It has become a ritual. Before each period of a game Bobby Orr (see cover) sits down in the Boston Bruins' dressing room with two hockey sticks in his hands. For the next 10 minutes or so he repeatedly lifts the sticks and lets them fall, occasionally flicking an imaginary puck into a nonexistent net. Like the weighted bat in baseball, the second stick makes the first feel lighter during the game. Just before the bell rings to summon the Bruins onto the ice, Orr gets up and walks across the room to the spot where Ted Green, the team's leader when he got his skull fractured in a stick-swinging battle last fall, used to dress. Starting with the man sitting in Green's place, Orr moves through the room, tapping the pads of every Bruin with his sticks. "Bobby is the leader now," says Goalie Gerry Cheevers. "You watch him with the sticks and, well, let's just say it could be pretty embarrassing for the guy who wasn't ready to play."
Orr's emergence as the spiritual cement binding the Bruins together is one clue to an understanding of the mysterious Stanley Cup events of last week. But this only helps explain why the Bruins played so well as they humiliated the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight games, not why the Hawks stumbled so badly. Admittedly, Orr is the finest player in the game today. Does he also have hypnotic powers? In the past, respect for excellence never prevented opponents from breaking lances with a Rocket Richard or a Gordie Howe. Yet there was Orr, gliding along as if shielded by an invisible barrier as the Hawks sleep-skated sheeplike in his wake. One of the most amazing moments of any cup series came in the third game when Orr skated behind the Chicago net with three Hawks chasing after him and then leisurely set up the easiest kind of goal.
These were the same Hawks, winged and taloned then, who made such an impressive rush through the last half of the regular season to win the East title, the team of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita and the prize rookie goalie, Tony Esposito, the Hawks who disposed of Detroit in four straight in their cup opener. These were the Bruins who, despite Orr's presence, had blown the pennant in the season's last few games, a team that had terrible trouble on the road, a team previously vulnerable in goal.
Fans who might reasonably have expected Chicago to put up a stiff fight—or even win, considering its home-game advantage—had to adjust not only to the unexpected slaughter itself but also to the strangely delicate way in which Boston disposed of its victims. Remember when the Bruins "lived by the sword," in Coach Harry Sinden's apt words? In this series the Bruins discovered that they could daze the Hawks with their reputations and spook them with a few ugly growls. "People read that the Bruins are coming to town," said a man close to the team, "and they think we're going to rob all the banks and rape all their daughters."
Throughout the third game, the first in Boston, the Bruins' impudent Derek Sanderson directed a steady stream of chatter at Bobby Hull. "Bobby, you're a real gentleman," he would say. "Bobby, you're a credit to the game, you've done more for the game than anyone. Bobby, don't ever change." At one point in the second period Hull and Sanderson wound up nose to nose, scowling at each other at the Boston goalmouth, but that was as close as they came to taking the gloves off. "I wasn't sorry about that," Sanderson said later. "He could eat me up if he wanted to."
The Boston feast began in the first period of the first game in Chicago Stadium when Phil Esposito flipped a backhander over the shoulder of his brother Tony. Boston went on to win 6-3, followed with another easy 4-1 victory on Tuesday night and then went home to the Boston Garden to wrap up the series, 5-2 on Thursday night and 5-4 Sunday afternoon. The anticipated duels between the two Bobbys, Orr and Hull, and the brothers Esposito were as one-sided as the series itself. Orr dominated the games as only he can these days, playing magnificently on defense, averaging 35 minutes on the ice. Meanwhile, Hull was unable to shake the close checking of Boston's Ed Westfall. He not only failed to score a goal but managed only eight shots on the net in the series.
Although Phil Esposito said he felt sorry for his brother—he spent several solicitous hours with him after the first game, in which Tony had been felled briefly by a close-in shot that cracked into the side of his head—Phil showed no mercy on the ice. The Boston center's five goals in the four games, plus the six he scored in the preceding six-game series with New York, pulled him within one goal of Richard's 1944 record of 12 (in nine playoff games), which was tied in 10 games by Jean Beliveau in 1956. And, sadly, on Tuesday night many in the stadium crowd of 20,000 booed Tony as he left the ice. "Sometimes I just can't understand people," Phil said. "Here he puts them where they are, but when he happens to get scored on a few times they let him have it."
Unfortunately for Tony, the Black Hawk defense never seemed to get its bearings. First-year men Keith Magnuson and Paul Shmyr had a particularly rough time and got little help from veterans Doug Jarrett, Bill White and Doug Mohns. At least Magnuson and rookie Wing Cliff Koroll earned some respect for grit. " Chicago only had a couple guys out there who were willing to mix it—the redhead and Koroll," said one Bruin. "Hell, everybody else was just standing around watching Bobby fly, like they were in awe or something."
Apart from the brilliance of Orr, perhaps the most significant thing about the Bruins was the cool, unhurried way in which they played. They have never performed better as a unit. Supporting players like Wayne Cashman, Fred Stan-field, Don Awrey, Dallas Smith and Cheevers complemented perfectly the heroics of Orr and Esposito.
"Actually, this has become a very easy team to play for," said John McKenzie. "There aren't any cliques, everybody's one of the gang."