It's tough to believe that next month will mark the 40th anniversary of a huge milestone for the Philadelphia Flyers and the NHL: In 1974, the Flyers became the first expansion team every to defeat a member of the Original Six in a playoff series.
While the Flyers finished the 1973-74 season with 18 more points than the Rangers, few people thought there was much of a chance of any expansion team winning a series against a member of the vaunted Original Six.
The Flyers were considered nothing more than goons to many. "The Broad Street Bullies" had home-ice advantage, but most people figured the Rangers—with future Hall of Famers like Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Ed Giacomin—would find a way to get past Fred Shero's brawling bunch from Philadelphia.
During the regular season, the Flyers were 1-2-2 against their rivals from Broadway, going 1-0-2 at home and 0-2 at Madison Square Garden.
The Flyers got out of the box quickly in the series, winning the first two games at the Spectrum. Rick MacLeish scored twice and added an assist in a 4-0 Philadelphia win in Game 1. Bernie Parent only had to make 19 saves to earn the shutout.
In Game 2, Ross Lonsberry led the way with two goals and four points as the Flyers won a physical, brawl-filled game, 5-2. Bob Kelly dropped the gloves with Jerry Butler of the Rangers just 19 seconds into the game to set the tone. Parent made 28 saves and the Flyers had control of the series, 2-0.
The Flyers came out strong in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.
Dave Schultz had an early fight with Brad Park to set the tone, while Bobby Clarke set up goals by MacLeish and Moose Dupont to give the Flyers an early 2-0 lead. Gary Dornhoefer's power-play goal midway through the second period made it 3-1, Flyers. But the Rangers came back to score the next four goals of the game and win it, 5-3. In the third period, the Rangers outshot the Flyers 16-4.
Game 4 was full of controversy. Joe Watson made it 1-0, Flyers, in the first period. In the final minute of the second period, Bobby Rousseau scored on the power play to tie the game, although replays showed the puck never crossed the goal line, and the goal shouldn't have counted.
The game went to overtime where Gilbert scored at 4:20 to give New York a 2-1 win in the game and to even the series at two games apiece.
The Flyers also lost defenseman Barry Ashbee, who saw his career ended when he was hit in the eye by a puck shot by Dale Rolfe of the Rangers.
The series returned to Philadelphia for the pivotal Game 5, and the Flyers overcame an early 1-0 deficit to win the game, 4-1. MacLeish was again red-hot, scoring twice while Schultz battled Pete Stemkowski in a fight that helped turn the momentum late in the first period.
The Flyers had a chance to close out the series in New York and led 1-0 on Don Saleski's goal 5:41 into the opening period, but the Rangers clamped down and scored three goals in the third period to win the game, 4-1, and send the series back to Philadelphia for a seventh and deciding game.
The atmosphere at the Spectrum was electric, as Kate Smith came out in person to sing "God Bless America." Again, Schultz helped set the tone when he pummeled Rolfe in a first-period fight, leaving the taller visiting player bloodied.
Flyers coach Fred Shero told reporters after the game (as recalled by NHL.com) that the Schultz fight made a difference. "That took something out of New York. They didn't do as much hitting after that."
Dornhoefer scored twice in the game, while MacLeish had a goal and two assists while the Flyers took the lead.
The real star of the game was Parent, however, who made 31 saves, including 13 in the third period when the Flyers were clinging to a lead and the series was on the line.
A too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty against the Rangers with less than a minute left clinched the win for the Flyers and sent them to their first Stanley Cup. The hockey world outside of Philadelphia was stunned.
After the series, Park told Sports Illustrated (in the May 14, 1974 issue), "I didn’t think the Flyers could do it but they beat us with a good, honest hockey game.
The Flyers went on to defeat the Boston Bruins in six games to win their first Stanley Cup. That meant they were the best team in hockey and had defeated two Original Six teams in consecutive playoff series.
The Flyers suddenly had a title and the respect of the hockey world.