The teams had consummated a trade earlier in the day, with the B’s sending right-winger Reggie Leach and defensemen Rick Smith and Bob Stewart to the Seals in exchange for D-man Carol Vadnais and forward Don O’Donoghue, and all would be playing for their new teams in the contest.
It didn’t start well for Boston, as the Seals would get 2 scores from defenseman Dick Redmond in the first period before left-winger Fred Stanfield put the Bruins on the board with a goal late in the period. With 8 seconds remaining in the opening frame though, California would go back up by 2 scores on a Gary Croteau goal assisted by none other than just traded Leach, to lead 3-1 going into the first intermission.
In the 2nd period, the Seals picked up right where they left off, as erstwhile Bruin winger Wayne Carleton lit the lamp four minutes in, while Croteau netted his 2nd 3 ½ minutes later to give the Golden boys a commanding 5-1 cushion. Winger Craig Patrick then scored for the Seals just over a minute later, and just like that, the B’s were in a 6-1 hole. No National Hockey League team had ever overcome such a deficit, but if any team could have given it a shot, it was Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins.
Orr had been silent in the scoring department thus far, but it was only a matter of time before the greatest defenseman of all time would get his licks in. With 14 ½ minutes gone in the 2nd, Wayne Cashman picked up a garbage goal off a Bobby Orr shot, skating across the front of the net on his backhand and stuffing it through the five-hole of netminder Gilles Meloche to start the rally; the Bruins were down 6-2.
Number 4 then figured in another tally, as he assisted on Stanfield’s 2nd goal of the game. Stanny received a zig zag pass from Orr right before the offensive blue line, skated up to the left face off dot, and put one far-side past Meloche with 2:45 left in the 2nd. The siren wailed for the end of the period, with the score now 6-3 Seals.
The Bruins would get some luck, as early in the 3rd Fred Stanfield got a penalty shot opportunity, but Meloche denied him the hat trick with a great glove save, which kept the lead for California at 3. Bobby Orr picked up the slack, as he took a wicked slapshot on a one-timer from Ed Westfall that beat the net minder near the left post shortside with 2:25 gone, and the lead for the Seals was now 2, at 6-4.
3 minutes later Stanfield would complete the first hat trick of his career, a near mirror of his previous goal. Bobby Orr passed diagonally from his own blue line, leading Freddy with the puck, who caught it before the offensive blue line, skated over the left dot and across the net on his backhand, and stuffed one past the rattled Meloche to make it 6-5. There weren’t many hats thrown in his honor in the now restless coliseum, but he did get to keep the puck as a souvenir for his triple-dip.
Time was getting short for the Bruins, as the score stayed the same for the next 9 minutes. With 4 ½ minutes to play, Boston got a 2 on 1 rush, with center Phil Esposito trailing the play but picking up a head of steam and receiving a one-timer from Westfall that he put away past Meloche to tie the game at 6! Esposito wasn’t done, 2:40 later he tipped in a snapshot from Cashman for his 54th goal of the season, as the Bruins took an unlikely lead, 7-6!
The Seals had to be shell-shocked at this point, and with under 3 minutes left to go they would have to pull their goalie for the extra skater. Derek Sanderson would add insult to injury, getting a rebound on his own shot that was blocked, and putting one in the empty net to cap the night’s scoring with 14 seconds left.
The 8-6 victory was one of the many highlights of the great 1971-72 campaign for the Bruins, who ended it with a 4 games to 2 Finals victory over the New York Rangers for their 2nd Stanley Cup in 3 seasons. No NHL team had come back from 5 goals down to win before, and every Boston fan who stayed up late back east for the game and didn’t give up watching half way through saw one of the most electrifying comebacks in hockey history.