From the stacked 1986-87 and 2003-04 teams that were felled by injuries to the 1996-97 and 2009-2010 teams that ran into dynasties in the making, the Flyers have sure had some great teams come up just short of securing the franchises’ third Stanley Cup and first since the end of the 1975 season.
To wrap up a week reliving some truly great teams and players, we’ll take a quick look at the other Flyers teams that came oh-so-close to winning a Stanley Cup: it’s the best of the rest.
1975-76 (Lost in Stanley Cup Final to Montreal, 4-0)
Already back-to-back winners of the Stanley Cup, the Flyers were primed for a three-peat with much of the same cast back in 1975-76. But little did the defending champion know, there was a budding dynasty building across the border in Montreal.
The Flyers tore through the regular season to the tune of 118 points, but a full nine points behind the Canadiens. After winning the Cup in head coach Scott Bowman’s second season in 1972-73, the Canadiens bowed out early in the playoffs as the Flyers secured their first two Cups.
But did Montreal even come back with a vengeance in 1975-76, scorching the league in the regular season (58-11-11) and losing just once in three playoff rounds on their way to the Cup.
Ray Shero’s Flyers were swept by Montreal and standout goaltender Ken Dryden in the Final, but were outscored by just five goals. The series was so close that Reggie Leach won the Conn Smythe with 19 goals in the playoff run, including four in the Final alone. The Flyers also were without the services of the previous years Conn Smythe winner as Bernie Parent missed much of the season with a neck injury and was supplanted by backup Wayne Stephenson.
While Stephenson played admirably in Parent’s stead, perhaps the series would have swung in the Flyers’ direction with a healthy Parent fully capable of out-dueling Dryden on any given night.
The 1975-76 Flyers still own the highest point percentage in team history at .738. Bowman’s Canadiens would go on to win three more Stanley Cups in succession.
1979-80 (Lost in Stanley Cup Final to New York Islanders, 4-2)
The Flyers team with the second-highest points percentage in franchise history is the next on our list: the 1979-80 squad.
Buoyed by 20 ties, Pat Quinn’s Flyers enjoyed a 116-point regular season and cruised through three rounds (11-2) before falling in six games to the New York Islanders.
Like the 1975-76 team before them, this team had no idea it would lose to what would become yet another dynasty in Al Arbour’s Islanders, who would go on to win four consecutive Cups just like the Canadiens did through the late 1970’s.
Still armed with many of the Cup winning Broad Street Bullies with the likes of Clarke, Leach, Barber, and MacLeish, the Flyers were not an old team by any means with additions of young guns like Brian Propp and Ken Linesman. But while they finished second in scoring, they lacked the pedigree of the Cup winning teams’ defense and goaltending.
On top of a young defense and goaltending, the Flyers also ran into the buzz saw that was becoming Arbour’s Islanders. Led by future Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, and Dennis Potvin, the Islanders’ high-powered offense laid teams to waste in the playoffs, outscoring opponents by 22 goals. The Final was a back-and-forth affair as both teams scored early and often, but in the end the Islanders were too deep on offense and their defense led by Potvin was able to hold the Flyers’ offense at bay.
The Islanders went on to win three more Stanley Cups, losing just once in any of their next three victories after the Flyers stole two games from them in 1979-80.
If the Flyers had played the Sabres instead of the Islanders (Sabres lost to Islanders in Semi-Finals), they’d likely have won the Cup as they went 3-0-1 against Buffalo that season.
1984-85 (Lost in Stanley Cup Final to Edmonton, 4-1)
After failing to advance past the Semi-Finals in any of the four seasons since their loss to the Islanders in 1979-80, the Flyers went for a major shakeup in the form of hiring Mike Keenan behind the bench in 1984-85.
The young team (one roster player above age-29) responded to Iron Mike by winning the Patrick Division with 113 points. Anchored by an offense led by Tim Kerr (98 points) and Brian Propp (97 points), the Flyers finished fourth in goals scored and third in goals allowed as Mark Howe and Brad McCrimmon led an air-tight defense ahead of All-Star netminder Pelle Lindbergh.
Edmonton was a scoring machine with future Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky (208 points), Jari Kurri (135 points), Paul Coffey (121 points) leading the way for the highest scoring team in hockey by a mile that year. It didn’t quite matter if Grant Fuhr allowed six goals on any given night as the Oilers would just score eight to 10 themselves —and they often did.
After sweeping Edmonton in the regular season, the Flyers had designs on dethroning the high-powered Oilers with a deep attack, steady defense and all-world goaltending. For at least one game the formula looked pure as the Flyers won game one by a final score of 4-1 with each of the above elements shining through.
The problem was that game one served as a wake-up call for the defending champions, who rallied off four-straight wins to close the series and win their second-straight Stanley Cup. The Flyers kept things close until the decisive game five —an 8-3 Oilers win— but were no match for the hideous offensive prowess Gretzky’s team had at the time.
Though Edmonton took a year off the next season from winning Cups, they ended the decade with five Cups in seven seasons to close the 1980’s.
2019-20 (41-21-7, 89 points through 69 games; Second in Metropolitan Division)
Alright so nobody is really sure whether or not the current season will return in some form or another, but there’s no denying that the 2019-20 Flyers were/are bona-fide contenders.
Despite losing Oskar Lindblom early in the season to Ewing’s Sarcoma and Nolan Patrick not playing a single game, the slick work of General Manager Chuck Fletcher this offseason (Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun) put the Flyers in a strong position to challenge for a playoff berth.
The roster has been worked masterfully by first-year coach Alain Vigneault as the bench boss has juggled the lineup due to various injuries and has the Flyers sitting firmly in a playoff spot. In fact, the Flyers would be the Metropolitan Division winners should the NHL move to roll back to 68 games and go straight into playoff seeding. That would grant them a first-round matchup with the Hurricanes, who the Flyers went 3-0-1 against in four games thus far.
Captain Claude Giroux was also a part of the 2009-10 team that we highlighted earlier this week, but a razor-thin defense and goaltending did that roster in during the Cup Final. This version was equally as deep thanks to the emergence of Sean Couturier as a No. 1 center, Hayes as a no doubt No. 2 center, scoring provided by breakout performer Travis Konecny (61 points in 66 games) and depth scoring from Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk, and Scott Laughton.
The defense was buoyed by the trades of Niskanen and Braun in the offseason and the emergence of Philippe Myers and Travis Sanheim gave the Flyers a deep defense that left the enigmatic Shayne Gostisbehere on the outside looking in. Between the pipes, Carter Hart has provided above-average goaltending in his age-21 season, and backup Brian Elliott provided the Flyers with a stable option still better than anything the team trotted out in the Final 10 years ago.
Fletcher added to his group at the deadline with minor tweaks, though Derek Grant fit right in and notched five points in seven games after joining at the trade deadline from Anaheim. With JVR set to return for the playoffs, and the Flyers relatively healthy otherwise (Patrick and Lindblom aside), they were/are poised to be a tough out in a seven game series.
While we’re not sure exactly what becomes of this Flyers team just yet, it’s a good time to point out that they’re very, very good, and that shouldn’t be lost in all of this just yet. Hopefully they’ll get a chance to keep the magic going and end the Flyers’ Cup drought, but only time will tell.