"In that series in 1972, Orr carried the team," said Doug Roberts, who along with Gregg Sheppard made for a most improbable pair to lead the Bruins with two goals each in the 1973 series. "He was having trouble with his knee, they were taping him up and he was playing 40 minutes. He was unbelievable."
"The camaraderie and chemistry was so positive. We were not going to be denied. When Espo went down in '73 and there were some other things going on within the makeup of the team, we just didn't have the same feeling. And that's the way we played."
Jacques Plante was one of the greatest goalies in history, but with Gerry Cheevers jumping to the WHA, Plante, at 44, was also at the end of the line. He allowed 10 goals in two games before Bep Guidolin turned to Eddie Johnston. For the Cat and EJ, 1973 was a foreshadowing of Whalers GMs, too.
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"When Jacques Plante came into Boston, they were reaching for straws," Roberts said. "He did not mesh with the Bruins. He was like a second coach telling the defense how to play. It kind of cut everybody the wrong way. I think that compounded things that already were unraveling."
The Bruins did rally with EJ to win Game 3 in New York, with Sheppard getting the winner. But Eddie Giacomin shut out the Bruins 4-0 in Game 4 and the Rangers clinched 6-3 back in Boston. In his book "Straight Shooter," Brad Park wrote how after shutting out the Rangers late in the regular season, Plante skated around with his hands raised. After eliminating the Bruins, Giacomin defiantly circled Plante and did the same.
"We won all three games in Boston at a time they didn't lose at home, period," Francis said. "Esposito getting hurt and us picking up how much Orr's knee bothered him were the keys."
It wasn't all misery for Esposito. The Bruins smuggled him out of Mass General, his leg still in traction after surgery, and wheeled him to The Branding Iron for a season-ending party.
"Those guys could get away with everything in Boston," said Roberts, who went on to play for the Whalers, coach at Connecticut College and still lives in Old Lyme. "Who goes into a hospital and steals a patient?"
"Espo, Hodge, Orr, Bucyk, those guys were great together. They loved each other. That's why when they traded Park and Ratelle to Boston and Espo and Hodge to New York [in 1975], it had to be really weird."
Not as weird, maybe, as two nearby teams not meeting in the playoffs for 40 years. The Cat had knee surgery and might need a hip operation, but at 86 he's still watching hockey like he's 46. He raved about how the Bruins fans kept their team in Game 7 against Toronto and loved how the Rangers drove to the net in their Game 7. And Henrik Lundqvist?
"Bernie Parent in 1974 and 1975 was the best goalkeeping I've ever seen in the playoffs," Francis said. "But I'll tell you, this guy is maybe going to match it. He's the best goalkeeper in the league by a country mile."
So who's going to win?
"Rangers," The Cat said. "Of course."