• Sal Maiorana

All-time greats Orr, Hull set records on same night

BOSTON (March 20, 1969) – Bobby Orr wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate, even though his record-breaking 21st goal of the year with one second remaining – coming on the night of his 21st birthday – gave the Boston Bruins a 5-5 tie with the Chicago Blackhawks.

That goal enabled Orr to set a new NHL standard for most goals by a defenseman in a single season which was cool, but what had Orr so ornery is that his goal had even been necessary to salvage the point for the Bruins.

Boston needed a victory to keep pace with Montreal in the battle for first place in the NHL’s Eastern Division, and after it opened a 4-0 lead in the first 23 minutes, that looked like a sure thing.

Even when the Blackhawks began a furious comeback with three straight goals, the Bruins were still up as the clock ticked inside three minutes, but that’s when things completely fell apart.

Chicago’s Bobby Hull scored twice in the span of 13 seconds to put his team ahead 5-4, and this meant that even with Orr’s tying goal, the Bruins lost a point and were now four behind Montreal with just five games to play.

What did it really matter, given that both Montreal and Boston had already clinched playoff berths? Money, of course. Each man on the division-winning team earned a $1,000 bonus and that wasn’t chump change in the late 1960s.

With the division slipping away, Boston’s Eddie Westfall spoke for his entire locker room when he said, “Money down the drain. It’s the first-place money.”

Oh, those two goals by Hull? Fairly significant as they raised his season total to 55, a new NHL record, while also increasing his point total to 100, making him just the second man in history to reach the century mark. Boston’s Phil Esposito had gotten there less than three weeks earlier.

Yes, quite a night at Boston Garden.

Chicago had scored twice in the final three minutes of the second period and then again early in the third before Hull went to work, twice beating Boston goalie Gerry Cheevers. The first came on a blast from the left point, the second on a shot from the right point.

The sellout crowd, angered by their team’s collapse, nonetheless gave Hull a standing ovation for making history. “The Boston fans are great,” Hull said. “That ovation was a big thrill.”

The Bruins pulled Cheevers in the final minute in their attempt to tie and it paid off when Orr was able to jam home a rebound of a shot taken by Fred Stanfield.

“The puck came through all those legs,” Orr said without a trace of joy. “I was able to get my stick on it. I don’t know how.”

The Canadiens would go on to win the division by three points and that not only earned them the bonus checks, it gave them home-ice advantage when they met the Bruins in the semifinals and Montreal won all three games at the Forum. The Canadiens then went on to defeat St. Louis to win the Stanley Cup.

Orr wasn’t done making history. The very next season he became the first defenseman in history to reach the 100-point plateau, scoring an incredible 120 which was then second-most of any player behind only Esposito’s 126 in 1968-69.

Then in 1970-71 he set new records for assists (102) and points (139) by a defenseman that stand five decades later. The point total trailed only Esposito’s new record of 152 that year when he also set the single-season goal record at 76.

Hull finished 1968-69 with 58 goals and he would go on to a career total of 610, 18th-most in history. Adding in his seven years in the World Hockey Association with Winnipeg when he tacked on another 303 goals, Hull’s 913 goals rank third in professional hockey history behind only Gordie Howe who had 801 in the NHL and 174 in the WHA for a total of 975, and Wayne Gretzky who had 894 in the NHL and 46 in the WHA for 940.