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 Comeback against the Bruins
The Flyers struggled though the 2009-10 season. They spent much of the year on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. However, Philadelphia rallied at the end and it came down to a winner take all regular season finale against the New York Rangers.
The game went into overtime and then to a shootout. Once it had reached the shootout, even the most optimistic of Flyers fans couldn’t like the Flyers’ chances of coming out of the shootout victorious. First, the Flyers have never fared well in shootouts and second, in the net was journeymen goaltender Brian Boucher. In the Rangers net was Henrik Lundqvist, probably the best goaltender in the league at the time.
The Flyers took a lead in the shootout and it came down to one last attempt by the Rangers Olli Jokinen. If Boucher makes one more stop, the Flyers are in the playoffs. Jokinen circled wide before taking the puck at center ice and swooped in on Boucher. Boucher stopped Jokinen and the Flyers were going to the playoffs. No one will ever forget Boucher pumping his fists in celebration after the stop.
Even though the Flyers had made the playoffs, they weren’t expected to make a deep run. They entered the playoffs as the seven seed and would face the New Jersey Devils in the first round. They ended up handling the Devils with surprising ease, winning in five games. Next up was the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins went on to win the first three games and the series had seemed all but over. Only two teams in the entire history of the NHL had ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series. So the Flyers were facing long odds to say the least. They got a little bit of a boost with the return of Simon Gagne for Game 4 and sure enough, Gagne won Game 4 with a goal in OT and the Flyers had life.
The Flyers won Game 5 in Boston and with Game 6 coming back to Philadelphia, one could at least see the possibility of history being made. The Flyers won Game 6 and the improbable seemed like a real possibility. The Bruins came out roaring on their home ice to start Game 7 and jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead. Right after the third Boston goal, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette immediately called time out to calm his team down. The on ice microphones picked up Laviolette exhorting his team, “Just get one, just get one.” and they did just that.
James van Riemsdyk scored at the end of the first period to cut the lead to 3-1 and there was hope. When the Flyers scored to cut the lead to 3-2, you could sense that the Bruins were on the verge of panic and the Flyers took over the game. Philadelphia tied it and then went ahead in the game on goals by Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell and the most unlikely of comebacks had been completed. The Flyers had become only the third team in NHL history, along with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.
Even though the Flyers were the seven seed in the Eastern Conference bracket, they would still get home ice advantage for the Conference Finals because they would be facing the eigth seeded Montreal Canadians. The Canadians were the perfect match up for the Flyers. They were a smaller team who the Flyers were able to bully all over the ice. The Flyers won the series easily in five games.
The 2010 Stanley Cup Finals
Next up would be a match up in the Stanley Cup Finals against a loaded Chicago Blackhawks team. Out of the three Cup teams the Blackhawks have had over the last six years, the 2010 team was probably the best of the three. Not only did you have the mainstays that are on the team now like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but they also had Andrew Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell. The Flyers were therefore heavy underdogs heading in to the series.
Game 1 was one of the most entertaining hockey games you would ever want to see. It was an up and down, high scoring affair right out of the ’80s. The Flyers would take a lead but then the Hawks would always come right back. You got the sense watching it that if Philadelphia could just go up by two they might be able to come out of the game victorious but they never could. A big reason for that was because they just could not get a key stop from their goaltending. Time and again, Flyers goalie Michael Leighton failed to make a save on very stoppable shots and it eventually came back to haunt the Flyers as the Blackhawks prevailed in Game 1 6-5.
Game 2 was more of a conventional game. It was 2-1 Hawks in the third period until Ben Eager scored on a 40 foot wrist shot that once again should have been stopped by goaltender Boucher. It made the score 3-1 Hawks which wound up being the final.
Games 3 and 4 would be in Philadelphia, and the Flyers tied the series at two games a piece. Game 5 returned to Chicago where the Hawks played their best game of the series. They dominated the game from start to finish and won the game 7-4 although it wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Game 5 will be remembered for when Byfuglien put his stamp on the series. Up until that point, Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger had done a great job of shutting down Byfuglien and the rest of the Hawks forwards. Byfuglien manhandled Pronger several times during Game 5 and was dominate throughout.
The scene shifted back to Philadelphia for Game 6. A game I once again had the misfortune of attending (maybe I should stop going to big Flyer playoff games) The Hawks came out and dominated the game but for a change, the Flyers goaltending came up big and kept them in the game. It was 1-0 Hawks after one period but it definitely would have been worse if not for Flyers goalie Michael Leighton. The Hawks went ahead 3-1 in the game but the Flyers stormed all the way back to tie it on a goal by Hartnell. Only a few minutes later, with the crowd still in a frenzy from the Hartnell goal, a rebound came out to Jeff Carter. Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi was completely prone, face down on the ice. All Carter had to do was lift the puck even a foot off the ice and he would have had an easy open net goal to put the Flyers ahead in the game 4-3. When I saw the puck come out to Carter, I jumped out of my seat thinking for sure it was going to be a goal. Once again, just like he did in Game 2 of the Pittsburgh series the year before, Carter choked and shot the puck right in to Niemi’s mask. That should have been the game right there. But the game remained tied and went in to overtime.
The Flyers came out strong in the OT and had several glorious chances to win. And then another one of those moments happened where you start to ask yourself why do I put myself through this every year? Patrick Kane came down the ice and put an innocent enough looking wrist shot in on Michael Leighton. He was well off to the side and didn’t get much on the shot. It should have been an easy, routine save for Leighton. I was sitting on the side where the shot was taken. I, nor did it seem did anyone other than Kane saw the puck go in the net. Kane started to celebrate like a madman even though it didn’t seem as though the puck had come anywhere close to going in the net. I kept thinking no way is that in. They will review that an it will be ruled no goal. With the way Kane was celebrating though, you had the sinking feeling he saw the puck go in. They did in fact announce that the play was under review. Kane must have watched a replay from the Chicago bench because before they announced it was in fact a goal he again jumped out on to the ice and started celebrating. In the cruelest of ironies, the man who we missed out on drafting with the first overall pick in the 2007 draft scores the overtime winner to take another Stanley Cup away form us.
Next: Another decline, another rebuild