In April 1971 the arch-rivals Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens faced off in the first round of the 70-71 Stanley Cup playoffs. It was an epic seven game clash that is considered one of the greatest playoff series in NHL history
The Unstoppable Force:
The Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, completely dominated the 70-71 regular season setting as a team new NHL records for wins (57), points (121) and goals for (399) with 10 different skaters scoring 20 or more goals. The Bruins were led by superstars Phil Esposito, with a then record 76 goals and Bobby Orr with 102 assists; with Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers sharing goaltending duties. They were a team with almost no flaws
The Immovable Wall:
The Montreal Canadiens, with a lineup that included future hall-of-famers Yvan Cournoyer, Jean Beliveau, and Henri Richard, weren’t exactly pushovers, but were all but written off when very late in the season starting goaltender Rogie Vachon went down with an injury. His replacement was then unknown Cornell graduate, originally drafted by the Bruins, Ken Dryden. Starting only six games, Dryden impressed Habs coach Al MacNeil . When the playoffs began, Dryden was chosen as the starter goalie over the now healthy Vachon.
Despite not having beaten the Canadiens in a playoff series since 1943 the Bruins were the heavy favorites to win the series. Game 1 at the Boston Garden was won rather easily by the Bruins 3-1. In Game 2, still at the Garden, the Bruins were up 5 goals to 2 going into the third period and looked in complete control of the game and the series; then things went very badly for Boston. The Canadiens scored 5 unanswered goals in the third period, with two from Jean Beliveau, to win 7-5 in a historic comeback. The series then moved to the Montreal Forum for Game 3 with Ken Dryden holding the Bruins high-powered offense to just one goal to win 3-1. Game 4, at the Forum, the Bruins got back on track with a 5-2 win. Back at the Boston Garden for Game 5, the Bruins seemed to have solved the Canadiens in a 56 shot 7-3, including a Bobby Orr hat trick, rout taking charge of the series 3 games to 2. But the Canadiens weren’t about to roll over and, returning home to the Forum, in game 6 came charging back with a 8-3 blowout of their own to force a seventh game. In the deciding Game 7, before a home crowd at the Garden, the Bruins came out hard and fast taking an early one goal lead. The Habs, weren’t about to just roll over however, and came back in full force scoring four straight goals. The Bruins would score one more goal, but it wasn’t enough as the Canadiens won the game 4-2. Ken Dryden was superb in net making 46 saves in series finale. The Bruins players and fans could only stare in stunned silence as the Canadiens took the series 4 games to 3
The Canadiens would go on to win the ‘71 Stanley Cup dispatching the Minnesota North Stars in the next round then the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Ken Dryden’s dominance in goal throughout the playoffs would earn him the Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP. Because he only started 6 games during the regular season, Dryden was eligible for, and won, the Calder Trophy for rookie-of-the-year after the 71-72 season. He remains to this day the only NHL player named playoff MVP before rookie-of-the-year.
Despite the epic defeat the Bruins recovered quickly; winning the 1972 Stanley Cup. Although the Bruins would remain one of the premier NHL teams for years, the dominant team of the early 70’s would be scuttled by injuries, notably to Bobby Orr, and from the upstart World Hockey Association league poaching their players. The Bruins would not defeat the Canadiens in a playoff series until the 1988 season