The Philadelphia Flyers and the St. Louis Blues play in different conferences. They haven’t faced each other in a playoff series in over 50 years. However, both franchises entered the NHL as part of the 1967 expansion that doubled the league’s size from six teams to 12. The history shared between the two organizations has included closely aligned ideologies, a memorable incident of violent conflict, overlapping personnel in key positions, and alternating eras of success in a full-circle sense.
The Broad Street Bullies Are Born
The Blues established themselves as the powerhouse of the Western Division, consisting of the six expansion teams, with three Stanley Cup Finals appearances in the first three seasons of the expansion era. They beat the Flyers in the postseason on the way to their first two Finals appearances in the 1968 and 1969 Playoffs.
During Game 5 of the 1968 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal, St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard viciously knocked out Philadelphia forward Claude LaForge. The incident sparked Flyers co-founder and long-time chairman Ed Snider to set his sights on building a team that wouldn’t get pushed around on the ice.
The Flyers developed the identity of the Broad Street Bullies. They built a reputation for ferocious intensity and used intimidation as a weapon to defeat their opponents. While they utilized tough enforcers who could drop the gloves with anyone in the league, the root of their reputation was the strength of their team as a pack. Opponents knew that challenging one Flyer meant they’d have to take on the whole team.
“We lived by a pack mentality, and that’s what made us so successful.”-Bill Clement
The Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup when they knocked off the “Big, Bad” Boston Bruins in 1974. They won their second consecutive championship in 1975 and advanced to a third Stanley Cup Final in 1976. Bobby Clarke, Dave Schultz, Ed Van Impe, and goaltender Bernie Parent entered folklore for leading the best era in Flyers history.
The claim as the most successful expansion team meant overtaking the Blues, and in one instance, the contention boiled over in an astonishing way. During an infamous incident at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1972, police had to come to the arena in response to a fight between Blues players and Flyers fans. Three St. Louis players and former head coach Al Arbour ultimately spent the night in a local jail in the aftermath. Following the ugly episode, the Blues went 34 consecutive games in Philadelphia without a win. The 0-31-3 stretch spanned 16 seasons and finally ended in November 1988.
After the core of the Broad Street Bullies teams faded, the Flyers kept some semblance of their identity as tough customers who refused to get pushed around. The organization maintained a preference for a tight-checking, relentless style and players who would stick up for teammates at all costs.
Dave Brown became one of the most feared enforcers in the league during the 1980s, and goaltender Ron Hextall developed a reputation for ferociously defending his own crease. Grinders Rick Tocchet and Kevin Dineen became celebrated figures in the franchise and team captains. Philadelphia entered another period of Stanley Cup contention with feared power forward Eric Lindros as their captain and top-line center in the late 1990s. The preference for bigger, more physical forwards even continued into more recent seasons with players like Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds.
Blues Back as Stanley Cup Contenders
In November 2018, the Blues fired head coach Mike Yeo and appointed Craig Berube, former Flyers enforcer and head coach, as the interim replacement. They went on a historic run from last place in the NHL to Stanley Cup champions in 2019. They famously identified the turning point of the season as a moment of team bonding that took place at a bar in South Philadelphia while they were in town facing the Flyers in January 2019. In another ironic twist of fate, Yeo is now the interim head coach of the Flyers.
The Blues’ ability to roll four competitive lines with a physical style carried them throughout the playoffs. Rather than superstar performances like those of recent Conn Smythe Trophy winners Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, they rode the strength of forward depth from Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, and a deep supporting cast.
They have rejoined the conversation as a contender in the Western Conference in 2021-22. Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic recently wrote about how the “strength of the pack” mentality has become a winning identity for one of the few NHL teams in the modern era that has won a Stanley Cup without a prototypical superstar player (from “How Blues GM Doug Armstrong built one of the NHL’s deepest forward groups on a ‘strength of the pack’ mentality,” The Athletic,” 1/13/22). They have replaced Stanley Cup contributor Jayden Schwartz seamlessly with contributions from newcomers Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich and a breakout season from Jordan Kyrou. Their distribution of salary among their forwards differs significantly from the majority of contending NHL teams.
Flyers Struggling to Regain Prominence
Meanwhile, the Flyers have limped through the 2021-22 season. Barring a mathematically improbable comeback, they will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. They entered the season expecting forward depth to carry them back into Stanley Cup contention with a similar mantra to the “pack mentality” the Blues are using, but virtually everything has gone awry. The same organization once dubbed the “Broad Street Bullies” is in a state of turmoil with no promise for the future and no identity to call their own.
General manager Chuck Fletcher spoke in January about the need to acquire “top-end talent” and emphasized the desire for players who can shoot well from the flank position to improve a struggling power-play unit. The Flyers have a first-line caliber center in Sean Couturier with stylistic similarities to O’Reilly, and Fletcher’s wish is to add a sniper like Tarasenko as part of his plan to “aggressively retool” the roster for the 2022-23 season. The hopes for a return to Stanley Cup glory in Philadelphia could once again hinge on the ability to emulate the winning identity of the Blues.