The year was 1967. The NHL had its Original Six and a slew of other teams had come in gone with little-to-no success. California would be getting two squads (Golden Seals and Kings). Minnesota would get the North Stars. St. Louis would get the Blues. And, Pennsylvania would get the Pittsburgh Penguins along with the Philadelphia Flyers.
It didn’t take long for the Philadelphia Flyers to show the entire NHL that they belonged. And by the 1970s, they became contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Broad Street Bullies made a name for themselves as a rough and tumble team that didn’t take crap from anyone. Which, ultimately led to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended.
Since then the Flyers have gotten close, but haven’t stood upon hockey’s highest pedestal. It didn’t have so much to do with icing a bad team as it did bad luck. Every time Philadelphia would return, they would hit the wrong team at the wrong time.
1976: Montreal Canadiens
The Flyers were going for the three-peat in 1976. That was until they hit the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs were made up of players like Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Bob Gainey, Yvan Cournoyer, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, and goalie Ken Dryden. Lest we forget the head coach of that team with so many future Hall-of-Famers, Scotty Bowman. The Flyers didn’t have a chance in 1976, as the Habs swept them in four games. The Canadiens would go on to win the next three Cups after that.
1980: New York Islanders
As if it wasn’t bad enough the Flyers went up against an eventual dynasty in 1976, 1980 turned out to be more of the same. The Islanders were spearheaded by the goal-scoring prowess of Mike Bossy, along with a talented center in Bryan Trottier. Add in Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin, Ken Morrow—among others—Philadelphia was staring into the eyes of the next dynasty of the NHL. The Islanders won consecutive championships from 1980 through 1983. It also didn’t help that the Flyers were on the wrong side of one of the worst referee calls (or non-calls) in hockey history at the hands of Leon Stickle in Game 6:
1987: Edmonton Oilers
Third time’s a charm, right? Not if you’re the Philadelphia Flyers. While their 1987 season was a phenomenal one and may have been the closest they would get to winning since 1975, they ended up being right in the crosshairs of the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers of the mid-1980s. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri had put up absurd numbers over the entire decade and they were the team to beat. It took seven games before the Flyers succumbed to the Oilers as Edmonton won their third straight Stanley Cup. The Oilers would win yet another the following year, further cementing their team as one of the greatest ever assembled.
1997: Detroit Red Wings
Many thought the result of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals wouldn’t be so one-sided. The Flyers ranked third in the Eastern Conference, powered by the Legion of Doom line and backstopped by Ron Hextall in net. The Flyers won each series in five, making us think the final would be a grueling battle between the hard-nosed Flyers and talented Detroit Red Wings. Detroit had other plans.
Along with the Russian Five (Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov), the Red Wings had Nicklas Lidström, Steve Yzerman, and Brendan Shanahan. The Flyers fell victim, yet again, to Scotty Bowman being behind the bench. The Flyers were swept in four. And, head coach Terry Murray was given the boot less than a week after the loss.
2010: Chicago Blackhawks
Nobody gave the 2010 Flyers a chance at winning the Cup, and for good reason. They just got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth with a shootout win on the last day of the season against the New York Rangers. They handed the New Jersey Devils a first-round loss and proceeded to face the Boston Bruins.
After going down three games to none, the Flyers climbed their way back and won four straight to head to the Eastern Conference Finals. Philadelphia did away with the Montreal Canadiens in five games, setting up a showdown against the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s no question the Blackhawks were the much better team. Michael Leighton could only play so well before Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and company would expose his flaws. Top to bottom, the Blackhawks were built to win. They did just that, silencing the Flyers in six games. They would go on to be one of the present-day dynasties in the NHL, winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons.