Philadelphia Flyers fans everywhere are asking, "Has it really been 40 years since our first Stanley Cup?"
And it has.
On May 19, 1974, the Flyers won their first championship by defeating the Boston Bruins 1-0 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, making them the first modern NHL expansion team to win. The title came in the franchise's seventh season.
"It seems like it happened yesterday because different generations have transferred the excitement of us winning the Stanley Cup year after year," former Flyers goalie Bernie Parent told Bill Fleischman of The Philadelphia Daily News (via Philly.com). "We're more recognized than when we played: It's a beautiful thing."
It may be difficult for young hockey fans to remember how expansion teams were seen back then. With no free agency or salary cap, they had to make do with players left unprotected by established clubs.
From 1968 to '74, Original Six teams faced expansion teams 11 times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Original Six clubs won them all.
The Flyers ended that with a new formula the league hadn't seen before. Head coach Fred Shero's "Broad Street Bullies" took fighting and intimidation to a new level in the early-to-mid '70s. Physical players like Don Saleski, André "Moose" Dupont, Ed Van Impe, Bob Kelly and Dave Schultz put fear into the rest of the league.
They beat up and then defeated their opponents, finishing the 1973-74 season with 112 points—good for first place in the West Division.
But the Flyers were more than just fists.
They had a Hall of Fame goaltender in Parent and one of the game's gutsiest leaders in Bobby Clarke. They also featured scorers like Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Bill Flett and Gary Dornhoefer.
The Flyers played smart team defense led by Barry Ashbee, Joe and Jimmy Watson, Van Impe, Dupont and Tom Bladon. Philadelphia tied Chicago for the league lead in fewest goals against that season with 164 in 78 games.
The Flyers began the playoffs that year with a four-game sweep of the Atlanta Flames. Then, in a memorable seven-game series, they defeated the New York Rangers—edging them 4-3 in the final frame and making Philadelphia the first expansion team to win a postseason series against an Original Six club.
In the next round, the Flyers were to face the Bruins.
Boston had won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and again in 1972. They had the best player in hockey in Bobby Orr, a defenseman who redefined the way his position was played. Orr had already won two Conn Smythe Trophies and his seventh consecutive Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.
But Shero had a strategy to wear him down. The Flyers continually dumped the puck into the Boston zone on Orr's side, forcing the future Hall of Famer to repeatedly play the puck to tire him and lessen his effectiveness.
The Bruins won Game 1, but the momentum of the series changed during Game 2. The Bruins were leading 2-1 in the final minute when Shero pulled Parent for a sixth attacker. Dupont scored to tie the game, sending it to overtime, and then Clarke scored to give the Flyers a 3-2 win.
The series was tied 1-1. More importantly, the Flyers knew they could beat the Bruins.
They won the next two games at the Spectrum to take a 3-1 series lead and put the Bruins on the brink of elimination. Boston wouldn't die easily, however, and they beat Philadelphia 5-1 at Boston Garden in a decisive Game 5.
Back at the Spectrum, the Flyers pulled out all the stops for Game 6.
Singer Kate Smith was in attendance to sing "God Bless America," the Flyers' good luck charm. Late in the first period, MacLeish scored the only goal when he deflected a Dupont shot past the Bruins' Gilles Gilbert, and Parent stopped all 30 shots he faced to give the Flyers the 1-0 victory.
"That Boston team should've won in four or five games," Parent admitted to Fleischman. "But in life and sports, it doesn't matter what the odds are against you: What matters is what you believe."
The championship win and the Flyers' tough image created a unique bond between the team and the fans in and around Philadelphia. The rest of the league may have hated the Flyers, but they did a great job of representing the city.
"There's no way of describing the parade. It was phenomenal," said Clarke. "We met in the Spectrum parking lot. There were so many people all along [the route], we kept thinking there would be a break in people, but there was no break."
Another title a year later proved that 1974 was no fluke and only made the relationship between the Flyers and their fans even stronger.
But it's been 39 years since the Flyers have won a championship.
Four decades later, Flyers chairman Ed Snider summed up his feelings in a recent interview with The Philadelphia Daily News (via Philly.com). "I have wonderful memories, but that celebration is long gone. I want to celebrate again someday."
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