The night was January 11th of 1976 and in a far different time the Spectrum was packed with 17,000 screaming fans as they eagerly awaited a matchup of historic proportions between their beloved Flyers and the tactical Red Army of the Soviet Union — on ice.
CSKA Moscow, better know was the Red Army, was the absolute finest collection of hockey players that the Soviet Union had to offer, pulverizing any teams in their wake during an impressive run of dominance throughout the 1970s and well beyond. Their North American tour in the winter of 1976 proved to be more of the same, with resounding wins over the Rangers and Bruins mixed in with a tie with the soon-to-be dynasty in the Canadiens.
The last stop on the tour brought the Soviets to Philadelphia to take on the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Flyers — a highly anticipated matchup pinning the Red Army’s skill and precision against the Flyers’ resoundingly physical brand of hockey.
Stars were littered all over the ice, and the Flyers’ brutal style wasn’t a shock to the Soviets as they were familiar with Bobby Clarke from a rough run at the 1972 Summitt Series in which the Flyers’ captain playing for Team Canada felled star Soviet forward Valero Kharlamov with a slash that broke his ankle.
Despite the bad blood, the Soviets were well versed on the Broad Street Bullies, and were confident that their system, skill, and style of play would easily dispatch the NHL’s best.
Flyers coach Fred Shero knew his club couldn’t play into CSKA’s hands, and instead let the Soviets possess the puck early but bottled up the neutral zone to effectively take away their creative space up ice. Herded to corners and the walls, the Flyers pressed the Soviets into a pulp and soon wore down players not familiar with the bruising body blows they were taking. The result was a fast start for the Flyers, outshooting the Soviets early and often, only being bested by the world-class goaltending of Vladislav Tretiak.
A heavy open-ice hit from Ed Van Impe on Kharlamov in the first nearly ended the anticipated matchup early as the Soviets argued for an elbowing call and left the bench in protest of the non call. They’d return after a 16-minute delay, though the damage had been done as the Flyers pressed forward with their bruising play to take a 2-0 lead to the first intermission on the heels of a 17-2 advantage in shots.
A shorthanded tally from Joe Watson extended the lead early in the second, but the Soviets got on the board with a Viktor Kutergin goal to make it 3-1 heading to the third period. Despite the tally, the Soviets were being badly outshot 31-10, and surviving mostly on the heroics of Tretiak in goal.
CSKA’s plan of attack didn’t change in the third as they continued to hunt for lanes in an airtight Flyers defense that weren’t there. The Soviets struggled to even gain ice past the red line and the Flyers countered with the ice tilted by peppering Tretiak with pucks and 18 more shots to finish the game with an astounding 49-13 edge.
The end was a resounding 4-1 win for the Flyers over CSKA, and one that would’ve been much worse had it not been for the great Tretiak in net. As Gary Dornhoeffer said, “If it wasn’t for Tretiak, we’d have hit double figures.”
Even after all these years, that night inside the Spectrum remains one of the lasting memories in the history of the Flyers — the night they almost sent the Red Army home twice.