1969-70 was quite possibly the year the Philadelphia Flyers turned the corner from expansion franchise to a legitimate Stanley Cup threat, but it had nothing to do with the underwhelming season they put together on the ice that season.
Instead, it was the selection and rookie season of Bobby Clarke, a second-round choice from Flin Flon, that would prove to be a defining moment for the fledgling franchise. But make no doubt about it: The Flyers entered the 69/70 season with the full intent of turning two straight first-round playoff exits into something more.
With Clarke joining a roster of players that already included Gary Dornhoefer, Andre Lacroix, Simon Nolet, Bernie Parent and others, the Flyers seemed poised to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in their three-year history.
Instead of taking full control, they hung on the playoff cusp in the NHL's West Division for most of the year. But despite the struggles, the Flyers seemed on pace for potentially another meeting with the nemesis who had beaten them to a pulp in the two playoff years prior, the St. Louis Blues.
The Flyers held a strong lead over the Oakland Seals for the fourth and final divisional playoff spot, but in a 2007 Mets-like collapse, they absolutely fell off the map during the stretch run. A pair of 3-2 losses on March 25 and 26 to California and Los Angeles kicked off what would turn into a five-game skid heading into the final game of the season on April 4 at the Spectrum against Minnesota.
The Flyers, North Stars and Seals were all tied with 58 points entering that Saturday afternoon, meaning the Flyers could have finished anywhere from third to fifth place in the division. Minnesota had another game the following afternoon while Oakland had a game later that night, but the Flyers knew that no matter what, they needed a win that day to keep their chances at a playoff berth alive.
The first two periods were penalty-filled but uneventful in terms of scoring. Parent and North Stars goaltender Lorne Worsley had stopped 20 shots apiece through the first 40 minutes of play, and it looked as though Parent was on his way towards holding off Minnesota in the third.
But then, the unthinkable.
With about 12 minutes left in the third period of a scoreless game and a face off near the Minnesota blue line, North Stars defenseman Barry Gibbs picked up a loose puck and lobbed it the length of the Spectrum ice. Parent was caught off guard and the puck found its way into the back of the net. The goal ultimately became the game-winner and playoff-clincher for both Minnesota and Oakland. The Flyers were done for the year.
Here's how the Associated Press described the goal at the time:
Gibbs' goal, the third of his season, came with 7:38 gone in the third period. The puck rolled loose after a face off, just across the Minnesota blue line from where Gibbs shot the puck over Philadelphia goalie Bernie Parent's right shoulder and into the net.
Parent later said that the sun had peaked through the windows of the Spectrum through a portal on the concourse and into his eyes, distracting him for just enough time to lose the puck. If only it were a night game ...