It has been 50 years since the formation of the Philadelphia Flyers. In this series, we look back at the proud history of a team that has become synonymous with Philadelphia.
The Cup Years
The Flyers finished the 1973-74 season with the second best record in the league behind only the Boston Bruins. They swept the Atlanta Flames in the first round of the playoffs and in the second round, they faced an original six member and for the first time defeated them in a playoff series, beating the New York Rangers in seven games. In the Stanley Cup Finals, they would be facing the Boston Bruins. For the first time in the playoffs, Philadelphia would not have home ice advantage.
When you look at the fact that the home team won all seven games in the previous series against the Rangers, this was pretty significant. The Flyers also hadn’t won a game at Boston Garden since the very first time they had played there way back in the 1967-68 season. So the Flyers were considered the underdog going in to this series.
The Flyers lost Game 1 of the series on a last minute goal by Bobby Orr. Game 2 also got off on a sour note when the team fell behind 2-0. It seemed as though the Flyers woes at the Boston Garden would continue, but they clawed their way back into that game. First cutting the deficit to 2-1 on a goal by Bobby Clarke, and then tying it in the last minute of the game on a goal by Andre “Moose” Dupont. The game went in to overtime and Clarke scored what is still the biggest goal in team history to win the game 3-2 for the Flyers and giving them their win in Boston. It was called “The goal heard round the world” because of Gene Hart‘s thrilling call of it.
The Flyers came back to the Spectrum and won Games 3 and 4 to go up three games to one in the series. Game 5 returned to Boston where the Bruins won handily 5-1. The series returned to the Spectrum for Game 6.
It was real simple: the Flyers pretty much had to win Game 6. If they had lost and the series had returned to Boston for a Game 7, no one in their right mind would have given Philadelphia much, if any chance at all to win a Game 7 in Boston. The Flyers took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Rick MacLeish and goaltender Bernie Parent made the lead stand. No one will forget Gene Hart’s epic call of the final seconds of that game.The Flyers had become the first NHL expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, doing it in only seven years. At the time it was the fastest any expansion team in any sport had won a championship.
People around the hockey world thought the Flyers first Cup win was a fluke, but they were out to prove otherwise. The Flyers cruised through the regular season in 1974-75 and were the number one seed in the playoffs, where they swept the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. They won the first three games against the New York Islanders in the second round only to see the Islanders win the next three games to force a Game 7.
The Flyers rolled out Kate Smith for Game 7 for one of her most memorable performances. The Spectrum crowd sang “God Bless America” along with Smith with such fervor that they almost drowned her out. The Flyers won Game 7 in dominant fashion to earn their second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flyers opponent this time around was the Buffalo Sabers featuring the French Connection Line. The Flyers won the first two games in Philadelphia fairly easily. The series then shifted to Buffalo for Game 3 in what turned out to be one of the most bizarre games in club history. The Aud in Buffalo was one of the oldest buildings in the league and didn’t have air conditioning. It was an unusually warm and humid day in Buffalo. As a result, fog started to rise up from the ice. For those who might not have been around at the time or never saw the highlights it was very similar to what happened to the Eagles in their playoff game in Chicago known as the Fog Bowl. The game also featured a bat flying out onto the ice only to be knocked out of the air by one of the Sabers and carried off the ice by the Flyer Rick MacLeish.
The Flyers lost both Games 3 and 4 in Buffalo leaving the series tied at two games a piece. The Flyers won Game 5 convincingly back in Philadelphia 5-1 and they were on the verge of winning their second straight Stanley Cup. It was the Flyers grinders who came up big in this game. Bob Kelly and Bill Clement scored for Philadelphia and Parent was stellar in net yet again shutting out the Sabers 2-0. The Flyers had proven that 1974 was no fluke.
Hat Trick in 1976
After two straight Stanley Cup victories, the Flyers were now setting out to become a dynasty. The 1975-76 Flyers might have been even better than the two cup winning teams. They finished the season with 119 points and they only lost two games at home all year. Their was only one problem: the Montreal Canadians had grown in to an absolute powerhouse. They finished the year with a whopping 127 points. They only lost one home game all year. The team was loaded with future Hall of Famers like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Larry Robinson. The Flyers and Canadians wound up meeting in what should have been a Stanley Cup Final for the ages. The only problem was the Flyers were severely banged up heading in to the series.
Two time Conn Smythe winning goaltender Bernie Parent was out with a knee injury. The Flyers were also without goal scorer Rick MacLeish, All Star defenseman Jimmy Watson and forward Orest Kindrachuk. The Canadians won the series in a 4-0 sweep but, three of the four games were decided by one goal and the fourth was decided by two. One wonders what could have been if the Flyers had a healthy line up against the Canadians.
The Highlight of the 1976 season was the game against the Soviet Red Army team. The Red Army team had torn through the league not losing to an NHL team. Even the mighty Canadians had only managed a 2-2 tie. The Flyers were the last hope for the NHL and it was probably the one and only time that everyone in the U.S. and Canada were rooting for the hated Broad Street Bullies.
During a scoreless first period, Flyers defenseman Ed Van Impe delivered a clean hit on Russian forward Valeri Kharlamov. The Russians felt a penalty should have been called on the play. When one wasn’t, the Russians decided to leave the ice and return to their locker room. With that Flyers owner Ed Snider stormed out of his owners box and and down to the Russian locker room. He told the Russians that if they refused to play they wouldn’t get paid. With that, the Russians returned to the ice and were thoroughly beaten by the Flyers 4-1. The Flyers had rescued the NHL from the embarrassment of being swept by the Soviet Red Army team.
Next: The Year of the Streak