Today, we’re back on the topic of the best Flyers team to not win hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. On Monday, Mike made the case for the 1996-97 Flyers team, lead by Eric Lindros, that fell at the hands of the dynastic Detroit Red Wings. Today, however, I will be presenting the case for a more recent team, in fact, the most recent Flyers team to reach the cup finals.
I think people forget that Peter Laviolette was not the head coach of this team at the start of the year, since he is so heavily associated with this cup run. However, for the first quarter or so of the season, John Stevens was still at the helm.
In fact, Stevens was only fired around a quarter of the way through the season, after a disappointing 13-11-1 start. This was a team with expectations placed on them by many fans, a sentiment which I think has been lost to time due to how the 2009-10 team earned themselves a spot in the playoffs. Having reached the Eastern Conference Final in the 2008 playoffs against the Penguins, later to be knocked out in the 1st round in 2009 yet again by Pittsburgh, John Stevens failed to deliver upon the hype that was building around the Flyers in 2009-10, and as such, Peter Laviolette was hired to do so.
The new coach’s record, 28-24-5, was certainly not impressive by any stretch of the imagination. However, it proved enough to take the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only ahead of the Montreal Canadiens on total wins. As we all know, the Flyers would not have even been involved in the postseason if not for a shootout win on the last day of the season against the New York Rangers. Claude Giroux scored to give the Flyers the advantage, then Brian Boucher famously stopped Olli Jokinen to send the Flyers into the postseason.
The roster of that team was as follows, though you probably already know all the names at the top of the list:
|Scoring||Goals||Assists||Ice Time||Point Shares|
|9||James van Riemsdyk||20||LW||78||15||20||35||-1||30||11||4||0||6||17||3||0||173||8.7||1011||12:58||2.6||1.2||3.8||21||37||0||2||0.0|
The goaltending of duo, or should I say trio, of Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, and (for one game) Johan Backlund backstopped the Flyers as they dispatched the New Jersey Devils in the first round, four games to one. Perhaps the most memorable moment from that series was the Daniel Carcillo overtime winner in game three, which funny enough, I attended live in person. Drew at thirteen was loving it! (Also love the classic CSN feed).
Next up were the Boston Bruins, and this series, besides the actual Stanley Cup Finals, is what I would say most people remember this team for. The Flyers quickly found themselves down three games to none as a pivotal game was set to take place in Philadelphia. Former Flyer Mark Recchi scored a last minute goal to send the game to overtime, though it was another Flyer from the 2003-04 run, Simon Gagne, who would have the last laugh as he scored to keep the Flyers alive. Fast forward three more games and we have one of the most incredible comebacks, as well as one of the best game sevens, that you’ll ever see. It was truly a microcosm of that entire series. Down by three goals in the game, only to come back with a 4-3 victory, both in the game and series.
The only team preventing the Flyers from representing the east in the cup finals were the Montreal Canadiens, and the Flyers steamrolled them four games to one. Of course, also, I can’t mention this series without mentioning “the shift”.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Richards. No need to explain, just watch if you don’t already know what happens (apologies for the cheesy music):
Now, we reach the final series, a showdown with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a closer series than I think a lot of people remember. Through four games, each team had won their two games at home, with the Flyers winning game three thanks to an overtime tally from then 2nd year player Claude Giroux.
Ultimately, as we all painfully know, the Flyers would lose the series in a game six overtime, where Patrick Kane scored the goal that nobody saw. He somehow managed to sneak the puck inside the post on Michael Leighton, who had been poor all series. Brian Boucher had been hurt in the Boston series, and allowed five goals to Chicago in game one. We never truly know what may have happened had Boucher been in net, if he would have been able to get his pad to the post quick enough.
In the end, the Flyers didn’t just lose because of their goaltending. The top four defensemen, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn, were excellent to great players, however beyond them the Flyers had no depth at the position. They also faced a Blackhawks team that, like Detroit, were going to become a dynasty, winning the cup again in 2013 and 2015. Yet again, the Flyers were not as outclassed from a talent perspective as they were against Detroit in the 1996-97 playoffs. For this particular year, I personally hold more “what-ifs”.
We can look back, however, at some fond memories and performances from those playoffs, perhaps none brighter than Danny Briere. Holy cow did he tear it up. The man we call “Mr. Playoffs” tallied an incredible 30 points in 23 playoff games. If it wasn’t essentially obligatory that the Conn Smythe trophy go to a player from the winning side, and that all playoff rounds be considered equally, Briere would no doubt have won.
Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Simon Gagne, and Ville Leino all scored key goals for the Flyers during their run, Chris Pronger averaged an incredible 29:03 a night, leading the defense, and oh yeah, did I mention there’s also the first playoff appearance of one James van Riemsdyk. JVR was a rookie that season, and scored six points in twenty-one playoff games (35 points in 78 regular season games). All of these players put in memorable performances that will forever place them in Flyers folklore, especially during the heroics of the Boston comeback.
They may not have won the cup this year, but that 2009-10 team was a special team who defied the odds to reach the point they did. The core from this team would last one more season before the shake up of the 2011 offseason, when Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded. Perhaps them, the ultimate “what if” then, is whether or not they would have eventually brought a cup to Philly. However, as for reality, the 2009-10 Flyers were certainly an amazing team that deserves to be remembered.