Flying Bob and the NHL Playoffs

Playoff time is here again, and the National Hockey League will be bending over backwards to attract our attention.

Don’t fall for all of it.

One of the commercials the league has prepared — and is already airing — to incite interest in the seemingly endless rounds of playoff competition, stars the amazing Bobby Orr, and a fairly famous play he once made to seal a Stanley Cup victory for the Boston Bruins. Note I said a “fairly” famous play … one that served to “seal” instead of “win” a Stanley Cup. There’s a big difference.

The Red Wings had a little guy alternately known as the “Super Pest” and “Mighty Mouse” of the NHL back in the 1950s. Tony Leswick, possibly the greatest agitator ever to play the game — he probably took a decade off Rocket Richard’s life by forever skyrocketing his blood pressure — “won” the Stanley Cup for the Wings in 1954, when he scored a flukey Game Seven overtime goal at the old Olympia to defeat Richard’s Canadiens. The bad blood in that series ran so high, the hatred was so intense, that the Montreal players left the ice without bothering to shake the Red Wings’ hands. Kind of like what Sidney Crosby did; but in 1954 it was kind of understandable, AND done by real men.

So, Leswick’s goal WON the Cup. Darren McCarty’s goal against Philadelphia in 1997 — that golden beauty that left him bouncing off the boards at the JLA, and put the metro area into orbi — SEALED the Cup victory that year. Note the difference. The Wings were up 3 games to 0 at the time, and were never in danger of losing Game 4. Just as Kirk Gibson’s monster home run sealed the ’84 World Series; it didn’t win it.

The NHL spot has Orr in slow motion … flying like a super hero … actually in SUPER slow motion … across the front of the St. Louis Blues net, after he potted the overtime goal that SEALED, not won, the 1970 Stanley Cup. Despite what the NHL and Don Cherry want you to believe … it was no big deal. It made for pretty film, yes. The League wants you to ooh and ahh and gasp as you view it. It was the culmination of a pretty give and go passing play by Orr and his Boston Bruins, but epic it wasn’t. It was more of an after-thought in a ridiculous Cup final.

For reasons that still escape everybody — because the National Hockey League has never known how to sell its game — the League brought on expansion by dividing itself into Original Six teams on one side, an East Division; and the six NEW teams on the other, the West Division. That would have been okay … except that for the first three years of expansion play, 1968 thru ’70 … the Stanley Cup final each year pitted the Original Six winner against the lousy expansion winners. I believe that in the three years that setup was in effect, the poor expansion finalist never won even one game. They got swept each year, 4-0. The expansion teams were made up of old NHLers, lousy youngsters, and a lot of guys who drank themselves out of hockey in the ’60s but got a second chance with expansion.

When Orr’s Bruins (coached by Cherry, who naturally thinks they were all mini-gods, with Orr as Zeus) played the Blues of Glenn Hall and Red Berenson (yes, that Hall; yes that Red) in 1970, the Bruins literally could NOT lose. If they had played 104 games, the Bruins would have won 105. And Orr’s wonderful, poetic, slow-motion flying goal … currently the star of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Appeal … was about as meaningful and dramatic and startling … as Mike Tyson knocking out Kathie Lee Gifford in the first round for the Heavyweight Crown.

Which, by the way, is something I would pay to see. But NEVER the 1970 Boston Bruins versus the 1970 St. Louis Blues.