Bobby Orr’s teammates recall legendary Stanley Cup-clinching goal

Two weeks before Christmas 1969, Wayne Carleton was informed he was traded to the Boston Bruins. The 23-year-old winger, nicknamed “Swoop,” had spent the past four years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, mostly shuttling back-and-forth between the minors. In Boston, he got an opportunity, playing 42 games the rest of that season, the second-most of his career.

Carleton ended up on the left wing of Harry Sinden’s “checking line” with Derek Sanderson and Ed Westfall. The trio were so good together that the Bruins head coach put them on the ice to start overtime in Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final against the St. Lous Blues.

Sinden’s reasoning? He believed that most overtime’s ended early and with Blues head coach Scotty Bowman throwing out Red Berenson, Larry Keenan and Tim Ecclestone — a line that had combined for 17 goals and 32 points in 16 playoff games — it was the Bruins’ threesome’s job to keep them off the board.

“We were quite efficient,” Carleton told NBC Sports. “We had two good lines and then our line, the checking line, and we dominated that series. There was no question. That’s why we started the overtime, because we had dominated St. Louis in every shift of all four games. That’s why Harry [Sinden] picked us to go out in the overtime. Proved him right.”

Sinden’s thinking was that his checking line could withstand whatever the Blues would start with, then he could get his big guys — Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge — out there to ice the series and win the Cup.

Overtime didn’t last very long. 40 seconds, in fact. The Blues could not muster an attack as the Bruins kept pressing. Orr would dump the puck in deep from center ice and it was Carleton who out-skated Ecclestone and centered a pass out in front of Glenn Hall’s net, but Sanderson couldn’t get good wood on it. The puck would remain in the St. Louis zone as Boston attempted three more shots to no avail.

That third try, off the stick of Sanderson, rung around the right boards to a pinching Orr, who kept it in and dished it off to Sanderson, who was parked behind the net. As soon he fed Sanderson, Carleton circled around and headed toward the slot as a second passing option.

History has shown us repeatedly who Sanderson chose to receive his pass. But Carleton likes to joke that the legend of “The Goal” wouldn’t have been the same if he were the hero.

“I was right behind [Blues defenseman Noel Picard],” Carleton recalled. “People say ‘If the rebound had come out, you’d have probably scored it because everybody was turned the other way.’ I said, ‘If I’d have scored [the goal] wouldn’t have been famous.'”

After Orr scored and flew threw the air — thanks to some help from Picard — Carleton was the first one to grab him as the celebrations inside Boston Garden began.

“He landed and I was right there,” said Carleton “It was fun. Great memories. It was certainly a signature event and the right guy scored it.”

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Derek Sanderson’s arms were raised in celebration, but he still need to take a quick peek in the direction of the referee. The Bruins forward was ready to celebrate his first Cup victory but just wanted to be sure there was no penalty about to be called to negate the goal.

Referee Bruce Hood’s arm was raised, but he was pointing toward the Blues’ net, signaling a good goal.

In the build up to the Orr goal, it was Sanderson who had two chances to be the Game 4 hero, but his two shots in overtime failed to beat Hall.

“It pissed me off,” Sanderson joked. “I said [to Bobby] ‘Why didn’t you pass the puck to me?’ He said, ‘You got a couple shots. Don’t blame me, you hit the post, it came to me, you went into the corner and I passed it to you.'”

Sanderson’s pass capped off a memorable season for Orr, who won the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy (120 points), Norris Trophy, and Conn Smythe Trophy (nine goals, 20 points) that season. The Bruins defenseman was playing on a different level than the rest of the NHL. His teammates knew he couldn’t be stopped, which is why when one of Sanderson’s missed overtime shots went around the boards to Orr’s side, he knew Orr would be there to get the puck while he went and set up behind the Blues net.

“I was an out for somebody [in that position] and then Bobby went by Ecclestone,” Sanderson recalled. “He jumps past Ecclestone. Ecclestone’s waiting for the puck to come around the boards. Bobby doesn’t wait that long. That was the genius of it. He jumped past him. But if he misses it, or I missed the pass, there’s nobody but St. Louis Blues going the other way. But Bobby didn’t miss.”

Ecclestone’s decision was the first of two bad decisions by Blues players in that sequence. The second came from defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot, who left Orr to defend Sanderson as the Bruins blue liner was left all alone as he moved to the front of the net. With Picard stuck in his spot between the faceoff circles, that gave Orr plenty of room to complete the give-and-go play with Sanderson, something the pair did a lot while on the ice together.

“[Talbot] should have never have come to me behind the net. He reached his stick out and that made him absolutely dead in the water,” Sanderson says. “I know it was a mistake because I’ve made it. … When he came to me, his odds were he couldn’t stop Bobby, he was out of position and so he went and tried to stop me, which was fool-hardy. He should have taken me from the front of the net when I missed the shot. That’s where he missed his opportunity. 

“That’s the difference between [other players] and Orr. Orr didn’t stand still. He was always anticipating.”

When you look at Ray Lussier’s famous photo Orr, obviously, stands out, and your eyes might focus in on Picard’s assist on Orr’s leap or even shift over to Hall, who was crumbling back into his net. But if you peer to the right side of the image, squint your eyes a tad, you’ll notice Ed Westfall covering the right point.

Westfall was a winger, but he actually started his NHL career as a defenseman, and found himself in that position later in his career while with the New York Islanders. Two-way play was one his strengths, so it was an instinctive decision when Westfall raced to cover for Orr after he pinched in as the puck rung around the boards to right side.

“We did that regularly,” recalled Westfall. “It was a normal reaction when Orr went offensive, which was a great deal, then I just automatically fell back to cover.”

With Orr’s defense partner, Don Awrey, covering the left point and Westfall on the right, the Bruins would have been well-prepared if Sanderson’s pass to Orr was intercepted and the Blues transitioned the other way. 

But Westfall’s defensive needs weren’t needed in the moment and he had a clear view of the famous goal from his place on the ice. But even if the pass failed and sent the Blues the other way, Orr’s extraordinary skating ability would have allowed him to get back in time to help prevent a scoring chance. 

“What’s the primary fundamental in hockey? It’s skating,” Westfall said. “He was one of the greatest skaters I ever saw. Not only for speed, but for power and ability to be able to think as quick as you’re moving. That’s the hard for a lot of us was if I could move that fast would my brain be able to keep up? Probably not.”

Don Awrey doesn’t have a presence in any of the two famous photographs of Orr’s Cup-winning goal. The 26-year-old stay-at-home defenseman was afraid of getting caught up ice, so he focused on his defensive responsibilities and let Orr work his magic all over the ice.

“I’m not in that picture. I’m back in my position that I should have been,” Awrey said “I was back there. Bobby was out of position, but thank goodness he was out of position.”

The self-described “most defensive defenseman there ever was” knew his role and played it well. So when Sinden started the overtime in hopes of keeping the Blues’ quiet offensively, Awrey was the perfect guy to have out there.

“You didn’t start me to score the winning goal,” he joked.

The pairing of Awrey and Orr was a perfect one. They complemented one another, and Awrey quickly got used to seeing Orr out of position all over the ice.

“I knew he had [No. 4] on his back because that’s all I saw,” said Awrey, who’s worked as an off-ice official tracking shots for last 20 years with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades. “He was up the ice all the time. All I did was see No. 4 go whizzing by me. Sometimes he’d pass me between me and the boards on my side of the ice.”

To Awrey, Orr was the best hockey player he ever played with, and Awrey was a member of Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team and the 1975-76 Cup winning Montreal Canadiens. As the rest of the NHL discovered Orr’s skating ability, hockey sense and knowledge of the game was second to none.

Forty-nine years after that series, Awrey’s memories isn’t what it used to be, but it’s impossible to forget “The Goal.”

“I would have liked to have scored the winning goal, then I would have had all those accolades that Bobby got,” Awrey joked. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Surging Sabres not fearing repeat of last year’s collapse

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a new coach, an influx of talent and this being a new season, Jack Eichel doesn’t buy into fears the hot-starting Buffalo Sabres are due for a familiar collapse.

Nine games in, the Sabres are leading the Eastern Conference with a 7-1-1 record to match their best start since 2009-10. And yet, it’s difficult to forget what happened last year, when Buffalo was leading the NHL with a 17-6-2 record following a 10-game winning streak before proceeding to win just 16 of its final 57 games.

”I think we’ve grown up a little bit,” Eichel said Tuesday before the Sabres hosted the San Jose Sharks. ”I don’t think we’re guarded at all. I think you can learn a lot from last year, but I don’t think we’re worried about that as much as just trying to be a good hockey team every night.”

Aside from returning players being a year older, the Sabres captain credited first-year coach Ralph Krueger for introducing an upbeat message and simplified system to a team that struggled during Phil Housley’s two-year tenure.

”I think it’s enjoyable to come to the rink every day with the environment that’s been created right now,” Eichel said.

”Yeah, winning takes care of a lot of stuff, there’s no way to sugarcoat that,” he added. ”But I think the overall environment’s been a good one this year. I think guys feel a little bit more relaxed. It’s not as high strung.”

The 60-year-old Krueger in many ways is Housley’s polar opposite. Where Housley demanded the Sabres play a complex positional system, Krueger wants his players to play a more up-tempo, free-wheeling style.

Though Housley is a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and was a first-time coach, Krueger brings with him an array of worldly experience. His resume includes coaching Switzerland’s national team, the Edmonton Oilers and spending the previous five years running soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

Krueger was hired in May, and became Buffalo’s fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired a month into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and takes over a team in the midst of an eight-season playoff drought – the NHL’s longest active streak.

General manager Jason Botterill is impressed with what he’s seen from a team that has so far handled adversity. After opening a three-game California road trip with a 5-2 loss to Anaheim, the Sabres responded with wins against Los Angeles and San Jose.

”I think Ralph has come with a clear message of what he’s looking for from our players,” Botterill said. ”And I think our players have been very open to receiving that message.”

The Sabres are benefiting from a balanced offensive attack, in which seven players have scored three or more goals. Their power play is leading the league with 11 goals, six coming from rookie Victor Olofsson. And Buffalo’s goaltending has been sound, with veteran Carter Hutton enjoying a two-game shutout streak.

Though realizing the season is still young, Krueger referred to the Sabres’ successful start as validating the plan he and his staff implemented this summer.

”It definitely as a coach helps when you have confirmation. Nothing ever replaces winning in sports,” Krueger said. ”And we know the opposition will have more and more respect for us as we go on here, and we will need to be better every day to continue having success.”

ZACH SCRATCHED

Botterill dismissed fears of Zach Bogosian missing the entire season, though he didn’t have a timetable regarding when the veteran defenseman will return after having hip surgery in April. Bogosian has been skating on his own the past two weeks.

”It’s difficult for him right now because he wants to be back,” Botterill said. ”But it’s also imperative for him for not only us this year but his career long-term that we get this right.”

D-DEPTH

Botterill isn’t concerned about a potentially crowded blue line once Brandon Montour returns from a hand injury sustained last month. The Sabres are currently carrying seven defensemen and have already informed Henri Jokiharju he’s not going anywhere even though he’s the only defenseman who doesn’t have to clear waivers in being demoted to the minors.

Calling it a ”great problem” to have, Botterill said he still has time to decide. He also explained the team’s depth at defense will be tested with Buffalo set to play 11 games in 19 days next month.

Max Domi continues to excel in year two with Habs

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When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes in the summer of 2018, they were landing a player that had nine goals and 38 and 45 points in his two previous seasons. But in his first year as a Hab, he took his game to another level. He finished the season with a career-high 28 goals and 72 points in 82 games while playing down the middle. What does he do for an encore in year two?

Usually, the leading scorer on a team will get to play with some of the better players on the roster, but Domi’s in a bit of a unique spot. Montreal’s “first” line is made up of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, who have played together since last season. They’re a very effective line and head coach Claude Julien likes having them together.

The “third” line is made up of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia (when healthy) and Jonathan Drouin, who spent a considerable amount of time playing with Domi last year (they weren’t overly effective together). So that doesn’t leave many options for the 24-year-old, who opened the season with offensively-challenged winger Artturi Lehkonen and rookie Nick Suzuki.

Lehkonen is a responsible winger while Suzuki struggled to get his footing early on. Paul Byron, Drouin and Jordan Weal have all spent time on that “second” line at five-on-five. Now that Suzuki has started producing on a different line, Julien is promoting him back to Domi’s line ahead of Thursday’s game against the San Jose Sharks. How have the rotating players affected Domi’s on-ice performance in 2019-20? It hasn’t affected him negatively at all.

As of right now, he’s picked up three goals and nine points in nine games. He has a CF% of 56.36, a SCF% of 57.14, a HDCF% of 63.41 and a very reasonable PDO of .994.

The Habs forward has also contributed to an improving Montreal power play that ranked 30th last season. He’s currently tied for the team lead in power-play points, with four. This is a Canadiens team that missed the playoffs by three points last year. If they can continue to get solid production from their special teams unit, that could be the difference between staying home in April and making it to the postseason.

[MORE: Q&A: Max Domi on the pressure in Montreal, getting Canadiens back to playoffs]

The once controversial trade of Domi for Alex Galchenyuk is no longer being questioned in Montreal. Domi has been so much better and healthier than Galchenyuk that this has become one of the biggest steals of general manager Marc Bergevin’s tenure with the Canadiens.

What makes his time in Montreal even more impressive is that he’s putting up these numbers while transitioning from wing to center. Yes, he struggled with defensive-zone coverage at times last year and he won just 44.9 percent of his face-offs, but those are two things that should improve as he gains experience. We’ll see if he can keep it up, but he’s already winning 50 percent of his draws through nine games.

If he had 72 points last year and he continues to improve, it’s fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. Can he become a point-per-game player on a yearly basis? That’s entirely possible. Another interesting storyline to follow will be his next contract (he’s going to be a restricted free agent at the end of the year). When he was acquired by Montreal, he signed a two-year bridge deal worth $3.150 million per year. If he builds on last season’s numbers and stays healthy, it’s entirely possible that he could fetch upwards of $7 million or $8 million annually on a long-term deal.

Whatever the price ends up being, Bergevin will probably be happy to pay it given how well this trade has turned out for an organization that has been dying for a talented center like Domi for more than decade.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Penguins, Lightning on two different paths

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As two of the NHL’s best teams over the past five years there is always a championship expectation for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning. With both coming off of similarly disappointing postseason exits in 2019 (combined postseasons win between the two teams: zero) there was no doubt plenty of additional pressure on both teams at the start of this season.

For the Penguins, it is about regaining the identity that helped make them a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion and trying to maximize the remaining window they have in the careers of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. You only get players of that caliber for so long, and you owe it to them — and the franchise — to put them in the best possible situation to win. Anytime you do not win, and especially when you lose like they did to the New York Islanders, it is going to feel like a missed opportunity.

For the Lightning, it is about shaking the bad memories of so many recent postseason disappointments and finally breaking through with a championship for what is probably the league’s most talented roster on paper. After blowing 3-2 series leads in two different Eastern Conference Finals, as well as a 2-1 series lead in a Stanley Cup Final, the 2018-19 season seemed like it was finally going to be the year for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman as they rolled through a 62-win regular season. What followed was the most disappointing of their postseason shortcomings, losing four consecutive games to the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.

[COVERAGE OF LIGHTNING-PENGUINS BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

So far this season the two teams have been on slightly different paths in their quest to reach the top, even if there isn’t much difference in their overall records.

The Penguins entered the season with several questions, ranging from the state of their defense, to their forward depth, to how the power play would look without Phil Kessel following his offseason trade to Arizona. As if that wasn’t enough, the team has been dealt a brutal hand with early injuries as Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Jared McCann, and Brian Dumoulin have all been sidelined for a total of 38 man-games due to injury. Despite that, they have not only managed to win the majority of their games, they have carried the play more often than not, even in defeat. Even their two most recent losses (Vegas and Florida) probably had more to do with some bad puck luck than bad play.

They are playing smart, they are limiting odd-man rushes against, they are playing sound defensively, and they have received strong goaltending from the duo of Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry. Add in more dominance from Crosby and they are keeping pace with the rest of the top teams in the Eastern Conference with a lineup that has been pieced together through call-ups.

There is an argument to be made that they have probably overachieved given the circumstances.

It’s been a slightly difference experience so far for the Lightning.

Other than Brayden Point, who missed the first three games of the season as he continued to recover from offseason hip surgery, they have been 100 percent healthy from the start and have had the roster they have wanted to have at their disposal. Despite that, neither the results nor the process are what they want to be.

Entering Wednesday’s game they have won just four of their first eight games and they are probably fortunate to have won as many as they have. At times they have looked like a fraction of the team that dominated the regular season a year ago. In one early game against Carolina they recorded just three shots on goal over more than 40 minutes of hockey. In another, they were dominated by an Ottawa team that has just one win on the season (the win against the Lightning).

Overall there is nothing about their performance that is close to being up to their level of expectation.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has struggled in goal, their penalty kill is among the worst in the league, and their overall 5-on-5 performance has at times just simply been bad. Entering play on Tuesday they are 26th in the league in shot attempt percentage and 24th in scoring differential, both signs that they are not yet carrying the play in those situations. Given the roster they are returning it has been a rather underwhelming start.

Wednesday seems like a great opportunity to get things trending back in the right direction.

They are rested, they are at home, and they are playing a banged up, tired Penguins team that just dropped a 4-2 decision on Tuesday night against Florida.

It is still too early to be too worried, but at some point they would probably like to start playing closer to their level of expectation. Everything is set up for them to start getting there on Wednesday. If they can not take advantage of the situation in front of them it might be another red flag in a start that has already had too many of them.

NBC Sports will showcase a group of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that are being recognized by the Tampa Bay Lightning in pre-game ceremonies as part of its Wednesday Night Hockey coverage. Jeremy Roenick will interview Medal of Honor recipients during pre-game and game coverage on Wednesday night, and NHL Live will air a feature with interviews of both current Lightning players and Medal of Honor recipients.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Jeremy Roenick will report on-site from Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Penguins-Lightning.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Sabres’ hot start; Coaches on hot seat

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Matt Dumba and Haydn Fleury got a tattoo to honor a friend that committed suicide. (NHL.com)

• Players and coaches deserve credit for the Buffalo Sabres hot start. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Former NHLer Chris Joseph is still fighting for the victims of the Humboldt bus crash. (The Hockey News)

Ryan O'Reilly will need to be more selfish if he wants to find the back of the net more often. (In the Slot)

• Seattle hockey fans will have to pay a high price to watch their team play in person. (Seattle Times)

• Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog sat down for a Q & A with ESPN.com. (ESPN)

Patrick Kane believes, Kirby Dach and Dylan Strome can build chemistry together. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent Nicklas Backstrom still feels young. (Nova Caps Fans)

• Sam Gagner is still trying to stick in the NHL. (Sportsnet)

• Canadian NHL markets have seen their attendance numbers drop early on this season. (Sporting News)

• How long can the Penguins continue playing the way they’re currently playing and how will they integrate their injured players back into the lineup? (Pensburgh)

• Jets head coach Paul Maurice admitted that he steals from each one of the coaches in the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Here’s how the zamboni changed the game for ice rinks all over the world. (Smothsonianmag.com)

• Which coaches are on the hot seat right now? (Scotty Wazz)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.