It was a night that those who were there will never forget.
On the 20th of May, 1974, the Philadelphia Flyers, in only their seventh year of existence, toppled the mighty Boston Bruins and Bobby Orr, in six games to win the Stanley Cup, the first expansion team to do so. I can only speak for myself, but I would wager that most if not all of us at Broad Street Hockey wouldn’t have seen this game live, or have been old enough then to adequately remember it. However, to this day it remains a riveting affair, especially since we know the result and the payoff of watching the jubilant celebrations in the end.
Joe Watson and Andre “Moose” Dupont started in defence, accompanying Rick MacLeish, Ross Lonsberry, and Simon Nolet as the first forward line to hit the ice. Though immediately, the Flyers would need to defend against the lethal Boston power play as they took a penalty early (as they were known to do back then). The Flyers would have a very good chance to score on the PK, as Bill Clement was fed through on the left wing, but his shot was stopped by Boston goaltender Gilles Gilbert.
From nearly the first minute of this game, the physicality was evident, as despite some pretty intricate passing on the part of both sides, big hits were thrown, especially on the half boards in either zone. With tough players such as Dave Schultz and Bob Kelly, of course the Flyers were gonna throw their weight around, as we all know they famously did.
The Flyers would receive a power play midway through the period after Bill Barber was hooked, and a goal at 14:48 resulting from that penalty eventually proved to be the game winner, and only goal of the game. Rick MacLeish deflected a point shot from Andre Dupont past Gilbert, beating him low as it appeared Gilbert completely lost control of where the puck was. However, equally as memorable was a near chance that rang off the post, and in the resulting scrum near the net, Bobby Clarke and Bobby Orr get into such a heated confrontation that Orr takes his glove off and tries to beat Clarke with it.
Bernie Parent made key saves on Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, as he acrobatically stretched his legs out to stop low drives from Orr. In the goaltending style of the day, Parent would charge out of his net to cut off the angles of the Boston shooters, and then make diving, stretching, and all around athletic moves to deny opportunity after opportunity. I can certainly say that, though this old fashioned method of goaltending is certainly less reliable than how many goaltenders in more modern years have gone about playing, the way Parent plays is certain a heck of a lot more entertaining, and had me on the edge of my chair whenever a puck was thrown at either net.
The Flyers also did what they used to best in this era: fight. The commentators were clearly not pleased, as they pleaded for “this kind of nonsense” to stop as a scrum formed to the left of Bernie Parent. Bill Clement proved to be the primary aggressor, and in the end, it gave Boston a power play, so it didn’t do anything except rile up the crowd.
Though the Bruins dominated the first period, outshooting the Flyers 16-8, the first period would end 1-0 to the Flyers, and despite the Bruins playing better for the entire game essentially, they couldn’t get anything past Parent. Bobby Orr, Wayne Cashman, and the dominant Bruins of the era were foiled.
It was also interesting to see essentially all the players not wearing any helmets, with their long 1970’s hair flowing with every increase in speed. Pretty much every Flyer back then had some serious hockey flow, with perhaps none more so than Bobby Clarke and Rick MacLeish.
In the end, we all can remember, regardless of age, that classic scene where the puck is dumped into the Flyers zone, Bernie Parents turns around to note that there’s no danger, and the seconds tick down as Bobby Clarke and the Flyers skaters stream out to mob Parent as they win the cup for the first time. Then, we see Clarke with the cup, flashing that toothless smile that become so iconic.
In the end, it wasn’t a pretty game from the Flyers’ perspective, but they won it nevertheless. Their brand of hockey was about toughness and physicality, but they possessed a surprising amount of speed, more than I had assumed for a team back then. They also had the skill and drive to be able to pull of such an upset over the Bruins.
Though it’s nearly fifty years later, I got an equal amount of thrill as had I been there in person. It was certainly refreshing to watch a hockey game that, although I knew the result of, didn’t intimately know the finer details.