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.
Triumph and Tragedy
After the first round victory over the New York Rangers, a huge weight had been lifted from the Flyers shoulders. The team went on to sweep the Rangers, and then beat the Islanders in five games. Next came the Quebec Nordiques. Because of what (in my opinion) was a completely ridiculous rule, despite the fact that the Flyers finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL, the Nordiques would have home ice advantage. It was because the NHL had a rule in place where they would alternate which division would get home ice advantage in the conference finals. Because this happened to be the year that it was the Adams division’s turn, the Nordiques got the advantage.
Quebec won Game 1 in overtime. The Flyers came back to win Game 2 on the back of goalie Pelle Lindbergh. The series returned to Philadelphia where the Flyers took Game 3 only to see the Nordiques take Game 4, where Lindbergh faltered and was a part of the reason why the Philadelphia lost. Game 5 was absolutely, positively crucial for both teams. If Quebec had won, they would guarantee a Game 7 back in Quebec. If Philadelphia won, they are headed back to the Spectrum with a chance to clinch the series and head to their fifth Stanley Cup final. Game 5 was an absolute nail-biter from start to finish. It also, in my opinion, was Lindbergh’s greatest game as a Flyer. It was his goaltending that kept them in the game and allowed Murray Craven and Joe Patterson to capitalize on a couple of mistakes by Quebec and allowed the Flyers to escape Quebec City with the win and a chance to clinch a trip to the Finals.
So the stage was set. Win and the Flyers go to the Stanley Cup Finals, lose and they face the daunting task of trying to win a Game 7 on the road in Quebec City. The Flyers took the lead on a goal by Mark Howe and then took two penalties and found themselves two men short. This set the stage for one of the most memorable goals in Flyers history. Quebec defenseman Mario Marois tried an ill-advised cross ice pass only to have it intercepted by Flyers captain Dave Poulin. Poulin had a clean breakaway from his own blue line all the way in on Nordique goalie Mario Gosselin. Poulin shot high to the glove side and beat Gosselin as the Spectrum exploded. The Flyers went on to dominate the rest of the game and clinched their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the 1985 Stanley Cup Finals, the Flyers would be going up against the defending champions, the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were a powerhouse loaded with future Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey and Glenn Anderson.
The Flyers came out and dominated Game 1. It was a 4-1 final score but if not for the goaltending of Grant Fuhr, the game could have easily been seven or eight to one. Flyers winger Tim Kerr was dominant in the game with two goals.
Which leads me to one of the most painful parts of Flyers history for me. The Game 1 win was costly for Philadelphia as Kerr wound up hurting his knee and wouldn’t return for the rest of the series. So many times in my life, (my brother Matt can attest to this) I would look back on this era in Flyers history and said, “If Tim Kerr could have only stayed healthy…” The Flyers went on to lose Game 2 3-1.
The NHL had changed the format of the Stanley Cup Finals to a 2-3-2 format so the Flyers would be facing three straight games in Edmonton with the chance of never being able to return to Philadelphia. The Flyers were competitive in both Game 3 and Game 4 but lost both. To make matters worse, Pelle Lindbergh was injured in Game 4 and wouldn’t be able to play in Game 5. Back up goaltender Bob Froese would man the net and got shelled as the Flyers lost 8-3 and the Oilers won their second straight Cup.
The Flyers had lost to the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals but, there was so much promise for this team. They went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the youngest roster in the league. Their young players would only get better and veterans such as Brian Propp, Poulin, Kerr and Howe were entering the prime of their careers. Added to that, Philly would be adding yet another young player in young Swede Pelle Eklund.
The Flyers struggled out of the gate to start the the 1985-86 season but then went on to win 13 straight games. They were the most dominant team in the league and they were first in every statistical category except for goals scored where they were second only to the Oilers.
And then tragedy struck. On the morning of November 10, 1985 Flyers staring goalie Pelle Lindbergh crashed his Porsche in Somerdale, New Jersey and died a few days later. The wind had been taken right out of the Flyers sails. They still managed to finish the year with 53 wins and 110 points, good for the second best record in the league, but the death of Lindbergh had taken a lot out of them. They again played the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, a team they had finished 40 points ahead of in the standings but lost to them in five games. Flyers goalie Bob Froese didn’t have a good showing and the writing was on the wall for a change in net.
Next: The Coming of Ron Hextall