Monday, January 13, 2014

Flyers Home Cookin' and Streakin'

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

On Saturday afternoon, the Flyers' home streak of 10 straight wins was put to rest in a less-than-stellar defensive effort which resulted in a 6-3 loss to the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning.

In honor of the seventh streak in franchise history on home ice which reached double digits, here's a historical recap of how those previous six runs of success began, unfolded and ended.

January 4-April 3, 1976 (20 games, franchise and NHL record): By the time the Big One started, the Flyers were already two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and were four points behind Montreal for the best record in the league nearing the midway point of the 1975-76 season.

They had already lost twice (NY Islanders, Boston) and tied twice (Los Angeles, Chicago), their only non-wins in a still-standing full-year NHL residency record of 36-2-2. The game which began the streak saw the Islanders go up 2-0 late in the first period, the Flyers tie on goals from Reggie Leach and Bobby Clarke, New York take the lead back early in the third on Jean-Paul Parise's marker, but the hosts stormed to victory on scores from Don Saleski, Leach and Clarke in a span of 2:01 inside the final three minutes of regulation.

A Flyers defense emboldened by the offensive output and functioning without the crutch of Bernie Parent allowed two goals or fewer in the final 18 games of the streak and helped record victories of at least four goals on nine occasions (Atlanta twice, Vancouver, St. Louis, Rangers, California, Detroit, Kansas City, Buffalo)

An 11-2 rout of Washington in the second-to-last victory of the year featured Reggie Leach scoring to get to the cusp of 60 goals and Barber's hat trick which pulled him within one of his only career 50-goal season. A 5-2 dispatch of Buffalo two nights later closed out the record streak, and continuity wasn't achieved since the Islanders dropped a 3-0 bombshell on opening night of the 1976-77 season.

What made the run even more remarkable was that Rick MacLeish was lost for the final 15 games in the streak and the last 29 games of the season, with a knee injury suffered in a 6-1 blowout of Vancouver in early February, and that Wayne Stephenson carried the bulk of the games with Parent not fully recovered from a neck injury.

February 10-April 4, 1985 (14 games): One half of the defining 24-4-0 run which ended Mike Keenan's first year as Flyers head coach and vaulted his team to the top of both the Patrick Division and the NHL standings (one year before the creation of the Presidents' Trophy). The Orange and Black began the streak nine points behind the first-place Capitals and, by the end of the season, sped past them and finished 12 points ahead.

It should have been 15 in a row, but three nights before the streak kicked off in earnest with a one-goal decision against the Rangers, the LA Kings managed to rally from a 4-0 deficit less than 22 minutes into the contest for a 4-4 tie. It was the last non-win the club suffered on home ice in the regular season, and last until the Wales Conference Finals with Quebec.

During the run, the Flyers erased all opponents (Rangers, Nordiques, Oilers, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Flames) during a six-game residency couched around the All-Star break. They torched the Caps to pull into a first-place tie and ripped Pittsburgh for 11 goals in back-to-back efforts, topped Detroit on March 28 to officially clinch the division, then blanked the Rangers and Islanders by identical 3-0 scores to close out their home slate and set a new franchise record for wins.

All 14 victories came in regulation, and this year's Philly team's 10 straight on home ice without advancing beyond the usual 60 minutes ranks as the most since then.

Technically, what ended the streak was the 40th and final home date of the 1984-85 season. What really closed the books was a shocking 6-5 season-opening home loss to New Jersey on October 10 of the following campaign. Pelle Eklund scored in his first NHL contest, but Paul Gagne registered a hat trick and the Devils beat an uncharacteristically weak Pelle Lindbergh four times in the third to wipe out a 4-2 deficit. Which brings us to...

October 19-November 27, 1985 (11 games): One of a number of oddities to kick off what proved to be a mournful season with an abrupt ending, is that Keenan's kids lost their first two home games of the year and then went unbeaten for six weeks. New Jersey was the first, and the second was a 2-1 defeat to Quebec where the Nordiques were outshot 43-14.

This run of success, starting with a 7-3 rout of Minnesota, actually put a 13-game overall win streak in motion which still stands as a franchise record. On that Saturday night at the Spectrum, Rick Tocchet registered his second career two-goal game, both Sutters lit the lamp and Don Beaupre was pelted with 45 shots while the defense held the North Stars to 18 on Bob Froese.

In between, the Flyers shut out the Whalers twice, and beat the Canucks, Kings, Blackhawks, Bruins, Oilers, Islanders, Penguins and Jets -- the last four while dealing with the immediate aftermath of Lindbergh's untimely death -- and none bigger than a 5-3 result on Nov. 14 for Pelle's memorial against defending-champion Edmonton.

The final game of this streak happened on Thanksgiving Eve against a torched Winnipeg club. A 37-15 shot advantage and 6-1 result on the scoreboard came about due to two goals from Kerr and one each from Dave Poulin, Brian Propp, Derrick Smith and Ed Hospodar. Hospodar's goal, his last with the club before being traded to Minnesota and last with the Flyers for more than a year, touched off a brawl which the hosts won as well. 

After winning at Minnesota then losing on the road to Winnipeg and Detroit, the Orange and Black came home on December 5 and dropped a 6-3 score to Toronto, which boasted one of the worst defenses in the league that year.

February 13-March 30, 1975 (11 games): This home streak helped the defending Stanley Cup champs finish the season 18-4-4 and clinched a second straight division title and first in the newly-created Patrick.

Tony Esposito and the Blackhawks played the first victims as Gary Dornhoefer, Rick MacLeish and Clarke scored in the second period with Leach adding a third-period score to back 26 saves from Parent. Uncaharacteristic for top teams of the era, there was only one true blowout victories in the bunch: a six-goal margin against the Penguins on March 13. Philly managed to put up an eight-spot on the Red Wings four days earlier but it was just an 8-5 score thanks to Stephenson's shaky goaltending.

Pre-dynastic Montreal showed up on South Broad Street on March 23, and was sent packing with a 2-1 win thanks to Ross Lonsberry's goal against Ken Dryden past the midway point of the third. The final game in the streak was a bookending 4-1 win against the Blackhawks one week later, then Eddie Giacomin held the fort three days later in a 1-1 tie with the Rangers to end the string of Ws.

The reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner closed out his 12-shutout regular season with three clean sheets (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minnesota) and Stephenson blanked Kansas City for his first professional shutout. The upstarts topped four Original Six clubs (Chicago, Boston, Detroit and Montreal) en route to a league-best 32-6-2 home mark -- better even than the Canadiens in the Forum.

November 28, 1976-January 16, 1977 (11 games): If not for the need to rally from a 2-0 deficit against the Rangers two days earlier into a 2-2 tie, we'd be talking about a record string of 21 straight home wins for this particular Flyers team.

Prior to the tie, Fred Shero's bunch reeled off nine Spectrum victories in a row. But as in the year before, the Islanders were charitable enough to roll over and let their division rivals begin another home win streak. Joe Watson and Tom Bladon netted third-period goals to turn a one-goal contest into a sure-fire victory and Parent came up with 21 saves.

This one occurred in the middle portion of the schedule and didn't exactly feature the highest level of competition, as Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Chicago, Colorado, Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Colorado and Minnesota arrived on Pattison Avenue and failed to gain a point.

The Barons made history with their first-ever trip here after moving from the Bay Area on December 5, losing 6-2 thanks to a MacLeish hat trick, and the Bruins' game was won on scores 80 seconds apart in the final three minutes of regulation from Dornhoefer and Barber.  The only blowouts were back-to-back wins over the Kings and Blues by a combined 13-2 count, and the last game in the series was a run-of-the-mill 4-2 decision over the North Stars where the hosts fired 38 shots on Gary "Suitcase" Smith.

As they did during their run of four Stanley Cups, the Canadiens put those good feelings to rest four days later with their second road rout of the season in Philly, winning 6-2.

October 27-December 5, 2003 (11 games): Back in the days before the cancelled season, when ties were the only thing clubs could use as crutches towards gaining a playoff berth if they couldn't win, Ken Hitchcock made it clear that Philadelphia would be the toughest place to play in the entire NHL. His veteran-laden club backed up those remarks by going undefeated in their first 14 (12-0-2) on home ice from the start of the season.

Again, it should have been 14 straight victories, but our erstwhile Atlantic Division champs blew a 3-0 lead against Pittsburgh in the second game of the season, and had to erase deficits of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 to a rebuilding Carolina Hurricanes in a 4-4 tie two weeks later.

This year's streak began in the next game, a 5-0 demolition of the Canadiens where John LeClair did his usual strafe job on his ex-mates with a goal and one assist. Robert Esche turned away all 20 shots he faced for his first whitewash of the season.

If not for an overtime strike on November 13 against Vancouver, we wouldn't be talking a lengthy run of success in the new building. Todd Bertuzzi had evened the score with only eight seconds left in regulation, but Simon Gagne kept the momentum going 1:47 in. Jeff Hackett added a shutout two days later against Atlanta in a game where the hosts scored four times in the third to break open a scoreless deadlock. Minnesota, Boston, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Phoenix followed and were sent away without a point.

Martin Brodeur finally played the role of streak-breaker on December 13, stopping all 32 shots he faced while Grant Marshall and Michael Rupp scored for the Devils in a 2-0 loss.

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