The time the Flyers nearly blew a 3-0 playoff series lead
Flyers’ fans would have a different take on 1975.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of only five teams across the NHL, NBA, and MLB to win a playoff series after a 3-0 series deficit (1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders, 2004 Boston Red Sox, 2010 Flyers, and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings). Luckily for the Orange and Black they are only on the positive side of history when it comes to the biggest comeback in sports, but if one game went differently 45 years ago they would have experienced both sides.
The four NHL teams mentioned above are a group of nine clubs in league history to force a Game 7 in a playoff series after going down 3-0. In 1939 the New York Rangers forced a Game 7 against the Boston Bruins after nearly being swept only to lose the winner-take-all contest followed by the B’s Cup win in the next round. After they became the first team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit by beating them in 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs won Game 7 of the 1945 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings to remain the only team to accomplish the feat. More recently just one year after the Flyers came back against the Bruins, both the Chicago Blackhawks and Red Wings forced a Game 7 in a series they trailed 3-0 only to lose the decisive tilt during the 2011 postseason.
The 1974-75 New York Islanders have the unique distinction of being the only team in league history to erase two 3-0 series deficits in the same postseason. After they reverse-swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 Quarterfinals, the Isles found themselves in the same position the following round against Philly but couldn’t do the unthinkable twice.
While the Flyers were sweeping the Maple Leafs in the 1975 Quarterfinals, the Pens thought they had a sweep themselves jumping out to a 3-0 series lead over the Islanders. Pittsburgh won the first two games of the series at home and took the first one at Nassau Coliseum before New York stormed back to force and take Game 7 1-0 thanks to Ed Westfall’s tally with just 5:18 left in regulation. This let the Flyers and Islanders meet up in one of the two Semifinals’ series in 1975 with the winner of whoever came out of the Buffalo Sabres-Montreal Canadiens series.
Two-point games from Bobby Clarke and Rick MacLeish along with a 21-save shutout by Wayne Stephenson handed the Flyers a 4-0 win in Game 1 of the series before Clarke potted the OT-winner a little less than three minutes into the extra frame of Game 2 for a 5-4 victory and 2-0 series advantage.
Glenn Resch did all he could to help the Islanders win Game 3, but Reggie Leach beat ‘Chico’ 30 seconds into overtime to give Philly a 1-0 win in a contest they outshot the hosts 32-14. The win gave the Orange and Black a 7-0 record through seven games in the 1975 postseason with a chance of back-to-back sweeps to earn a bid in the Stanley Cup Final, but the chance to defend their title wouldn’t come so easily.
With their backs against the wall the Islanders worked their way to a 3-0 lead thanks to Ralph Stewart’s tally with 7:11 left in the middle stanza. Shortly after Dave Schultz took out some anger on Garry Howatt and Islanders’ fans, Ross Lonsberry and MacLeish scored 1:57 apart in the final minutes of the second period before MacLeish produced another goal with 15:12 left in regulation to make it a 3-3 affair. According to longtime Islanders’ beat reporter Stan Fischler, Leach came pretty damn close to saving everybody some time as one of his shots in the dying seconds of the game nearly gave Philly a razor-thin Game 4 decision.
‘The Isles sure looked it, after they established a 3-0 lead. But that disappeared as fast as you can say, “One, Two Three,” which comprised the next trio of red lights; all belonging to Philly.
In the final seconds of the third period, the Coliseum crowd gasped as the Flyers hardest shooter, Reggie Leach, fired a bazooka at Resch. It beat Chico, that was for sure, but did it end he game — and the Islanders.
Not so fast. Referee Dave Newell rushed to linesman Claude Bechard and Leon Stickle. Following their high-level conference they disallowed the goal on the grounds that the puck beat Resch after the final buzzer sounded.’
With new life the Islanders denied Philly of the sweep as Jude Drouin (not Jonathan’s dad) beat Bernie Parent 1:53 into overtime to force a Game 5. New York turned their ability to escape elimination in Game 4 into a 5-1 decision in Game 5 with Bob Kelly scoring the Flyers’ lone goal. Before the teams traveled back to Philly for Game 6 legendary heavyweights Dave Schultz and Clark Gillies duked it out in the final minute of the Flyers’ loss.
It looked like Game 6 was going to be the night the Flyers finally put the Isles away with Lonsberry’s second of the series and postseason beating Resch 1:42 into the contest. Unfortunately this was the only shot of the 29 Philadelphia took that evening to light the lamp, as Denis Potvin tied the game late in the middle stanza with Clarke in the sin bin for slashing and Gerry Hart put home the winner with a little over 17 minutes left to force Game 7.
Although they had let the Islanders’ dream of a miracle comeback brew for a little over a week, The Broad Street Bullies finally slammed the door shut on the series with a resounding 4-1 victory at The Spectrum on May 13th. Gary Dornhoefer opened the scoring just 19 ticks into the game and MacLeish put home the first goal in his hat trick 2:08 later on the power play. Drouin cut the lead in half five minutes in, but MacLeish’s second power-play goal of the period made it 3-1 Philly 7:11 in. The hat trick was completed with a little over a minute left in regulation to finalize the score, as the Orange and Black pummeled the visitors in the shot count 35-15.
This Game 7 win wasn’t only important because it was a Game 7. The win kept the Flyers from enduring the wrong side of a blown 3-0 series lead while preventing the Islanders from an historical achievement and perhaps a fifth Stanley Cup. Where would a Cup-winning team that overcame a pair of 0-3 series deficits in the same postseason stand in league history let alone just Isles’ history? Does a Stanley Cup in 1975 help them provide another winner from 1976 to 1979 or does the Butterfly effect take away from New York’s four straight titles to open the 1980’s?
The year the Orange and Black last won it all is hard to forget thanks to other teams’ fans pointing it out every once in a while, but at least the Flyers won that second Cup. The Broad Street Bullies were icons and it was the time in the organization’s history when it received perhaps their most attention from those outside the hockey world. Their back-to-back titles while intimidating opponents has made them a team that has transcended time, but would they have had the same effect if they had only won the Stanley Cup in 1974?