Throughout the history of the Philadelphia Flyers, there is one team that has stood out among the rest as the team’s biggest rival. That organization is the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some of the more heated times in hockey rivalry memories involved both of these teams squaring off. Names such as “Mario Lemieux,” “Sidney Crosby,” and “Evgeni Malkin,” among others have gotten booed whenever they touch the puck in the past in front of the Flyer faithful.
As tense as this rivalry has been since both teams debuted as part of the 1967 NHL Expansion, blood boils over even more so in the postseason. There have been many classic moments between the Flyers and their Pennsylvanian foe in the playoffs. One of these occurred 20 years ago back on May 4, 2000, and it is one of the more recognized moments for the franchise in recent memory.
The 1999-00 Flyers Team
The Flyers during the 1999-00 season were the top team in both the Atlantic Division and the entire Eastern Conference. They had 45 wins, 22 losses, 12 ties, and three overtime losses. This record combined for 105 points in the 82-game schedule.
The Flyers had a lot of well-respected hockey players on their roster during this campaign. Top scoring leaders in the regular season included Mark Recchi with 91 points (28 goals and 63 assists), John LeClair with 77 (40 goals and 37 assists), and Eric Lindros with 59 (27 goals and 32 assists). Eric Desjardins led in defensive scoring on the roster with 14 goals and 41 assists for 55 points in 81 games.
Team transactions that occurred throughout the hockey season included a deal where the Flyers swapped centers with the Carolina Hurricanes. The official deal was Rod Brind’Amour, goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier, and a second-round pick in 2000 to Carolina for Keith Primeau and a 2000 fifth-round pick. Another significant roster move included former Legion of Doom member Mikael Renberg being dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for Rick Tocchet, who made his return to the City of Brotherly Love after being away for eight years.
The Flyers had no issue making the playoffs during this year. They locked themselves into a spot, and took on the Buffalo Sabres in the quarterfinal round.
The Penguins Series
The Flyers defeated the Sabres in five games, heading to the semifinals to take on those rival Penguins. Some of the top scorers during the regular season for Pittsburgh were names like Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, and Robert Lang, among others. The Penguins’ regular-season record in 1999-00 was 37 wins, 31 losses, eight ties, and six overtime losses.
Despite being a lower seed in the playoffs that year, they still took care of business as the underdog against forward Peter Bondra, goalie Olaf Kolzig, and the Washington Capitals in the quarterfinals. Now, one Pennsylvanian-based team was guaranteed to make it to the Eastern Conference Final.
New Guy Becomes New Hero
The Flyers were down in the series 2-1 heading into Game 4 in what used to be Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. The Flyers were in a must-win scenario, as a loss then would lead to a mountain of oppositional odds against them being down 3-1.
A goal was notched per squad as the teams headed to five straight overtimes in Game 4. The tallies in regulation were by Alex Kovalev for the Penguins and LeClair for Philadelphia. It would not be until Primeau, acquired earlier in the year in that Brind’Amour trade, took a shot on Penguins goalie Ron Tugnutt that the tie would be broken, and the win for the Flyers would be grasped.
The loss spelled the end for the Penguins, as the Flyers won the rest of the games and conquered Pittsburgh in six contests. Philadelphia lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final in seven games, falling just shy of making their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since the 1997 postseason.
The five-overtime game with the Penguins to this day is one of the longest in NHL history, and the longest of the modern era. To be able to keep the energy up through basically eight periods of play is impressive.
Thanks to Primeau, who was later named captain of the team in 2001, Philadelphia was able to come out on top. Primeau himself went on to have a pretty solid career for the Orange and Black. He accumulated 87 goals and 126 assists for 213 points in 312 games. When fans of both the Flyers and Penguins think of specific games that define their rivalry, no doubt Game 4 of the 2000 NHL semifinals is included in that conversation, as it should.