The Flyers beat their bitter cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, 4 games to 2. Most would agree it was a very intense series, unlikely to be matched in tempo or hatred this round.
But where does this series rank in terms of all-time Flyers opening round playoff series when measuring sheer intensity?
Our current Top 10 list ranks the Flyers’ most intense opening round playoff series – leaving you to decide where to squeeze the 2012 Battle of Pennsylvania on this list:
10. Flyers-Blues 1968 (Flyers lose in 7). The Flyers’ tumultuous inaugural season – including heckling at a season-opening parade and the rescheduling of their last 7 regular-season home games, due to part of the Spectrum roof blowing off – ended with the Flyers winning the expansion-only West Division and thus having home ice against the St. Louis Blues, who finished 4th in the West. After getting blanked in the series opener (back at the re-opened Spectrum) by Hall of Famer Glenn Hall, who only had to save 14 shots, the Flyers cranked up 41 shots in Game 2, and after surrendering a 3-1 lead, Leon Rochefort’s third period goal turned out to be the game-winner. The Flyers dropped both games in St. Louis (Game 3 in overtime, 3-2, and Game 4 by a 5-2 margin), but in Game 5 back home, the Flyers rode Rosaire Paiement’s hat trick to a 6-1 win, staving off elimination. The Flyers forced a Game 7 on the strength of Andre Lacroix’s desperation goal with 15 seconds left, after Bernie Parent was pulled for an extra attacker. Parent, who took over for good for Doug Favell after Game 4, then went back into the net and stopped 63 of 64 shots until captain Don Blackburn scored 11:18 into the second overtime to force Game 7. Home ice didn’t help the Flyers in Game 7, as the teams traded power play goals in the first period and then Larry Keenan scored what turned out to be the game-winner on the man advantage at 10:45 of the second period. Red Berenson – who would return to the Spectrum the following season and torch the Flyers for 6 goals in one game – sealed a 3-1 victory and the series win for the Blues, with an empty net goal.
9. Flyers-North Stars 1973 (Flyers win in 6). The Flyers were on a 9-game playoff losing streak coming into this series, having never won a playoff series in their first 5 years of existence, despite playing in an all-expansion team division. After Cesare Maniago blanked the Flyers in Game 1 at the Spectrum (a game in which Ron Hextall’s father Bryan Jr. scored), the Flyers broke the losing skid the next game, jumping out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Don Saleski, the late Bill Flett, Bill Barber and Terry Crisp, en route to a 4-1 win. Just as in 1985 (see #6 below), this Flyers quartet recorded their first playoff goals as a Flyer (and for Saleski and Barber, their first in the NHL) in this game. The late Barry Ashbee tallied 3 assists, all in the second period. After trading shutouts at the Met Center (5-0 North Stars, then 3-0 Flyers – with Bobby Clarke and Ross Lonsberry getting their first-ever playoff goals), the stage was set for a goal that became a statue. After Rick MacLeish scored a pair of power play goals to stake the Flyers to a 2-1 lead, Bill Goldsworthy scored with 7:00 left in regulation, and the game went into overtime. At 8:35 of overtime, Gary Dornhoefer scored his first-ever NHL playoff goal (MacLeish, along with Andre Dupont, picked up an assist) to give the Flyers a 3-2 series lead. This goal was immortalized in bronze in a statue that was on display at the south side of the Spectrum, and now is part of Xfinity Live. Back in Minnesota for Game 6, the Flyers spotted Goldsworthy a first-period goal, and then stormed Maniago for three goals (by Crisp, Lonsberry and then Dave Schultz’s first-ever NHL playoff goal) before Lonsberry capped the scoring with an empty-netter and a 4-1 Flyers win – sealing a series victory for the first time in franchise history, behind Doug Favell’s 37 saves. Although the Flyers lost to Cup champion Montreal in the next round, this series set the stage for the following season’s Stanley Cup run.
8. Flyers-Maple Leafs 1976 (Flyers win in 7). It was an all-home game series that went the distance. Fortunately, the Flyers tallied 118 points (a team record which still stands), to Toronto’s 83, giving the Flyers home ice in what was a first round series for them, but a second round series for the Leafs (who defeated the Penguins 2-1 in a best of 3, while the Flyers had a bye, in a system that was in its second of 5 seasons). Interestingly, the Flyers would face Toronto each of the first 3 seasons under the bye system, each time after Toronto captured a best of three, 2-1, but the season before, the Flyers swept the Leafs and the season after, the Flyers won in 6. Reggie Leach scored the first 6 of his 19 playoff goals en route to the Conn Smythe Trophy in a losing effort.
7. Flyers-Rangers 1986 (Flyers lose best of 5 in 5). Many think that the 1985-86 Flyers team had the best shot at a Stanley Cup in the Mike Keenan era, in part because Edmonton stumbled in the West and lost to eventual Cup champion Calgary. November 10, 1985 brought tragedy to the Flyers family, as all-star goalie Pelle Lindbergh crashed his Porsche into a wall outside a school in Stratford, NJ early that morning after the Flyers’ victory that night (their 10th in a row, leaving them at 12-2-0) where Lindbergh did not see action on a night Bob Froese got the call in goal. Lindbergh, who had consumed a substantial amount of alcohol earlier that night before getting behind the wheel, was declared brain-dead that day. Somehow, the team held it together, behind Froese, Darren Jensen and in-season acquisition Chico Resch, and finished first in the Patrick Division.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Rangers would show the Flyers no mercy, spanking them 6-2 at the Spectrum to open the 5-game series, with Froese only stopping 16 shots. The Flyers rebounded the next night, scoring two early goals and hanging on 2-1, despite bombarding John Van Biesbrouck with 44 shots (21 in the first period) and only yielding 12. The series turned in Game 3, where with the Flyers leading 2-1 going into the third period, Mike Ridley tied the score 8:13 into the frame, and then the Rangers scored 3 goals in 48 seconds to stun Froese and the Flyers 5-2. After giving up the first goal in Game 4, the Flyers stormed the Rangers for 7 straight goals, including a hat trick from the late Peter Zezel which chased Van Biesbrouck 5:17 into the second period. All told, the Flyers scored 5 second-period goals, including a pair from Ranger nemesis Tim Kerr (see #6 below). Things looked good coming back to the Spectrum for the deciding Game 5, but the Flyers could not dent Van Biesbrouck enough in Game 5, falling behind 1-0 and 3-1 before the late Brad McCrimmon cut the Ranger margin to 3-2 with 8:24 remaining in regulation. The Flyers put 11 shots on goal in the third period, but could not get another one past the Beezer and New York finished off the Flyers with 2 empty net goals and a 5-2 final.
6. Flyers-Rangers 1985 (Flyers win best of 5 in 3). Why is a sweep intense? The Flyers’ fragile psyches and then-recent playoff history, especially against the Rangers, should tell you all you need to know. The Flyers entered the 1985 Stanley Cup playoffs having lost 9 playoff games in a row – two sweeps and the last 3 games of a 4-game series loss. Six of those nine losses were at the hands of the New York Rangers. The futility streak was reminiscent to some of the 10-game losing skid the Flyers had from 1968-1973 (see #9 and #10 above), in a time frame where they were looking for their first playoff series win. The Flyers had a rookie head coach, Mike Keenan (who ironically would lead the Rangers to their only Cup win over the last 71 seasons nine years later).
Game 1 was perhaps the most intense playoff opener in team history. After Ron Sutter, Todd Bergen (assisted by Pelle Lindbergh) and Brad McCrimmon scored in the first period, the Rangers chipped away – first with a Reijo Ruotsalainen power play goal and then by a pair of Don Maloney goals, to tie the game at 3 early in the third period. Tim Kerr gave the Flyers the lead back 6:07 into the third period, but Anders Hedberg scored the equalizer with the goalie pulled, with just 26 seconds left in regulation. The Flyers, perhaps after a blistering rebuke from Keenan, launched an all-out assault on Rangers goalie Glen Hanlon, peppering him with 8 shots in less than 8 minutes (to the Rangers’ 1). The 9th shot finally went in – a long, well-screened wrister from the left point by Mark Howe – a goal that has been replayed many times this season as a highlight during Howe’s Hall of Fame induction and jersey retirement. All four scorers other than Kerr tallied their first playoff goals as a Flyer that night.
The Flyers went on to the sweep, backed by Bergen’s two goals and Lindbergh’s 38 saves in a 3-1 victory in Game 2, and then closed it out by a 6-5 score at Madison Square Garden in a game made famous by Tim Kerr’s 4 goals in 8:16 of second period game time. Three of Kerr’s goals were power play goals, and each of which was assisted by Peter Zezel, who also scored his first playoff goal as a Flyer to start the scoring after the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
5. Flyers-Nordiques 1981 (Flyers win best of 5 in 5). After 2 80′s-style games at the Spectrum (where the Flyers won 6-4 and 8-5, with game-winners tallied in the third period each game), the Nords buckled down at Le Colisee. In Game 3, Dan Bouchard stopped all 32 shots, and Quebec stymied the Flyers 2-0. The next day, with the Flyers on their way to wrapping the series up in 4, holding a 3-1 lead, Dale Hunter scored with less than 5 minutes left, set up the late Jacques Richard (who had a career year with 52G, 51A) with less than 3 minutes left, and then scored the game-winner, 37 seconds into overtime. Somehow, the Flyers regrouped for Game 5 back at the Spectrum, and broke open a 2-1 game with 3 goals by the Rat Patrol line (one each by Ken Linseman, Paul Holmgren and Brian Propp) in the first 5:07 of the third period, going on to win 5-2, in a game that has the distinction of being the first NHL playoff game and first Flyers game I ever attended live.
4. Flyers-Sabres 2011 (Flyers win in 7). The Flyers become the only known team to start three different goalies in a playoff series – and win. Each one of the first 6 games was decided by a goal, other than Game 3, where Claude Giroux scored into an empty net to make the margin 4-2. Ville Leino (called “Ville from Philly” in the dressing room by Ed Snider after the game) scored the Game 6 overtime winner in Buffalo to keep the series alive, after Tyler Ennis overtimed the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Game 5. The Flyers scored the first 4 goals of Game 7, winning decisively 5-2 behind Brian Boucher. In an odd twist, Leino must have impressed the Sabres so much that he signed a 6-year, $27 million contract, with $9 million of that being a signing bonus. That’s over $1 million per goal – as Leino finished with 8 goals in 71 games and Buffalo finished out of the playoffs in 2011-12.
3. Flyers-Maple Leafs 2003 (Flyers win in 7). While the Flyers lost in the next round to Ottawa, it could be said that Toronto took a lot out of the Flyers in the first round in 2003. Three of the games went multi-overtime, and after the Flyers lost Game 6 in double OT in Toronto, they bounced back to win the next day in Philadelphia, by a convincing 6-1 score. Mark Recchi scored 6 goals in the series, including the triple-OT game-winner in Games 4 (112:38 after he opened the scoring in that game) and another pair of goals in Game 7.
2. Flyers-Capitals 1988 (Capitals win in 7). A lasting image from this series is the Game 4 overtime goal scored by Murray Craven, where he and Rick Tocchet end up down on their knees on the ice as the puck goes in, with both players embracing spontaneously. Maybe that image lasts because we don’t want to remember that the Flyers lost the next 3 games, blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 7, rallying to tie on Brad Marsh’s last goal as a Flyer, but losing in OT to the hated Dale Hunter (perhaps exacting revenge for series #5 above), assisted by the equally hated Scott Stevens.
1. Flyers-Capitals 2009 (Flyers win in 7). History seemed to be on the verge of repeating itself, as a Flyers double-OT win in Game 4 was followed by a pair of Caps wins to even the series at 3 games apiece. But this time it was the Flyers winning in Game 7 overtime in Washington, thanks to Joffrey Lupul’s first playoff goal as a Flyer.