The 1977 Boston Bruins: Another Team That Did It The Hard Way

Jean Ratelle was the leading offensive threat on a team that made the Finals.

Jean Ratelle was the leading offensive threat on a team that made the Finals.

I’ll admit, I think I’m taking the Boston Bruins’ Game 4 loss to the New York Rangers harder than most fans, at least judging from the fairly mild reaction on Twitter, and in some conversations with fellow B’s backers. The general mood seems to be that we’re still up 3 games to 1. My mood on the other hand says “Could this team ever do anything the easy way?” With the combination of Tuuka Raask slipping on the ice, the too-many-men on the ice penalty that set up the tying goal and the memory of 2010 against Philadelphia still burned into my senses, I did what I usually do in these situations—go dig for a historical analogy to make me feel better. And sure enough, there was some therapy in the spring of 1977.

It’s ironic, because we just did a feature on that spring and how the respective current seasons of the Sox, B’s and C’s seem to mimic that year. Apparently the Bruins are really into this whole Spirit of ’77 thing, because in that year’s quarterfinal playoff series they won the first three games, then made sure to give New England a collective heart attack and finally went on to clinch.

The series was in the quarterfinals against the Los Angeles Kings. The playoffs were seeded without regard to conference in those years, and the Bruins were a legit contender for the Stanley Cup. They went three-deep in quality at center, with Jean Ratelle, Peter McNab and Gregg Shepard. Boston got quality work on the right wing from Terry O’Reilly, and Brad Park was a first-team All-Star at defenseman. And if you wanted some experience from the team’s Stanley Cup runs of 1970 and 1972, “the Chief”, John Bucyk was still skating away at age 41.

Los Angeles was not in Boston’s class. The Kings were barely above .500, and while center Marcel Dionne may have been the best player on the ice, there was no depth and goaltending had been an issue all year long. Boston, on the other hand, had reliable Gerry Cheevers in net and a substantial size advantage on Los Angeles.

Los Angeles goalie Rogie Vachon became every Boston fan's nightmare with an incredible Game 5.

Los Angeles goalie Rogie Vachon became every Boston fan’s nightmare with an incredible Game 5.

The series went to script in the first two games at the Garden, as Los Angeles simply could not stop the relentless Bruin attack, and Boston won 8-3 and 6-2. The Bruin defense started to struggle when the series went west for Game 3, but they scored enough to compensate, grabbing a 7-6 win. This series was all but over, and it was time to get ready for the team for Pennsylvania in the semi-finals (In ’77 it was Philadelphia, whereas this year it’s Pittsburgh).

Game 4 of the ’77 quarters didn’t have the mix of bizarre and maddening circumstances from Thursday night in New York, but the Bruin defense again let Los Angeles skate freely and a 7-4 win sent the series back east.

Then came the nightmare that every hockey fan fears—when the goalie of your inferior opponent gets into a zone and just can’t be beat. The Bruins played their best defensive game of the series, but Los Angeles goalie Rogie Vachon played the game of his life. In the words of Cheevers, “Vachon did everything but stand on his head to make great save after great save.” Los Angeles led 2-1 late in the game and finally scored an empty-netter to clinch it.

Now it was time to get nervous, with a Game 6 on the road and a return to old Los Angeles Forum, where the Kings had scored 14 goals in the previous two games. Boston came out blazing and built a 3-0 lead. Finally, New England could breathe a sigh of relief, right? Wrong. Los Angeles came all the way back and tied the game 3-3.

On this night though, the quirks of fate would go Boston’s way. Los Angeles defenseman Dave Hutchison was clearing the puck when he broke his stick. The puck fluttered off, created a turnover, and Boston, playing on the power play, quickly pounced and scored. Cheevers made it stand up and the series was finally over 4-3.

Boston went on to sweep Philadelphia, before being swept in turn by a Montreal team that was one of the best to ever play the game. It was a season where the Bruins won the real race, which was to be the runner-up. But in answer to my question of Thursday night, “Could this team ever do anything easy?”, the answer is apparently, “No, They never have. But they’ll do it eventually.”

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