1970-71 Boston Bruins: One of the Greatest Playoff Disappointments in NHL History

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The 1970-71 Bruins should have steamrolled their way into Stanley Cup glory. Instead, they watched the final two rounds of the playoffs from their living room couch.

At the end of the 1970-71 NHL regular season, the Boston Bruins had scored over one hundred more goals than the next team in the league and sat twelve points higher in the standings than any other squad. The 57 wins and 121 points shattered previous records. The run to the Stanley Cup would be just a formality, or so the hockey world thought.

What was, at the time, the greatest hockey team ever assembled, was upset in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. With Boston out of the way, Montreal rammed their way to the Stanley Cup final and took the Chicago Black Hawks in seven games.

Between Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, five NHL individual records were broken that season. Esposito set the NHL single season most goals mark with 76, shattering the previous record of 58 by Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks. He also set the NHL single season most points mark with 152, shattering his own mark of 126 set two seasons before. Esposito’s 550 shots on net stands today as an NHL single season record. Bobby Orr had 102 assists and 139 points. Both totals stand today as single season NHL records for a defenseman.

With no Stanley Cup, the Bruins consoled themselves by winning mostly all of the NHL’s individual awards. Esposito, of course, took the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. Phil was also awarded the Lester B. Pearson Award (since renamed the Ted Lindsay Award) as the league’s MVP according to the NHLPA. It was the first year of the Pearson Award. Bobby Orr won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player and the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. Orr also led the league in the plus/minus department.

Rounding out the awards parade was John Bucyk. Bucyk won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player. John also finished third in the league in points with 116 and second in goals with 51.

Four of the six players elected to the NHL’s First Team All-Star squad were Bruins that season. They just happened to be the same four players that finished atop the NHL scoring race: Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, John Bucyk and Ken Hodge.

Four players from the 1970-71 season have since been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Bobby Orr was the first in 1979, a rare case where the three year waiting period after retirement was waived. John Bucyk followed in 1981. Phil Esposito got his call to The Hall in 1984 and finally, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was honoured in 1985.