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 needed 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.”

————

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.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.