Getting to the Stanley Cup Final and winning the Cup aren’t easy feats, but some matchups are easier than others. Does it really surprise you that a Penguins team with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Mark Recchi, and Bryan Trottier won their first Stanley Cup over a Minnesota North Stars team that had Mike Modano, Brian Propp, Bobby Smith, Neal Broten, and Brian Bellows? Not really. One is stacked with future Hall of Famers, and the other one had good, but not great players, except for Modano, who was in his third year. The Flyers won their two Cups in their first two Finals appearances. Since 1975, they’ve gotten within four games of winning it all six times, coming up short each time. In the humble opinion of this writer, we had bad luck with our matchups. Let’s look back at the Flyers’ history of Cup Final appearances since May 27, 1975.
The Flyers made it back to the Finals for the 3rd consecutive year. They had lost some major pieces like Bill Clement, who was traded to Washington for the first overall pick in 1975 (Mel Bridgman), Ed Van Impe and Bobby Taylor were both traded to Pittsburgh for Gary Inness (who didn’t play in the Finals) and cash, and Rick MacLeish was injured and unable to play. They went up against a Montreal Canadiens team that boasted the likes of Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, and Peter Mahavolich. The Canadiens would win in 4 games and then win the next 3 Cups having another dynasty from 1976-1979. Reggie Leach did win the Conn Smythe though, at least that’s something.
Philadelphia would be back in the Finals four years later. Instead of facing the Montreal dynasty, they were met by the New York Islanders in their first Finals appearance, but don’t let that fool you. This Islanders team was built right, and as a lot of people know this is the beginning of their four-straight Stanley Cup wins. We still had some remnants of our Cup-winning teams in Barber, Clarke, Kelly, Leach, MacLeish, Dupont, but we had some younger players like Bob Dailey, Behn Wilson, Ken Linseman, Brian Propp, Paul Holmgren, and Pete Peeters in net. The Flyers would lose in six games to an Islanders team that boasted the likes of Denis Potvin, Bob Nystrom, Clark Gillies, Mike Bossy, Butch Goring, John Tonelli and had Billy Smith in net with Chico Resch backing him up. In game 6, there was one of the most infamous missed calls where Clark Gillies made a drop pass to Butch Goring who would go in and score. the problem is that the puck left the zone and Gillies was offsides, but the play was never called dead. New York would go on to win the next three Cups winning every year from 1980-1983 and would have a record 19 straight playoff series wins in a row before losing to the next NHL dynasty the Edmonton Oilers.
Five years later, the Flyers would come back to the Finals, but this time there was nothing left of the Cup days on the roster. A new group of guys emerged with the likes of Rick Tocchet, Dave Poulin, Brad Marsh, Brad McCrimmon, Dave Brown, Rich and Ron Sutter, Tim Kerr, Mark Howe, Peter Zezel, and young goaltender Pelle Lindbergh. On top of that, a 1980 vet in Brian Propp returns. But, all that can’t really compare to a young Oilers team that can boast an entire starting lineup of future Hall of Famers and still have one leftover. You got the big names like Gretzky, Kurri, Anderson, Messier, Coffey, Lowe, and Fuhr. On top of that, they had some good depth with guys like Mike Krushelnyski, Dave Semenko, Charlie Huddy, and Esa Tikkanen. Oh, and Andy Moog was their backup. The Flyers lost in five games.
After a year break from being in the Finals, the Flyers face… the Oilers again, who also had just come back to the Finals after missing in 1986. The Oilers were hungry to be back and especially were ready after missing out on the Final due to an own goal against Calgary. Most of the team stayed the same. Of course, Lindbergh would tragically die in late 1985, and now rookie Ron Hextall was the starting goaltender. Some notable additions to the Flyers were Pelle Eklund, Scott Mellanby, and Chico Resch. The Oilers made some big additions too. They would add Marty McSorley, Craig MacTavish, Jeff Beukeboom, and Reijo Roustalainen. The series was a lot closer than two years prior ending in seven games. Ron Hextall would be the second Flyer to take the Conn Smythe will being on the losing team with his efforts in the Finals. The Oilers would then win again next year and in 1990.
The longest break, at the time, for the Flyers between Finals appearances. 10 years after losing to Gretzky’s Oilers, the Flyers were ready to make a statement. The Flyers had 2 returning faces from that last Finals appearance in Ron Hextall and Kjell Samuelsson. But besides that, the Flyers had new toys. The biggest of which (yes pun intended) was their formidable “Legion of Doom” line with Mikael Renberg, John LeClair, and their captain Eric Lindros. They also had Eric Desjardins, Chris Therien, Paul Coffey, Dale Hawerchuk, Rod Brind’Amour, Shjon Podein, Pat Falloon, and Garth Snow as the backup. They would face a monster in Detroit. This team boasted a goaltending tandem of Chris Osgood and Mike Vernon. They had the Russian 5: Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, and Slava Kozlov. On top of that, they had guys like Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Larry Murphy, Brendan Shanahan, Darren McCartney, and Kris Draper. The Red Wings would win in four games and then win again the year after, then again in 2002. Detroit really was just a “Who’s Who” of hockey stars in the late 90s and early 2000s.
13 years. The longest time between Finals appearance for the Flyers, although we are at 11 currently. This team was a surprise. They made it into the playoffs in the shootout of the final game of the season. They were the seventh seed in the East. Our team was almost entirely new to this Finals thing with only Chris Pronger and Ville Leino playing in the Finals before. Besides the two just mentioned, the team was pretty decent on paper with guys like Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, and rookies Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk up front and then guys like Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Brayden Cobourn. Goaltending was a weak spot as our starter, Ray Emery was injured during the season and unable to come back. So, that left Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton to backstop this team. After an incredible reverse sweep in round 2 and a riveting Eastern Conference Final, Philly was up against a young, talented Blackhawks team. Patrick Kane (who was so close to being a Flyer), Jonathan Toews, Marin Hossa, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd (when he was actually good), Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, and Kris Versteeg played well in front of Antti Niemi. Patrick Kane would, of course, score the heartbreaking goal that would cut their drought, the longest active at the time, and keep ours going. The Blackhawks would then win again in 2013 and 2015.
When looking back at the Finals appearances of the Flyers since their Cup wins would mostly just say “man, those Flyers just can’t get it done”. While that is correct, each time they lost was to a dynasty, or at the very least the closest thing to a dynasty without technically being a dynasty (Red Wings and Blackhawks, technically aren’t dynasties, but are still really really good teams).
By Noah Caplan
Pic creds: inquirer.com