of the Bruins’ sails, and they dropped Game 3 at the Forum 3-1. They came out rejuvenated in Game 4, winning in front of a raucous Montreal crowd 5-2, with Orr scoring a hat-trick and Mike Walton throwing fists with John Ferguson.
In Game 5, the Bruins took complete control from the opening faceoff, shellacking Dryden with 56 shots, and holding the Canadiens to only 27 shots whilst keeping the pressure off Cheevers. They were victorious 7-3, and were all set to close out the series back in Montreal – OH MY GOODNESS THEY GOT ABSOLUTELY PULVARIZED 8-3 IN GAME 6! Dryden was sensational yet again, and the Habs got a major offensive boost from Richard, Lemaire, and the Mahovlich brothers. Tail between their legs, the Bruins sauntered back to the Gardens for Game 7, in disbelief that their magical season came down to a do-or-die game.
Lo and behold, down they went. Peppering Dryden with 48 shots, they just couldn’t muster that offensive brilliance that came so easy for them all throughout the regular season. They dropped the contest 4-2 and watched helplessly as the Canadiens went all the way, winning their franchise’s 17th Stanley Cup. Sure, the Bruins would rebound by posting a 119-point regular season on their way to regaining the Cup, but this was truly the year that they would have loved to wind back.
With all of their legends in absolute peak form, it is astonishing that it isn’t their names that we see engraved as 1971 Stanley Cup champions. Esposito won the Art Ross trophy and the inaugural Lester Pearson (now Ted Lindsay) trophy, the top 4 regular season scorers were all Bruins who also managed to be the only ones that regular season to crack the 100-point mark, and Orr won the Hart and Norris. Bucyk, Esposito, Orr, and Hodge were 1st team all-stars, and Derek Sanderson is still bitter that he wasn’t able to solve that giant octopus that fateful spring.