The Boston Bruins had just won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and looked well on their way to more excitement from the 1970-71 season. On March 11, 1971, some of their biggest stars – Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Johnny Bucyk – knocked aside some records set by Bobby Hull and themselves.
The record-breaking took place about as far from Boston as possible among NHL opponents, at the Forum the Los Angeles Kings called home. With a 7-2 victory, the Bruins had won 20 games on the road – tying the records of Montreal and Detroit.
Although the Kings drew first blood, one second shy of four minutes later, at 7:03, Esposito owned a “garbage goal.” From about five feet in front of Denis DeJordy’s net, Esposito tipped in Teddy Green’s shot. That gave Esposito his 59th goal of the season, one more than Bobby Hull’s record of 58. Afterwards, he commented, “It was a good feeling, sure. But all I could think of was that now we were back in the ball game. They scored that early goal and were ahead of us. Now, it’s a tie game. We’re moving again. That’s all I could think of then.” For a moment after his score, the game pretty much stopped as Kenny Hodge ducked into the net to grab the record-breaking puck while Gerry Cheevers and the rest of the team mobbed Esposito, who stood with his arms raised and stick over his head. At the very end of the first period, Bucyk broke the tie with assists from Orr and Esposito.
In the bottom half of the second, the Bruins went on a four-goal scoring spree. To start things off, Orr earned another assist at 12:04. Then, at 15:40, Esposito topped his own record and broke Jean Beliveau’s record for most goals in one season including playoffs. For that 60th goal, the Boston Globe described the full play. “Ken Hodge had set up Dallas Smith, who went to the left of the goal and to the boards. The puck came back towards the net. Phil picked it up, brought it back to the left corner, which Dejordy had vacated and flipped it in. A masterpiece.” Back home in Salem, Massachusetts, Esposito’s wife Linda hosted six ladies to watch the game on TV and listen on the radio. Linda told the press, “He always said he wasn’t thinking of records. That’s Phil’s way. But it couldn’t be any other way. Everywhere he went people spoke to him about the records that were possible to break and you knew he had to be thinking about them. You could tell by looking at him. He would be in serious thought and it had to be about the possibility of the record and when and if he would get it.” Not even a minute after Esposito’s second goal of the night, the Bruins scored again. Like it had begun, the spree ended with Orr, when he scored at 17:49.
The game and the Bruins were not quite done. At 6:11 of the third, Bucyk sunk the final Bruins goal with an assist from Orr. The Kings, unable to make a comeback, managed one last goal about halfway through the final period.
All in all, Esposito had two goals and one assist, having broken the records for most goals in one regular-season and most in one season including playoffs. His 128 points already surpassed his own seasonal record (of 126 points) set in 1968-69. Esposito thought back and ahead when commenting to the press after the game. “Two years ago, when I was the first to score more than 100 points, I felt the pressure more because no one else had ever done it and I wanted to be the first. How many more goals can I score? I’ll be happy with 65, maybe 70.” At the end of the season, he had actually scored 76 goals, which put him in fifth place all-time for most goals scored in one regular season.
Meanwhile, Orr finished the game with one goal and three assists. The 88 assists he had already earned for the season broke a record he set the previous season, 1969-70. His 123 points thus far beat his personal best (of 120 points). When the season ended, Orr had 102 assists, which puts him tied at 12th overall for most assists in the regular season. He and Mario Lemieux are the only ones besides Wayne Gretzky to hold spots in the top 12.
Finally, Bucyk ended the night with two goals and an assist. That gave him 99 points, which passed Hull’s record for most points in a season tallied by a left wing.
The Bruins finished first in the East Division with 121 points (57-14-7). They were the first NHL team to win over 50 games in one season. Unfortunately, that did not help them advance to the Stanley Cup finals. They had to wait until the next season to win the Cup again.
- John Ahern, “Espo rocks Forum . . . while in Salem,” Boston Globe, 12 March 1971, pp. 23 and 25.
- “Espo’s 59th, 60th shatter record in 7-2 win,” Boston Globe, 12 March 1971, pp. 29-30.