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Peter Gammons
May 09, 1977
As the Stanley Cup raged on, Boston's Brad Park and the Montreal Three looked capable of filling Bobby Orr's big skates
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May 09, 1977

Stating Their Case

As the Stanley Cup raged on, Boston's Brad Park and the Montreal Three looked capable of filling Bobby Orr's big skates

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It was a kind of Bobby Orr look-alike contest for defensemen. No centers, wings or goaltenders need apply. There was Boston's Brad Park playing keep-away with the puck, just like Orr did, and keeping Philadelphia Flyers away from Goaltender Gerry Cheevers. There was Philadelphia's Bob (The Count) Dailey, all 6'5" and 210 pounds of him, rushing the puck and spilling bodies with Orr-like daring. There was the New York Islanders' Denis Potvin, the contest winner last season, rallying his suffering teammates with a couple of Orr-style bursts for goals. And there was that triumvirate from Montreal, large Larry Robinson intimidating the enemy by his mere presence on the ice, Guy Lapointe proving Orr's theory that the best defense is a good offense and Serge Savard playing the cool-handed captain of a tight ship.

While the real Orr watched on television from his Toronto hospital room, where he was recovering from Operation No. 6 on his ravaged left knee, the six imitation Orrs took charge—permanently in some cases, temporarily in others—of the Stanley Cup semifinals last week. What they also did was further complicate the nagging question of who, indeed, is "the new Orr."

Park, who as a New York Ranger never measured up to the "as good as Orr" label pinned on him by the club's management, was routinely brilliant for Orr's old Bruins as they swept away the stunned Flyers in four straight games, finishing them off 3-0 Sunday night in Boston. Only a year ago the Flyers had routed the Bruins in the semifinals in five games. What happened? "Last year Park had just had a knee operation and was playing hurt," said Philadelphia Coach Fred Shero. "This year Park's healthy."

Park performed multiple chores for the Bruins, who, ironically, acquired him from the Rangers last season mainly as defense protection in the event that Orr should exercise his free-agent status and sign with some other club—which he did. Park played a minimum of 40 minutes a game in three of Boston's four wins, and in the other he was on the ice for more than 60 minutes as the teams battled into a second period of sudden death before Terry O'Reilly's goal won Game Two for the Bruins after 90:07 of hockey.

"I need Park out there 40 minutes a game," says Boston Coach Don Cherry. "I sat down with him and asked him to change his style, to forget his end-to-end rushes, to forget individual recognition. Considering what we've asked him to do, and the help he's had, I don't think there's any question that Park's the best defenseman in the game."

Cherry gave Park the burden of breaking in a rookie defenseman, Colgate graduate Mike Milbury, who was born and raised in the Boston suburb of Walpole, and steadying a pair of cast-off defensemen, Gary Doak and Rick Smith. Confident that Park would be covering up for him, Milbury abandoned his defense position midway through the third period of a tied Game Three Thursday night and bolted up ice with O'Reilly. Milbury skated for the net, and O'Reilly slid him a pass. The pass was slightly behind Milbury, but he reached back and, well, shanked the puck over Goaltender Wayne Stephenson's right shoulder to give the Bruins a 2-1 win.

Park, Milbury and company completely closed down the Philadelphia shooters in Game Four, holding them to a meager 21 shots at Cheevers, who yielded only one goal to the Flyers in the last 174 minutes of the series. Jean Ratelle, another ex-Ranger, gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the second period, and Don Marcotte scored a pair of insurance goals in the third.

In the Canadiens-Islanders confrontation, the Montreal Three—Robinson, Lapointe and Savard—ganged up on the outmanned Potvin and, after beating the Islanders 4-0 Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum, the Canadiens returned home with a three-games-to-one lead. "How can one team have three defensemen like that?" asked the Islanders' confused Lome Henning.

All three stand at least six feet tall and weigh at least 200 pounds. All three are extremely fast and mobile, and at the whim of Coach Scotty Bowman they occasionally take a shift on one of the wings. Robinson, in fact, regularly moves to a forward position on the Canadiens' power play and places his immovable body at the goaltender's doorstep, where he can screen the goalie's vision and also pick harassed defensemen and force them out of the play.

"Those three guys do so many things, they make it easier for everyone else," says New York's J. P. Parise. "Except for Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt and Jacques Lemaire, the Montreal forwards are a bunch of plumbers, just like us, but with those three defensemen on their side they can take a lot of chances."

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