The National Hockey League had only six franchises until the late 1960s, and today the sport now involves 32 teams across North America—including 7 franchises in Canada. For our second NHL Saturday miniseries, we are ranking all NHL organizations to highlight the best teams in those respective histories. Yes, the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights have little to choose from at this point, but that’s okay; we don’t want to wait five more years to do this miniseries!
Today we take on the Boston Bruins, one of the Original Six. For sanity’s purposes, we’re only going to evaluate the teams since the 1968 expansion era. Otherwise, this would be crazy-packed with teams from before the dawn of helmets, reparative dental work, and face masks. Strangely, the Bruins have won only 6 Stanley Cups, despite all the odds being in their favor for many more during all those years in the Original Six. But here are the five best squads of the modern era from Beantown …
No. 5: 1982-1983 Boston Bruins
With 50 victories and 110 points, these Bruins won their division at the time (Adams) and advanced all the way to the conference finals before losing to the eventual champion New York Islanders, who were finishing up their dynastic reign atop the NHL from 1980-1983. So, there’s no shame in that postseason exit at all. The team finished fifth in scoring offense and second in scoring defense, demonstrating its worth as one of the best teams in the league during this specific season.
Center Barry Pederson (46G, 61A, 47 PIMs) and right wing Rick Middleton (49G, 47A) anchored the offense with high-scoring efforts, while goaltender Pete Peeters (40-12-9, 2.37 GAA, 8 SOs) won the Vezina with his stalwart play in net for Bruins. The backup goalies were brutal, though, which was a flaw on this team, as Peeters couldn’t stand on his head every game. Even the best guys have to rest every so often, and that’s when the Bruins defense got half a goal per game worse.
No. 4: 1977-1978 Boston Bruins
Coached by the legendary Don Cherry, this group won 51 times and posted 113 points to win the Adams. The Bruins lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montréal Canadiens, though, in six games—another team amid a four-season reign of supremacy in the league (1976-1979). What are the odds? This team was slightly opposite the one above, reflecting the time period: third in scoring offense and fifth in scoring defense, overall.
Four skaters netted at least 79 points in 80 games, while in net, three different goalies won at least 10 games each during the regular season. It was a true team effort, in all phases of the game. Cherry would go on to lead the Bruins for one more season, before coaching his final season with the Colorado Rockies in 1979-1980 … the Rockies that had been the Kansas City Scouts and would go on to become the New Jersey Devils.
No. 3: 1971-1972 Boston Bruins
Strangely, this is our only Cup champion on the list, and it’s the second of two Phil Esposito/Bobby Orr teams to win the NHL title. These Bruins won 54 times to accrue 119 points as they won the NHL East Division (or so it was named at the time). They eliminated Toronto and St. Louis in the first two rounds before dropping the New York Rangers in six games to win it all. After this, it was 39 seasons before Boston won the Cup again.
Esposito (66G, 67A) and Orr (37G, 80A) were a dynamic scoring duo, unlike the league had ever seen up to that point. Also, two different netminders (Gerry Cheevers and Eddie Johnston) each won 27 times while keeping the losses and ties in the single digits, too. The team was first in scoring and fourth in scoring defense, and while maybe this season is not as famous as the other Esposito/Orr team to win it all, it looks like it was the superior one, sabermetrically speaking.
No. 2: 1973-1974 Boston Bruins
This was a squad with three different 100-point players on it, but it ended up losing in the Cup Finals to the Broad Street Bullies in six games. Esposito (68G, 77A) and Orr (32G, 90A) were joined by RW Ken Hodge (50G, 55A) in the 100-Point Club, as Boston won the NHL East again—this time with 52 victories and 113 points. The Bruins defeated long-time Original Six rivals Toronto and Chicago on the way to the Finals, but they could not overcome the Philadelphia Flyers and their unique hockey style.
Top ranked in scoring offense and third in scoring defense, the Boston team was let down in the Cup Finals by inexperienced goaltending. The Bruins lost 3 games by a combined 4 goals, and that inability to lock down the close games hurt them in the end as only Orr managed more than a point per game against Philly. Goalie Gilles Gilbert wasn’t actually that bad, but at age 24, he had only one postseason appearance under his belt before the playoffs began, and that came back to haunt Boston.
No. 1: 1970-1971 Boston Bruins
Seeing a theme here? The Esposito/Orr seasons were the Golden Era of Bruins hockey. This team also did not win the Cup, despite a whopping 57 wins in 78 games—and a ridiculous 121 points that topped the NHL East Division. Boston ran into rookie goalie Ken Dryden and the Montréal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs and lost in seven games. Again, the top-scoring offense and third-best scoring defense still wasn’t enough to secure a title, and that’s why we love the NHL and its postseason.
Bruins goalies combined for just an ,879 save percentage in the seven playoff games, while Dryden posted a .912 mark alone. After taking a 3-2 lead in the Series, Boston gave up 12 goals combined in Games 6 and 7, while scoring just five itself, and there went the season’s high hopes. This team had four 100-point skaters: Esposito (76G, 76A), Orr (37G, 102A), left wing John Bucyk (51G, 65A), and Hodge (43G, 62A). But hot goalies can stop any offense, as we have always seen in the NHL postseason.