Thus far in our countdown, we’ve seen a variety of teams, but a majority of them have been much stronger offensively than they were defensively. We’ve already seen Mario Lemieux’ Penguins, Steve Yzerman’s Red Wings, Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers, Bobby Orr’s Bruins, and Joe Sakic’s Avs. Today with our #6 team, we are going to see a team that was one of the best defensive teams all time – the 1974-1975 Broad Street Bullies, the Philadelphia Flyers. Sure they had some offensive stalwarts, such as Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, but the calling card of this team was its defense. Here’s the story of the 1974-1975 Philadelphia Flyers, our #6 team of all time.
The 1973-1974 season was a huge success for the Flyers as they won the Stanley Cup, becoming the first non-Original 6 team to win the Stanley Cup in the post-expansion era. Led by Bobby Clarke up front and Bernie Parent in goal, the Flyers rolled to a 50 win season and then cruised in the playoffs, dropping just 5 games. Bernie Parent posted a then NHL record 47 wins that season and finally gave the Flyers the goaltender that they were looking for. Moving into the the 1974-1975 season, very little needed to be changed and the Flyers just wanted to pick up where they left off. In the offseason, the Flyers acquired forward Reggie Leach who was fresh off a 22 goal season in hopes that he could add more offense and make the Flyers the unquestioned favorites. However the Flyers did have to cope with a couple of new changes to the NHL as the NHL added 2 new teams (Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts), increased the number of games played from 78 to 80, formatted a 4 division, 2 conference league, and reformatted the playoffs to give the #1 teams from each division a bye in the playoffs while the 8 remaining teams played out the first round.
October finally came around and the Flyers tried to pick up where they left off. The month of October on paper looked good as they went 6-3-1, but the Flyers were still dissatisfied with the month as they lost their Stanley Cup rematch with the Boston Bruins and sat in 3rd place in their division. The Flyers over the next three months took their play to a whole new level, going an incredible 25-7-6, earning 73.6% of the points possible. Parent especially took his play up a notch, as during those three months, Parent went an insane 24-6-5 with 8 shutouts in those 3 months. From November 26th to January 4th, Parent went 12-1-3, giving up just 23 goals (1.44 GAA) and posting 4 shutouts. This allowed the Flyers to go from 3rd in their division at 6-3-1 to 31-10-7 and a 10 point lead in their division. However, all good things must come to an end and February showed the Flyers that they still had a lot of work to do if they wanted to repeat as the champs. After opening the month with a 6-0 trouncing of the Wales Conference leading Buffalo Sabres, the Flyers went into a bit of a tailspin, dropping 7 of their next 12 games to fall to 35-17-9. The Flyers saw their 10 point division lead whittled down to 4 and after being tied for the league lead in points at the end of January, the Flyers now trailed the Canadiens and Sabres by 9 points. However, these were the defending Stanley Cup Champions and they were not going to let one bad month derail their repeat bid. The Flyers gave Parent a bit of a break in the early part of March, turning to goalie Wayne Stephenson who was also acquired in the offseason. Stephenson won all 4 games he started in the first ten days of March and the Flyers went 4-1 during that stretch. After that spell, the Flyers turned back to their stalwart Bernie Parent to carry them home and he did not disappoint. Parent proceeded to start 13 of the teams final 14 games and he went 12-0-1 in them, with a 1.54 GAA and 3 more shutouts. In fact, the Flyers last loss of the regular season occurred on March 8th, an 8-2 defeat in Pittsburgh. After that loss, the Flyers were 39-18-9, but trailed Montreal and Buffalo by 7 points for the top overall record. Fast forward 14 games and a 12-0-2 record, and the Flyers finished 51-18-11 and tied with Montreal and Buffalo for the top overall record. The Flyers gave a whole new meaning to getting hot down the stretch.
As for the regular season, Bobby Clarke won his 2nd MVP trophy, as he posted 27 goals and 116 points. Clarke was also an mind-boggling +79, showing how far he had come as a two-way forward as that number was +26 better than any other player on his team. Reggie Leach, acquired in the offseason, stepped up in a huge way, scoring 45 goals and chipping in 33 more assists. The Flyers had 4 guys score 34 or more goals, proving that they were no longer just a defensive team. In goal, Bernie Parent led the league with his 12 shutouts and won the Vezina Trophy for the 2nd year in a row. Parent went 44-14-10 with a 2.03 GAA, and he kept the Flyers the #1 defensive team in the NHL for the 2nd year in a row. However, let’s not forget the real identity of this team – their bruising physicality. Forward Dave Schultz set an NHL record in penalty minutes, recording 472 PIM, thanks to his 26 fights that season. The Flyers as a team had 78 fights that season and were more than prepared to bully their way to another Stanley Cup title. In their path first were the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the regular season, the Flyers went 3-0-1 against the Leafs, outscoring them 18-9 and their first round series wasn’t that much different. The Leafs did put a bit of a scare into the Flyers in Game 1, holding a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes. However, the Flyers tallied 4 times in the 3rd period to pull out the 6-3 win and after that, they let Parent take over. Games 2 and 3 were 3-0 and 2-0 shutouts respectively as Parent stopped all 44 shots he faced. Dating back to Game 1, Parent had stopped the last 50 shots he faced and was looking invincible. Toronto knew in Game 4 that they had to jump on Parent early and they did, scoring just 2:47 into the game. However, the Flyers managed to drag the Leafs into OT, where Andre Dupont ended the series just 1:45 into OT, sending the Maple Leafs home and the Flyers on to the next round. Awaiting the Flyers in the Conference Finals were the New York Islanders.
The Flyers went 3-1-2 in the regular season against the Islanders, but the Islanders were no team to overlook. Led by Denis Potvin, Jude Drouin, and Billy Smith, the Islanders had some weapons to mess with the Flyers. To make matters worse, Flyers goalie Bernie Parent missed the first two games of the series and so the Flyers had to turn to Wayne Stephenson. The Flyers didn’t blink. Game 1 was a 4-0 shutout, where Stephenson stopped all 21 shots he faced and he even recorded an assist on Don Saleski’s opening goal. Game 2 saw the Islanders fight even harder, but just 58 seconds into the third period, the Islanders were down 4-2. However, the Islanders never quit thanks to Denis Potvin. Potvin had already scored once and assisted on the other Islanders goal, but that was not enough. Potvin recorded an assist on J.P. Parise’s 7th of the playoffs, and then 14 seconds later, Potvin tied the game up at 4. However, in OT, championship experience won out as Bobby Clarke scored just 2:56 into OT to give the Flyers a 2-0 series lead and their 6th consecutive playoff victory. Now, the Flyers were rolling and Parent was back for Game 3. Parent picked up right where he left off, recording his 3rd shutout in 4 playoff starts, blanking the Islanders 1-0. For those keeping track, the Flyers went 12-0-2 to close out the regular season and then had won their first 7 games of the playoffs. They were on an incredible 19-0-2 stretch, against some of the best competition in hockey. That stretch alone is one of the most impressive in hockey history. But back to the series. Game 4 saw the Flyers going for the closeout while the Islanders were fighting for their lives. However, the Islanders weren’t about to roll over. In the previous round, the Islanders lost the first 3 games against the Penguins, but rallied to win the next 4 games, becoming the 2nd team in NHL history to win a series when trailing 3-0 (1942 Toronto Maple Leafs). Now, they found themselves in the same spot in the very next spot, and well, they went to work. Game 4 was a tightly contested game that also went into OT, but this time, it was the Islanders striking, as Drouin scored just 1:53 into OT to give the Islanders a 4-3 win and another life. It appeared as if the Islanders had solved the Parent mystery as Game 5 was a laugher as the Islanders scored the first 4 goals of the game and cruised to a 5-1 win. Suddenly, fans in Philly were worried if the Islanders were some team of destiny, some team bound to win no matter how big of a hole they dug. Heading back to New York, the Flyers desperately wanted to close out the Islanders and they struck early on Ross Lonsberry’s goal just 1:42 into the game. However, as had been the case all series, Denis Potvin was not about to quit. Potvin scored in the 2nd period and played a superb overall game. The Islanders managed to strike one more time to send the series back to Philly for an all-or-nothing Game 7. Game 7 brought out the championship mettle in the Flyers. Just 2:27 into the game, the Flyers held a 2-0 lead. Even when Drouin scored just 3 minutes later, the Flyers were not disturbed. They scored just 2 minutes after that to hold a 3-1 lead after the first period. The Flyers absolutely dominated the flow of play, outshooting the Islanders 35-15 in this game. In the 3rd period Rick MacLeish completed his hat trick, and in the process, sending the Islanders home one victory short of a 2nd miracle. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Buffalo Sabres were waiting, setting up a showdown between the two best teams of the regular season.
The Sabres were led by Rene Robert, Gilbert Perreault, and Rick Martin. All three players recorded 95 or more points. In the regular season, these two teams met with the Flyers going 0-2-2. However, those 4 games were decided by a total of 2 goals, and everyone knew this series was going to be extremely close. Game 1 started out just like people thought as after 40 periods and 32 shots, the score was 0-0. Parent had found his game again, stopping all 22 shots through the first two periods and allowing his offense to find their touch. In the 3rd, the Flyers scored 4 times to take Game 1 4-1. Game 2 again was a tightly contested game and again Parent held down the fort until his team found the offense required. The Flyers took Game 2 2-1 thanks to Bobby Clarke’s game winning goal with 13:17 remaining in the 3rd period. The Flyers were up 2-0 heading to Buffalo and their goalie was on fire, having allowed only 2 goals and stopping 45 of the 47 shots he had faced (.957 SV%). Thus far, Buffalo had not been able to impose their wide open offensive game on the more defensive minded Flyers and if they were going to have a chance, they needed to break the game open. However in Game 3, it was the Flyers that tried to break the game open, scoring 2 times in the first 3:09. Buffalo came right back with 2 goals just 17 seconds apart later in the first to tie the game up. Rick MacLeish ended the scoring in the first with his 11th of the playoffs to put the Flyers up 3-2 and chasing Buffalo netminder Gerry Desjardins.
Despite the Flyers being up 3-2, the game was finally being played at the pace that the Sabres wanted it at. Just 29 seconds into the 2nd the Sabres evened up the game at 3. That tie was short-lived as yet again the Flyers came back, this time it was Reggie Leach putting the Flyers ahead. In the 3rd period, the Sabres finally evened it up and pushed the game into OT. Through 3 periods, the Sabres had controlled play, outshooting the Flyers, but they still were only locked at 4. Just as the first OT was getting ready to end, the Sabres got the break they needed as Rene Robert found the back of the net with just 1:31 remaining to give the Sabres their first victory in the series. The Sabres outshot the Flyers 46-33 in that game and finally had broken the series open. Game 4 was another tightly contested game, but the Sabres took control of it in a decisive 2nd period. The Sabres put 14 shots on Parent in the period, beating him 3 times, and giving them a 3-2 lead heading into the 3rd. Danny Gare sealed the victory for the Sabres with an empty net goal and the series was all tied up heading back to Philadelphia.
In the all important Game 5, it was the role players that stepped up for Philly as the Flyers scored the first 5 goals of the game, with two coming from Dave Schultz, and others from Gary Dornhoefer, Bob Kelly, and Reggie Leach. The Flyers cruised to a 5-1 victory and put Buffalo on the brink. With the tough Game 6 loss against the Islanders fresh on their mind, the Flyers were determined not to let that happen again. Buffalo came out firing as expected, putting 13 shots on goal in each of the first two periods, but Parent was up to the task, stopping all 26 shots through the first 40. Heading into the 3rd with the score tied 0-0, the Flyers were ready to step on the gas. Just 11 seconds into the period, Bob Kelly scored for the Flyers and that was all Parent needed. Parent turned away all 6 Buffalo shots in the 3rd and Bill Clement added an insurance marker with 2:47 to go. The Flyers were the back to back Stanley Cup Champions.
So that’s the story of the 1974-1975 Philadelphia Flyers. But what separates this team from the others? First and foremost, their bruising defensive style made it nearly impossible for teams to dictate and control play against them. Second, they had plenty of offensive firepower, as 5 different players scored 10 or more points for the Flyers in the playoffs. And last but not least, it was their goaltender Bernie Parent. His two year stretch from 1973-1974 to 1974-1975 is one of the best two year spans in NHL history. He went 91-27-22 and recorded an incredible 24 shutouts. In Philly there was a popular bumper sticker at the time that said “Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent”. Well, that was largely true in Philly and that’s what truly separates this Philly team from the rest. As for why the 1974-1975 team was chosen over the 1973-1974 team, the 1974-1975 team had Reggie Leach and his 45 goals, were better at even strength (2.12 even strength goals for/against in 74-75 compared to 1.77 in 73-74) and were truly dominant at home, posting a strong 32-6-2 record. This ends the tale of the 1974-1975 Broad Street Bullies