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1971–72 NHL season

1971–72 NHL season
League National Hockey League
Sport Ice hockey
Duration October 8, 1971 – May 11, 1972
Number of games 78
Number of teams 14
Regular season
Season champions Boston Bruins
Season MVP Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins)
Top scorer Phil Esposito (Boston Bruins)
Playoffs MVP Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins)
Stanley Cup
Champions Boston Bruins
  Runners-up New York Rangers

The 1971–72 NHL season was the 55th season of the National Hockey League. Fourteen teams each played 78 games. The Boston Bruins beat the New York Rangers four games to two for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons in the finals.


  • Regular season 1
    • Final standings 1.1
  • Playoffs 2
    • Format change 2.1
    • Playoff bracket 2.2
    • Quarterfinals 2.3
      • (E1) Boston Bruins vs. (E4) Toronto Maple Leafs 2.3.1
      • (W2) Minnesota North Stars vs. (W3) St. Louis Blues 2.3.2
      • (W1) Chicago Black Hawks vs. (W4) Pittsburgh Penguins 2.3.3
      • (E2) New York Rangers vs. (E3) Montreal Canadiens 2.3.4
    • Semifinals 2.4
      • (E1) Boston Bruins vs. (W3) St. Louis Blues 2.4.1
      • (W1) Chicago Black Hawks vs. (E2) New York Rangers 2.4.2
    • Final 2.5
  • Awards 3

Regular season

Among notable first year players this season were Montreal's Guy Lafleur, who despite scoring 29 goals was felt lacking in comparison to newly retired superstar Jean Beliveau by the Canadiens' faithful; Buffalo's Rick Martin, who set a new record for goals by a rookie with 44; Gilles Meloche, goaltender for the California Golden Seals who acquired him from Chicago; and Ken Dryden, the sensational new goalie for the Canadiens, who despite winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP the previous season was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year, on the grounds that he had only played six prior regular season games.

43-year-old Gump Worsley, left unprotected (and unclaimed) in the waiver draft by the Minnesota North Stars, led the league with a 2.12 goals against average. Less fortunately, Philadelphia goaltender Bruce Gamble suffered a heart attack during a 3–1 win in Vancouver in February and was forced to retire from hockey.

In what was widely seen as a preemptive move to help forestall the incipient World Hockey Association, the NHL announced that Atlanta and Long Island had been granted expansion franchises to begin play in the 1972–73 season. The bids had been hastily put together in comparison with the 1967 and 1970 expansions.

Milestones this season included Gerry Cheevers setting an NHL record for the Boston Bruins (which has yet to be surpassed) with 33 straight undefeated games. On February 12, it was Gordie Howe Day in Detroit as his famous #9 was retired. On March 25, Bobby Hull scored his 600th NHL goal in a 5–5 tie with Boston at the Boston Garden.

An exciting scoring race in which Ranger Jean Ratelle had been leading Bruin Phil Esposito was shortcircuited when Ratelle broke his ankle in a game against California, putting him out for over a month of play. Ratelle still ended up third in scoring behind Esposito and Bruin Bobby Orr, while his teammates Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert - all three linemates on the renowned GAG line—finished fourth and fifth. A resurgent Frank Mahovlich, rejuvenated by a trade to Montreal, finished sixth, while Bobby Hull, in his final year in Chicago, finished seventh in points and second to Esposito in goals.

Although they had fallen somewhat from their overwhelming offensive dominance from the previous season, once again the Boston Bruins had the best record in the league, while the Chicago Black Hawks topped the West Division.

Final standings


Format change

In response to the prior year when the Minnesota North Stars appeared to purposely lose games to finish fourth instead of third and avoid a tougher matchup with first-place Chicago, the first round matchups were changed so that the first-place team played the fourth-place team and second played third. Previously, the first-place team played the third-place team and the second-place team played the fourth-place team.

In addition, a change was made to the way the semi-final matchups were determined as well. Instead of having the winner of the series between the first and third-place Eastern division teams play the winner of the second and fourth-place Western division teams and the winner of the first versus third-place Western division teams against the winner of the second and fourth-place Eastern division teams, the semi final would pit the highest remaining seed in the Eastern division play the lowest remaining seed from the West and vice versa.

Despite injuries to several key players, notably leading scorer Jean Ratelle, the New York Rangers beat the defending champions Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, with strong play from unheralded players such as Walt Tkaczuk. The Rangers went on the sweep the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight games during the semi-final. Chicago had beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins in four straight games.

Boston easily handled the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games, facing a St. Louis Blues team that had eked out a hard-fought seven game victory against the North Stars in the quarter-final. The powerful Bruins set a record for the most goals in a four-game series by pounding the Blues 28–8 over a four-game sweep.

Playoff bracket

Quarter-finals Semi-finals Stanley Cup Final
E1 Boston Bruins 4
E4 Toronto Maple Leafs 1
E1 Boston Bruins 4
W3 St. Louis Blues 0
W2 Minnesota North Stars 3
W3 St. Louis Blues 4
E1 Boston Bruins 4
E2 New York Rangers 2
W1 Chicago Black Hawks 4
W4 Pittsburgh Penguins 0
W1 Chicago Black Hawks 0
E2 New York Rangers 4
E2 New York Rangers 4
E3 Montreal Canadiens 2


(E1) Boston Bruins vs. (E4) Toronto Maple Leafs

Boston won series 4-1

(W2) Minnesota North Stars vs. (W3) St. Louis Blues

St. Louis won series 4-3

(W1) Chicago Black Hawks vs. (W4) Pittsburgh Penguins

Chicago won series 4-0

(E2) New York Rangers vs. (E3) Montreal Canadiens

New York won series 4-2


(E1) Boston Bruins vs. (W3) St. Louis Blues

Boston won series 4-0

(W1) Chicago Black Hawks vs. (E2) New York Rangers

New York won series 4-0


Boston won series 4-2


1972 NHL awards
Prince of Wales Trophy:
(East Division champion)
Boston Bruins
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl:
(West Division champion)
Chicago Black Hawks
Art Ross Trophy:
(Top scorer, regular season)
Phil Esposito, Boston Bruins
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy:
(Perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication)
Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
Calder Memorial Trophy:
(Top first-year player)
Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens
Conn Smythe Trophy:
(Most valuable player, playoffs)
Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins
Hart Memorial Trophy:
(Most valuable player, regular season)
Bobby Orr, Boston Bruins
James Norris Memorial Trophy:
(Best defenceman)
Bobby Orr,
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