The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL this season. Both were put in the East Division, while the Chicago Blackhawks moved into the West Division. The season was extended to 78 games and the playoff format was changed. After the first round, there was interdivisional competition in the playoffs.
Led by Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr, the Boston Bruins had a record-shattering offense. The Bruins scored a record 399 goals and also set records with 57 victories and 121 points. Esposito set records with 76 goals and 152 points and Orr set another NHL record with his 102 assists. Four Bruins, Esposito, Orr, John Bucyk and Ken Hodge, were the league's top scorers.
For the second year in a row, Orr won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. However, Esposito was the first winner of the Lester B. Pearson Award, given to the league's outstanding player as selected by members of the NHL Players' Association.
The Montreal Canadiens were third in the East Division, behind the Bruins and the New York Rangers. For the playoffs, Coach Al McNeil decided to use a young goaltender, Ken Dryden, who had played in only six regular-season games. Dryden was sensational in Montreal's seven-game win over the Bruins in the first round.
The Canadiens then eliminated the Minnesota North Stars in six games and came up against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. The Blackhawks had finished in first place in their first season in the West Division. After sweeping Philadelphia in the first round, Chicago won a tough seven-game series against the New York Rangers.
The Blackhawks won the first two games at home and the Canadiens responded with two home victories. Then each team won again at home, bringing the series back to Chicago for the deciding contest. Henri Richard, who had been benched earlier in the series, scored two of Montreal's four goals, including the game- and series-winner at 2:34 of the third period. But Dryden won the Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.