The 1977 Boston Bruins began a new era in franchise history. The great Bobby Orr, the greatest player in franchise history was gone. Orr had led the Bruins to two Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972, won three MVP awards and finished in the top of the three of the MVP voting seven times in a Boston career that spanned from 1967-76.
Orr was realistically washed up by 1977, but wanted to try and continue his playing career. It was up to the Bruins that remained to carry on without him. Meaning no disrespect to Orr and his greatness on the ice, this 1977 Bruins team carried on quite well and had a strong postseason run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Boston was a balanced team in all phases. They ranked in the top five of the league both scoring goals and preventing them, both on the power play and the penalty kill. They had nine scorers between 20 and 38 goals for the season, led by three 30-plus goal scorers at center in Peter McNab, Jean Ratelle and Gregg Sheppard.
The Bruins had a strong defenseman in Brad Park, and even though Park didn’t make the All-Star team this season, he had done so in 1976 and would do so again in 1978. The goaltending had the veteran Gerry Cheevers and up-coming-Gilles Gilbert.
In short, even though there weren’t any Boston players chosen for the All-Star team in 1977, they more than made up for it in quantity.
Boston came out of the gate strong and their record reached 18-3 in late November, including a pair of wins over defending Stanley Cup champion and archrival Montreal. The Bruins hit the skids over the month of December, going through a 3-8-2 stretch that brought them down to earth. They beat the Canadiens again in January, but lost to their rivals in February.
By the end of February, Boston was 35-21-7. They didn’t keep up with Montreal over the long haul, as the Canadiens rolled to the best overall record in the NHL, but the Bruins kept up with most everyone else. They closed the season on a five-game winning streak, including a key 4-3 win at Buffalo on March 30 that made the difference in a close Adams Division race with the Sabres.
The NHL playoffs were a 12-team affair in 1977 and they were seeded without regard to conference affiliation. Boston’s 49-23-8 record had them as the 3-seed, narrowly behind the Philadelphia Flyers, and further behind Montreal.
Boston faced the Los Angeles Kings in the quarterfinals in a dangerous matchup for the Bruins. Boston’s sheer depth made them the better team over the long regular season, but the Kings had star power for a best-of-seven series. Marcel Dionne scored 53 goals and was the best center in the game. Butch Goring was a 30-goal scorer and a few years later, his acquisition by the New York Islanders would be seen as the final piece of their dynasty (1980-83).
The Bruins were also going with the 36-year-old Cheevers in goal, even though Gilbert had been the better goaltender in a reasonably equivalent playing time over the course of the regular season. Cheevers’ Goals Against Average (GAA) was 3.04, while LA countered Rogie Vaichon, a second-team All-Star trailing only Montreal’s legendary Ken Dryden.
It was a series fraught with peril for the favorite, but the Boston offense came out firing and scored 14 goals in the first two games, taking 8-3 and 6-2 wins at the Garden. Another offensive explosion out west in Game 3 allowed Boston to escape 7-6. Los Angeles rallied—they got a 7-4 win on home ice and then Vaichon delivered in Game 5 for a 3-1 win that made it a series again. But the Bruins answered by going back to LA and winning 4-3 to advance to the semifinals.
Philadelphia awaited. The Flyers had won Stanley Cups in 1974-75 as the famed “Broad Street Bullies” and knocked out the Bruins in the 1974 Finals. One year earlier in this same round, Philly had eliminated Boston. The Flyers had a 49-goal scorer in Rick Macleish and players like center Bobby Clarke, forwards Bill Barber and Reggie Leach and goalie Bernie Parent made them a superior team on paper.
But it was payback time and Boston found a way to get it done. It would be one of those series that’s hotly contested but one team consistently makes the crucial play. The Bruins stole overtime road wins of 4-3 and 5-4 to start the series. They survived 2-1 in Game 3 and then won another defensive battle, 3-0 to complete a surprising sweep.
The victories over star-laden Los Angeles and talented Philadelphia would have to be enough for the Boston faithful. No one was going to touch Montreal this year when it came time for the Finals. The Canadiens had taken four of the six spots on the 1st-team All-Star squad with Dryden, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson and league MVP Guy Lafleur. They led the league both in scoring goals and preventing them.
This was the best team of the Montreal Dynasty that ruled the NHL from 1976-79 and the Bruins were in the way of a freight train at Finals time, losing four straight.
There could be no doubt though, that Boston had successfully entered a new era of their franchise history. Orr was, and remains, their greatest player, an icon who could never be truly replaced. But the 1977 Boston Bruins at least showed there would be life after Orr.