One of the more impressive wins the Philadelphia Flyers produced this season was their 4-3 overtime win in St. Louis against the Blues back on January 15th. Jakub Voracek’s beauty gave the Orange and Black their third win at Enterprise Center in their last five trips there, but since the 2004-05 lost season they have only won four of their ten road contests against the Blues. Prior to the full-season lockout the Flyers had won four consecutive tilts in St. Louis’ building including their final road game in Missouri before the new NHL arrived.
The 2003-04 season ended in pain for the Flyers and their fans, but the ride to their seven-game loss in the Eastern Conference Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning was a lot of fun. The club went 40-21-15-6 (wins-regulation losses-ties-overtime losses) for 101 points to win the Atlantic Division and finished third in the Eastern Conference. Mark Recchi had a team-high 75 points and also led the Flyers with 26 goals while Simon Gagne (24 goals), John LeClair (23), Michal Handzus (20), and Tony Amonte (20) all broke the 20-goal plateau for Philly as well. Kim Johnsson led the blue line in lighting the lamp with 13 tallies while Robert Esche saw 40 games in the blue paint to record 21 wins and a .915 save percentage.
Philly found themselves with a record of 17-3-8-1 in mid-December, but found themselves reeling a bit going into 2004. With only one win in an eight-game stretch, the Flyers traveled south for their final game in 2003 on December 30th against the Blues. St. Louis finished the 2003-04 season 39-30-11-2 for 91 points to finish seventh in the Western Conference before they lost in five games to the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs. Joel Quenneville was the head coach at the time the Blues hosted the Flyers, but he was fired later in the season before his long-time assistant coach Mike Kitchen replaced him. The usual suspects on those early 2000’s Blues’ teams did work this particular season as Keith Tkachuk led the team with 33 goals and 71 points in 75 games while Doug Weight was second in points with 65 and Pavol Demtria was third with 58. A few future/former Flyers were on that Blues’ team as well including Chris Pronger, who led the blue line with 14 goals and 54 tallies in 80 games. Scott Mellanby, Mike Sillinger, Eric Weinrich, Brian Savage, Aris Brimanis, and Matt Walker all rocked the blue note that season as well. Defenseman Murray Baron, drafted by the Flyers in the eighth round of the 1986 NHL Entry Draft and totaled 20 points in 83 games over the 1989-90 and 1990-91 campaigns for Philly, was also on St. Louis’ roster and made his presence felt that night.
The game didn’t start off on the right foot for the Flyers, as Tkachuk gave the home team a lead just 5:15 in with Gagne in the box for a holding-the-stick infraction. Donald Brashear potted his fourth of the season just 1:58 later to send a rather uneventful opening frame into the intermission tied at one.
With Mike Danton (yup, that guy) in the sin bin for St. Louis Tony Amonte scored the first of three Flyers’ goals on the man advantage in the second period to give Philly their first lead of the night. Before the Orange and Black converted on a pair of power plays later in the stanza Todd Fedoruk got into a scrap with Jeremy Yablonski, an undrafted left winger who was taking part in his first and only NHL game ever.
A little over a minute later Dallas Drake was called for cross-checking, which led to Joni Pitkanen making it a 3-1 contest with his fourth of the season halfway through the period. This marked the end of the night for starter Brent Johnson, who stopped 10 of 13 in 29:24 of work before being replaced by Reinhard Divis (a real name and person), who was backing up Johnson that evening on an emergency basis with starter Chris Osgood suffering a right knee contusion earlier in the day. The Flyers needed a little over ten minutes to beat Divis for their third power-play of the game thanks to Recchi’s first of the game with 19 seconds left in the middle period. As the second period came to a close and the Blues heading into the third period down 4-1 with their third-string goalie in net, things got a little chippy.
Philadelphia’s power-play unit didn’t slow down in the third period, as Recchi scored his second of the game on a 5-on-3 advantage and Jeremy Roenick scored his first of the night on the ensuing 5-on-4 for two power-play goals in a 28-second span. This made it a 6-1 game with just under 14 minutes left in regulation with five of the Flyers’ goals coming via their (at that point in the season) top-ranked power-play unit. This game marked the fifth and the most recent time the Orange and Black have scored five power-play goals in a single contest.
With things not going their way and their (at that point in the season) top-ranked penalty kill allowing five goals against in an embarrassing loss at home the Blues apparently weren’t too pleased with Flyers’ head coach Ken Hitchcock’s decision to keep throwing out his top unit for special teams’ goals when the game was out of reach. Hitchcock did not care. At all.
“They can whine all they want. I don’t really give a darn, to be honest with you. You know what, I have three units. I was rolling lines. We have three units and we use all three.”
Language, Hitch. Anyway it was obvious the tension between the teams was growing, which led to Fridge to dropping the gloves for a second time in the lopsided victory. This time he squared off against the former Flyer Baron.
Handzus was hit with a high-sticking penalty the same time these two were shown the penalty box, which led to Mellanby scoring the Blues’ first and the game’s sixth goal on the power play thanks to helpers from Pronger and Tkachuk. After Roenick secured his second of the game and 14th of the season with 2:13 left to finalize the 7-2 outcome the teams decided to engage in extracurricular activities once more after the final horn.
The Flyers would win their next game against the Florida Panthers on January 2nd, 2004, but failed to win their six games afterwards before closing the season by securing points in 25 of their final 31 games. In the postseason they eliminated the New Jersey Devils in five games and the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games before falling to the Lightning in seven.