50 years ago this week, an elbow knocked out Bobby Orr and stoked Bruins-Leafs forever

A Hockey Hall of Famer put No. 4's lights out at Boston Garden, nearly sparking a riot.

Bobby Orr, Bruins 1969
Bobby Orr lies dazed after being felled by an elbow from Toronto's Pat Quinn at Boston Garden on April 2, 1969. –AP Photo

Tuesday night formalized what’s been presumed for weeks. The Toronto Maple Leafs lost at home to Carolina and the Bruins won big in Columbus, meaning Boston will have home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 playoff series between the Original Six rivals that was itself locked in on Monday. The Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 10, though at least one report says the Bruins’ series will begin the following night on Saturday.

It will be the 16th playoff series between Boston and Toronto, and the third first-round meeting between the two in the past seven years. You’ve likely not forgotten the prior two, given both went seven games and ended legendarily for the home team. In 2013, Boston erased a 4-1 deficit in the final 11 minutes of regulation, scoring twice with the goalie pulled in the final 90 seconds, before Patrice Bergeron won it in overtime. Last season, Toronto forced a Game 7 after trailing the series three games to one, but Boston scored four times in the third period to win again.

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Toronto was similarly dominant in the early days, winning eight of the first 10 playoff meetings, though Boston beat the Leafs on the way to its first Stanley Cup titles in 1939 and 1941. After losing Game 7 of the 1959 semifinals at Boston Garden, however, the Bruins sunk to the bottom of the six-team NHL. Out of the playoffs for eight straight years, it was the arrival of Bobby Orr in 1966 that finally stemmed the tide.

Swept by the Canadiens to end Orr’s second year in 1967-68, Boston was the expanded league’s second-best team in 1968-69, drawing Toronto in a quarterfinal series it opened with 10-0 and 7-0 victories. Those games, played April 2 and April 3, 1969, though, were no forgettable blowout.

What happened in the first one lingered for years, and that doesn’t even include the suspension that ultimately ended a 600-game NHL career.

The Bruins led 6-0 with two minutes to go in the second period when Pat Quinn, a future Hall of Famer and three-decade NHL coach — but then just a rookie defensemen — lined up Orr near the boards and leveled him with what contemporary reports called an elbow, but what he maintained for the rest of his life was a shoulder. The two, according to a National Post commemoration, had fought in the regular-season finale between the teams just two weeks prior, a game the Bruins also dominated.

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“You knew all about Orr and what he was capable of. The only place to stop him was the offensive blue line,” Quinn, who died in 2014, told the Toronto Sun in 1999. “Brit Selby did a good job for us angling Orr to the right side. I saw he had his head down and took a run at him. You expect an athlete of that caliber to be able to get out of the way. Maybe he didn’t see me, maybe it was because he had no room. I got him with my shoulder and followed through.”

Orr was aided from the ice and ultimately spent the night at Mass General Hospital. Initial concerns about a broken neck were unfounded, though the hit gave him his only documented concussion.

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Quinn, however, had to stay at the Garden, and in the game. He fought off fans, as well as — he told the Sun — Boston Police, who were more concerned with him than the frothing masses, his stick shattering penalty-box glass while he served his major penalty.

Meanwhile, the Bruins kept scoring and the penalties kept piling. Finally, Toronto’s Forbes Kennedy had enough. To hear him tell it, the 5-foot-8 center and former Bruin went after Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers for a slash with about four minutes to go and got swarmed by both players and fans. He would ultimately collect eight penalties, including four minors, two fighting majors, a pair of misconducts and a 4-game suspension when, in the frenzy, Kennedy flattened linesman George Ashley.

The suspension covered the rest of the series, which Boston swept with a pair of one-goal wins in Ontario before losing in six games to Montreal, three of those losses coming in overtime. Kennedy, according to his recounting, had a pair of knee surgeries that summer and never played again.

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“It is equally obvious that the Maple Leafs were a parody of a major league club,” roared the Globe on the morning of April 3. “Since they were outplayed in such essentials as shooting, passing and skating, the Leafs resorted to the last refuge of the humiliated.”

Orr didn’t miss a game, assisting on the first goal of Game 2 the following night. Asked years later about the legality of the hit, he said, “Well, he got a penalty. He did come from the other side.”

Boston was on the way up, winning two of the next three Stanley Cups and appearing in five of nine Finals. Toronto, meanwhile, hasn’t so much as played in a Final since winning it 1966-67, a drought of more than 50 years the Bruins hope to formally extend starting next week.