The 2016-17 season marks the Philadelphia Flyers’ 50th anniversary in the NHL. The Flyers have some very special plans to celebrate this year-long anniversary: An alumni game against some of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ former greats, a number of Flyers Heritage nights, and commemorative 50th-anniversary jerseys.
We here at The Hockey Writers thought we would join the festivities by listing the five greatest games in Flyers history. (We’re excluding the Flyers’ Stanley Cup-winning games against the Bruins in 1974 and the Sabres in 1975, since those are too obvious.) Enjoy!
No. 5: Joffrey Lupul Sends the Caps Packing
Easily one of the most exciting finishes in Flyers history, Joffrey Lupul’s overtime winner in the Flyers’ opening-round series in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs leads off our list of the greatest games in Flyers history.
Sixth-seeded Philadelphia was looking for a major upset that year, taking on a third-seeded Capitals team powered by Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin had scored a blistering 65 goals during the regular season, and there was every reason to believe that he would torch an undermanned Flyers defensive corps. But after the Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, it looked like the Fightin’ Flyers would be able to pull off one of the more unexpected upsets in recent memory—and much more easily than anyone had imagined.
But the Caps would not go gentle into that good night, taking the next two games and forcing a decisive seventh game in D.C. Many analysts expected the Flyers to fold easily in the finale, especially in light of the fact that Philly had blown a two-goal lead in game six. But the young team showed a great deal of resilience, refusing to lay down when Ovechkin tied the game at 2-2 in the second period.
After an intense battle which saw Flyers goalie Marty Biron make 39 saves, Lupul neatly tucked a deflection past Cristobal Huet at 6:03 of the extra frame, crushing the spirits of the 18,277 Caps fans in attendance while simultaneously providing the Flyers’ faithful with one of the most memorable goals in club history.
Joffrey Lupul tucks home the game winner to help the Flyers advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2008. pic.twitter.com/mzN6Y8lk5q
— PhilaSportsVids (@PhilaSportsVids) September 2, 2016
No. 4: Keith Primeau Ends the 5-OT Marathon
For those of you old enough to remember Sega Genesis’ NHL 94, behold A real-life version of two teams whose energy levels are officially on zero!
The 1999-2000 Flyers were a team built on grit and hardened by a fair amount of controversy. Team captain Eric Lindros went down indefinitely after suffering his second concussion of the year during a game against the Bruins in January. He then went on to famously criticize the Flyers’ training staff for their failure to properly diagnose the injury.
Despite the distractions, the team–led by newly acquired center Keith Primeau–was still able to focus on the task at hand, overcoming a 15-point deficit to secure the Atlantic Division crown and the top seed in the East on the last day of the season.
The Flyers easily dispatched the Sabres in round one, but it looked like the Flyers’ feel-good story might come to a crashing halt when the club lost the first two games of their semifinal series against the Penguins. They managed to win game three, but a loss in game four would virtually guarantee a bitter exit from the playoffs. The epic battle that followed is still remembered by Flyers fans everywhere: an eight-period, five-OT marathon that only ended when Keith Primeau launched a desperate shot that whizzed by Pens goalie Ron Tugnutt.
It was the third-longest game in NHL history, and it remains the longest in modern NHL history. The Flyers went on finish off the deflated Penguins in six games but unfortunately were not able to get past the Devils in the Eastern Conference finals despite holding a 3-1 series advantage. (game seven of that series would most definitely appear on a “Most Heartbreaking Games in Flyers History” list.)
No. 3: Simon Gagne Completes the Greatest Playoff Comeback in Flyers History
Prior to 2010, only two teams in NHL history had won a series after getting buried in a 0-3 hole.
So the Flyers’ prospects were grim after they lost the first three games of their second-round 2010 playoff series against a talented Bruins squad. The Flyers, however, refused to give up, scratching and clawing their way back in order to even the series at three apiece.
The Bruins were equally determined to avoid the ignominy that would come with blowing a three-game lead. The B’s came out hard in game seven and were up 3-0 on a shocked Flyers team before the first period had ended. It looked like they were going to blow the doors off the Flyers until Philly head coach Peter Laviolette called the most famous timeout in club history. Laviolette–not generally known for being a calming voice on the bench—did his best to get his team to focus, and he can clearly be seen exhorting his players to “just get one” goal as his team gathered around him.
Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk heeded Lavy’s call, scoring on an ugly deflection a mere three minutes after the famed timeout. Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere both added markers in the second period, equalizing the game at 3-3. The Bruins took a stupid too-many-men penalty in the third, and the Flyers capitalized when Simon Gagne roofed a blocker-side bullet past Tuukka Rask. Gagne’s goal proved to be the game-winner and capped one of the greatest playoff comebacks in NHL history.
No. 2: The Flyers Push the Greatest Team of All Time to the Brink
Over their 50 years of existence, the Flyers have certainly had their share of bad luck: Leon Stickle gifting the Islanders a Stanley Cup at the Flyers’ expense by making one of the absolute worst offside calls in NHL history, having 2006-07’s worst record and still missing out on drafting Patrick Kane, etc. But perhaps the worst luck the Flyers have ever had occurred when they ran up against the Edmonton Oilers in the 1987 Stanley Cup finals.
The Oilers dominated the NHL in the 1980s, winning four championships. (They added a fifth in 1989-1990.) And the 1986-87 Oilers were arguably the best of that dominant lot, with players like Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and Mark Messier leading the charge. So it was no surprise that most analysts were predicting that the Oilers would handle the Flyers rather easily en route to another title.
Fortunately, the scrappy Flyers missed the memo, giving the Oilers all they could handle and then some. The fact that the Flyers still were able to take that stacked Edmonton squad to a seventh game is impressive enough, but the way they did it—with a one-goal win in Philly—makes this the No. 2 game on our list.
Holding a 3-2 series lead, the Oilers had a chance to close out the Flyers at the world-famous Spectrum. And it looked like Edmonton was going to roll to the Cup with ease, taking a 2-0 lead in the first and outshooting the Flyers 19-5 in the opening stanza. Despite the fact that the Oilers continued to dominate all phases of the game well into the third period, the Flyers somehow managed to tie the game on goals by Lindsay Carson and Bryan Propp.
From all accounts, Flyers fans were seemingly trying to will their team to a victory by making as much noise as possible. When J.J. Daigneault gave the Flyers their first lead of the game late in the third, the Philly faithful erupted in the loudest goal celebration in spectrum history. (And that’s saying something, considering how raucous the spectrum could get when the Flyers were playing well.)
Although the Flyers went on to lose game seven, the sheer joy that Flyers fans felt when Daigneault brought the team within a game of the Stanley Cup probably won’t be replicated again until the Flyers are able to win another championship.
No. 1: Beating the Red Army Team
Outside of the team’s Stanley Cup victories, this game ranks as the greatest game in Flyers history.
What else needs to be said about the HC CSKA Moscow teams that dominated international play for nearly 40 years? Almost from their inception, the Soviet “Red Army” team was easily and rightfully viewed as the greatest collection of talent outside the NHL. CSKA Moscow players comprised the vast majority of Soviet Union’s international roster—indeed, CSKA Moscow was basically the de facto Soviet international team—and the squad’s skill, speed, and innovative tactics resulted in seven Olympic gold medals and a 738–110–65 record across a 40-year span.
But the Broad Street Bullies didn’t seem overly impressed with the aforementioned skill, speed, and innovation, and it wasn’t long before the Soviets learned exactly why the Flyers were the NHL’s reigning Stanley Cup champions. The Flyers thoroughly imposed their physical will on the Red Army squad from the outset, effectively neutralizing whatever strategic and tactical advantages the Soviets possessed.
This dominance was perhaps best exemplified by defenseman Ed Van Impe’s crushing hit on Valeri Kharlamov, one of the Russians’ top players. As Kharlamov lay prone on the ice for several minutes, Soviet coach Konstantin Loktev pulled his team off of the ice to protest the fact that the refs had failed to call a penalty on Van Impe’s hit.
Flyers’ owner Ed Snider—who was reportedly greatly annoyed by the negotiating tactics that the Soviet Hockey Federation officials had employed before agreeing to play the game—famously stormed into the CSKA locker room to demand that they finish the contest.When Soviet officials refused to allow their team back on the ice, Snider simply informed them that he would not pay the Russians the fee that they’d been promised for playing in the game. The Russians eventually returned to the ice and lost the game by a 4–1 margin.
After the game, Flyers head coach Fred Shero summed up the feeling of the team, the city, and maybe the league when he said,
“Yes, we are the world champions. If they had won, they would have been the world champions. We beat the hell out of a machine.”
So there you have it, THW readers–our list of the five greatest games in Flyers history (that don’t end with a Stanley Cup). What do you think? Do you agree? Let us know if we missed something!