The big sports question at the Colonial Country Club near Boston last Friday was this: Would Bobby Orr develop a case of the yips at the 17th green, miss his sidehill seven-foot par putt and lose the hole for his team—or would The Kid score again? Orr carefully surveyed the putt from behind, noticing that it would break about 12 inches right to left. What Bobby really needed now was his curved hockey stick, not his putter. He walked confidently to the ball and bent over to inspect it, just as the pros always do. Then he picked it up and put it in his pocket.
"That's a three," Orr said. "Good three," said Johnny McKenzie, one of Bobby's partners in a low-stakes match. Phil Esposito, a rival this day, screamed foul. "Since when are seven-footers gimmes?" he yelled at Orr, who had started for the next tee. "Cripes, Bobby, just who do you think you are, anyway, Billy Casper?"
Orr, who has approximately a 20 handicap, definitely cannot play golf like Billy Casper, but then Casper cannot play hockey like Bobby Orr. Nobody can. It was Orr—and Orr alone—who rallied the struggling Boston Bruins past the scarred New York Rangers last week and into the East Division final against the Chicago Black Hawks. When the Bruins needed a goal Orr either scored one or set one up. When they needed a big defensive play, he blocked a shot or stole the puck or killed time by skating in circles with the disk nailed to the blade of his stick. Bobby played a game that most hockey players are unfamiliar with. Understandably so, because it is unique.
"That Orr, he is impossible," said Rod Gilbert of the Rangers. "Hockey is a team game, right? One man is not supposed to beat a whole team, right? But what else can I say. You saw it. One man beat the Rangers in this series."
The Bruins and Rangers were tied at two wins apiece when the teams returned to the Boston Garden for the fifth game last week. Early in the first period Orr skated the length of the ice, split the New York defense and beat Eddie Giacomin cleanly for a 1-0 lead. After that the Rangers checked the Bruins closely and took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period. Soon, however, the complexion of the game—and the series—turned abruptly in Boston's favor. Esposito was penalized for five minutes when he accidentally cut New York's Jean Ratelle with his stick. "I wanted to take a gun and point it at my temple," said Esposito.
However, Orr nonchalantly played keep-away with the puck for almost three minutes and, in fact, had the two best goal-scoring opportunities during Esposito's penalty. Relieved, Phil scored early in the third period to tie the game. Moments later he scored the winning goal. Orr had the puck in the Boston zone, while Esposito was retreating slowly from the New York end—a stride behind the Rangers' defense. Spotting Esposito, Orr nodded—signaling for Esposito to be ready for a pass. Bobby crossed his own blue line and put the puck on Esposito's stick as big Phil hit the Ranger line. The Ranger defensemen could not react in time and Giacomin was beaten again.
Back in New York Thursday night for the sixth game, the clincher, Orr got a goal to tie the score 1-1 early in the second period with an artistic deflection of McKenzie's shot from the blue line. Orr initiated the play with a rush up ice. He passed off, then skated for the net. McKenzie's shot was low. Orr curled the puck into the hooked part of his blade and pulled it to Giacomin's right—and into the goal. "It looked accidental or lucky," Orr said, "but it wasn't. I was in the right place and the puck was in the right place." Two minutes later Wayne Cashman got another goal for Boston.
The score was still 2-1 at the start of the third period, and the Rangers, who were not terribly keen to be eliminated from the series on home ice, were still alive—until Bobby administered the coup d'Orr. Esposito won a face-off and slipped the puck to Ken Hodge, who passed it back to Orr at the right boards. Bobby slapped at it, and the puck shot toward Giacomin. The goalie did not see it until it was behind him. That goal was Bobby's seventh of the series, and it damaged the Rangers beyond repair. Derek Sanderson, who had been vilified by the New York fans throughout the series (page 22), scored for effect a few minutes later.
The last two games of the Boston-New York confrontation were sharply different from the first four, at least down on the ice. Although the teams set a Stanley Cup record of 375 penalty minutes in their six games, they limited the rough stuff in the last two to solid, close-checking, hard-hitting positional hockey. Even so, at the end the Rangers were depleted by injuries. Boston, meanwhile, dispelled the myth that it always won the Pier 6 brawls but lost the hockey games.
As Bobby hacked his way through Friday's golf, he gave some thought to the Bruins' critics. "Look at our lineup," Bobby said. "We're supposed to be the big, bad Bruins. The animals. Well, we don't have one guy on our club who wouldn't be in the NHL if he didn't fight. We've got good, solid hockey players, and it's time people recognized that.