The Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues play in different conferences. They haven’t faced each other in the playoff series in over 50 years. However, both franchises entered the NHL as part of a 1967 expansion that doubled the league’s size from six teams to 12. The two organizations’ shared history included converging ideologies, a memorable episode of violent conflict, overlapping individuals in key positions, and alternating eras of success meaning full circle.
Street bullies are born
The Blues established themselves as a force for the Western Division, which is made up of the six expansion teams, with three Stanley Cup Finals appearing in the first three seasons of the expansion era. They beat the Flyers in postseason en route to their first two final appearances in 1968 and 1969.
During Game Five of the 1968 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, St. Louis defender Noel Picard ferociously knocked out Philadelphia forward Claude Laforge. The incident set Flyers co-founder and longtime chairman Ed Snyder set his sights on building a team that won’t be pushed onto the ice.
The Flyers developed the identity of the bullies on Broad Street. They have built a reputation for extreme ferocity and have used intimidation as a weapon to defeat their opponents. While they used strict enforcers who could give up gloves with anyone in the league, the roots of their reputation were the strength of their team as a group. The opponents realized that challenging a single Flyer meant that they would have to face the entire team.
“We lived the package mentality, and that’s what made us so successful.”
The Flyers became the first extended team to win the Stanley Cup when they knocked out the “big and bad” Boston Bruins in 1974. They won their second straight championship in 1975 and advanced to their third Stanley Cup Final in 1976. Bobby Clark, Dave Schultz and Ed entered both Van Impey and goalkeeper Bernie Barnett are in the folklore of leading the best era in Flyers history.
Claiming to be the most successful expansion team was to bypass the Blues, and in one instance, the feud worsened in an astonishing fashion. During a notorious incident at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1972, police had to come to the scene in response to a fight between Blues players and Flyers fans. Three St. Louis players and former head coach Al Arbor spent the night in a local jail in the aftermath. After the ugly episode, the Blues went to 34 consecutive games in Philadelphia without a win. The 0-31-3 stretch ran for 16 seasons and finally ended in November 1988.
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After the core of Broad Street’s bully bands faded away, the pilots retained some semblance of their identity as powerful agents who refused to pounce on them. The organization maintained its preference for a tough, tough style and players who would stick to their teammates at any cost.
Dave Brown became one of the league’s most feared strikers during the 1980s, and goalkeeper Ron Hextal developed a reputation for fiercely defending his team’s tuck. Mills Rick Tuchet and Kevin Denen became famous characters in the franchise and captain of the team. Philadelphia entered another period of Stanley Cup competition with fearsome powerhouse forward Eric Lindros as their team captain and top streak center in the late 1990s. The preference for larger, more physical strikers has continued in recent seasons with players such as Scott Hartnell and Wayne Symonds.
The Blues are back as contenders in the Stanley Cup
In November 2018, the Blues sacked head coach Mike Yeo and appointed Craig Beerup, former executive pilot and head coach, as a temporary replacement. They went on a historic run from last place in the NHL to the Stanley Cup champions in 2019. They marked the turning point of the season as a moment of collective bonding that occurred at a bar in South Philadelphia while they were in town facing flyers in January 2019. In an evolution Ironically, Yu is now the interim manager of Flyers.
The Blues’ ability to roll four competitive streaks in physical style carried them throughout the playoffs. Instead of superhero performances like those from recent Conn Smythe Trophy winners Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, they’ve got the depth-forward powerhouse of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, and a deep support crew.
They are back on the talk as a competitor in the Western Conference in 2021-22. Jeremy Rutherford the athlete He recently wrote about how the “pack strength” mentality has become a winning identity for one of the few NHL teams in the modern era to have won the Stanley Cup without a typical star player (from “How Blues GM Doug Armstrong Built One of the NHL’s Deepest Forward Combinations on a “Group Strength” Mentality,” athlete,” 13/1/22). They have seamlessly replaced Stanley Cup contributor Jayden Schwartz with contributions from newcomers Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich and a breakout season from Jordan Kerro. The distribution of their pay among their strikers differs greatly from the majority of competing NHL teams.
Publications struggling to regain the top
Meanwhile, the Flyers faltered during the 2021-22 season. Barring a mathematically improbable return, they will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93 and 1993-94. They entered the season expecting forward depth to bring them back into the Stanley Cup competition with a mantra similar to the “pack mentality” used by the Blues, but just about everything went wrong. The same organization that was once called “Broad Street Bullies” is in turmoil with no promise of the future and no identity to call itself.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher spoke in January of the need to acquire “excellent talent” and emphasized the desire for players who can shoot well from a winger position to improve the struggling powerhouse. The Flyers have a first-line-caliber position at Sean Couturier with stylistic similarities to O’Reilly, and Fletcher is hoping to add snipers like Tarasenko as part of his plan to “strongly retool the roster” for the 2022-23 season. Hopes of a return to Philadelphia’s Stanley Cup glory could once again hinge on being able to emulate the Blues’ winning identity.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, Pennsylvania covering the Philadelphia Flyers for hockey book. He’s an encyclopedia of pointless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to elicit the stats of Flyers’ goalkeeping since 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten backpackers like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. Colin also covers Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 Fanatics in Philadelphia.