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The day Bobby Orr flew into history

The Lightning's Phil Esposito and the son of the photographer who captured the iconic moment reflect on the past.

Phil Esposito looked at the old photo.

"What do you think of when you see this?" he was asked.

"Elation," he said. "Happiness."

Then the backstory, and with Esposito there is always the backstory.

"And I fell over the bench trying to get over (the boards) so quickly," Esposito said. "I almost killed myself."

It was before Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Lightning and the Bruins and Esposito, one of the most popular players in Bruins' history, Lightning founder and current Lightning radio analyst, was looking at one of the most famous hockey photos of all time: Bobby Orr flying through the air after scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 4 of the 1970 final against the Blues at the old Boston Garden.

Orr was tripped by Blues defenseman Noel Picard as the puck passed between the legs of goalie Glenn Hall.

With his arms extended beyond his head, Orr flew into hockey history thanks to Ray Lussier, a photographer for the Boston Record American, who played a hunch and was stationed at the right spot at the right time.

"My dad was really, really proud," said Ray's son, Randy.

• • •

It is known across New England as the Flying Goal or the Flying Bobby.

It was scored by No. 4 in the fourth period of the fourth game. It was the Bruins' fourth goal that day. Orr was tripped by Picard, who also wore No. 4.

"Probably every hockey fan from Boston has one of those framed in their house," Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. "I know I did, for sure."
Grzelcyk grew up in Charlestown, Mass., which is separated from Boston by the Charles River. His dad, John, and his older brother, John, work at TD Garden.

He has heard all the stories of the old Garden. It was cramped. It was hot. It was the place to be when Orr and Esposito played there in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Grzelcyk has never met Orr. He would like to.

On the morning of Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, Grzelcyk was handed an image of Orr frozen above the ice.

He smiled.

"Is this the iconic Boston Bruins photo?" he was asked.

"A hundred percent," he said. "I think everyone knows that, and they have the statue of it outside the Garden. I think when everybody thinks of the Boston Bruins, I think the first one everyone thinks about is Bobby Orr."

• • •

It happened May 10, 1970. It was Mother's Day.

The Bruins, who led the series 3-0, and the Blues headed to overtime tied at 3.

Ray Lussier was assigned a spot that afternoon near the glass behind the goal that the Blues would shoot at in overtime. But he knew the real story and the real photos would come at the other end if the Bruins scored to clinch the Cup. So he moved across the rink and found a spot along the glass vacated by a Boston Globe photographer.

A debate raged, meanwhile, inside the Bruins' dressing room between Esposito and Derek Sanderson as to who would get the winning goal.

"I said, 'If we start (the period), don't worry, Derek, you're not going to get a shift,' " Esposito said. "He said, 'We're going to start, and we're going to score, too.' I said, 'Like (heck) you are, because we're going to get it. Hodgie or I or Cashmere are going to start and one of us are going to get the goal.' "

Esposito and his linemates, Ken Hodges and Wayne Cashman, did not start. Bruins coach Harry Sinden went with Sanderson's line, because he wanted them on Red Berenson of the Blues. Berenson once scored six goals in a game. Sinden wanted to keep Esposito's line away from Berenson.

The Bruins won the faceoff. Orr gained control of the puck inside the blue line near the right faceoff circle. He sent it to Sanderson, who was behind the net.

Orr headed toward the goal. Sanderson fed Orr the puck.

It all happened in a blur as most game-winning goals do in overtime.

Orr scored, was tripped by Picard's stick and flew through the air with his arms extended.

When he landed and slid to a stop, Orr was mobbed by almost all of his teammates. Remember, Esposito fell trying to get over the boards.

"I almost killed myself," Esposito said. "I almost fell flat on my face, I swear. I went to jump over. I got so excited and my foot caught, and I went right down. That's why I was late for the party."

Esposito remembered Hodge tried to pick him up.

"He sees me fall and then he goes to grab me. Know that's the worst thing, because if I got up I could have been at the party quicker," Esposito said. "I missed it by about five seconds.".

• • •

Lussier, who had a motor drive on his Nikon camera, snapped away.

The Globe photographer, who left his post during the intermission to get a drink (soda or beer, depending on which version of the story is told), returned shortly after Orr scored.

He told Lussier to get out of his seat. Lussier told him he got what he needed and hustled back to the newspaper to run his film.

Lussier discovered in one-three frame sequence that he caught Orr shooting, Orr being tripped and Orr flying.

The paper printed the one of Orr flying across two pages.

In an instant, Lussier's shot became the most famous photo in New England.

It still is.

"People who know hockey know that photo for sure," Randy Lussier said. "You go into most of the bars in Boston, you see that photo on the wall."

Ray Lussier was forever linked with Orr. The two formed a friendship, with Orr giving Lussier autographed pucks and sticks for his children.

"I got a hockey stick from Bobby Orr that was signed and everything," Randy Lussier said. "I had it up on my wall for a little while. I broke my stick, so I got that one, played with it and broke it and tossed it in the woods.

"We were just kids. We didn't know the value of them. How many kids can say they played with a stick signed by Bobby Orr?"

• • •

In 2010, an 800-pound bronze statue of a flying Orr as captured by Lussier was unveiled outside TD Garden. It is a popular meeting spot for fans before events at the arena.

"Meet you at the Flying Bobby."

Couples have been married next to that statue. Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, from Royal Oak, Mich., idolizes Orr. He had his picture taken in front of the statue.

Ray Lussier, who died of a heart attack at age 59, did not live long enough to see his picture turned to bronze.

"If Dad were alive today he'd probably be camping out next to that statue," Randy said, "because that is the most unbelievable tribute to Bobby and the photographer."

The Flying Bobby.

The Flying Goal.

"It seems to be one of the best and most iconic photos in hockey," Esposito said. "Deservedly so, because it was Bobby."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.

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