Earlier this year I reminisced about watching the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1980s, and in particular their 1987 Stanley Cup Playoff run. My dad was kind enough to bring out the stubs from all 14 home playoff games, prompting another trip down memory lane.
The first series was against the Rangers and Game 1 was a bit of a downer with the Flyers losing 3-0. It was the iconic Ron Duguay, his long flowing locks of hair earning him whistles, who helped put the game out of reach with a second period goal.
The Flyers rallied in the series and took four out of the next five, closing out the series with a 5-0 laugher in New York.
Next up was the other New York team, the Islanders. The dynasty was aging but hadn’t yet given up the ghost. Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy made it way too interesting and the Flyers ground out a 4-3 series victory.
Now as difficult as it was, there was a measure of satisfaction in beating both New York teams back to back. There was no love lost between Philadelphia and New York. Still isn’t.
The loud slow choruses of ‘Hrudey. Hrudey. Hrudey.’ that echoed the Spectrum served to bind fans together in a jeering serenade of the opposing goalie, Kelly Hrudey.
Next up was Montreal. The Habs. The defending Stanley Cup Champions. Mats Naslund, Chris Chelios and the feisty Claude Lemieux. Game 1 of the series was special, with Ilkka Sinisalo scoring twice, the second time to win it for the Flyers in OT.
It’s tough to describe the utter joy that you experience watching an over-time game-winning hockey goal in person. Every fan is on the edge of their seat. Each shot is met with an ‘oooh’ or ‘aaah’ and is paired with the back-arching false start spasms of jubilation or dejection. The tension is palpable. The anticipation builds exponentially.
The roar of 17,222 fans when the puck hits the back of the net. Deafening. Unifying. High fives all around. Voice froggy from a night of shouting and watery Diet Pepsi.
The Montreal series got chippy, but what do you expect from the likes of Chris Chelios and Claude Lemieux? In fact, it got so chippy that a brawl broke out between Lemieux and Flyer back-up goalie Chico Resch during the warm-up before Game 6. That’s right, a fight before the game started.
It didn’t matter. Down 3-1 in Game 6 the Flyers scored three unanswered goals to win the series 4-2.
Which leads us to Edmonton and the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals. I was supremely lucky to see the best hockey player of all time: Wayne Gretzky. There is no debate on this point. I’d seen him in plenty of other regular season games but here he was in the Stanley Cup Finals!
The Oilers were loaded with Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and the pesky Esa Tikkanen. While they didn’t win four straight, the Oilers did win four of five Cups between 1984 and 1988. They were good, really good.
The Flyers had a bad habit of falling behind 2-0 in games. So much so that we’d joke that we had opponents right where we wanted them once we were behind 2-0. After two games in Edmonton we were also down 2-0 in the series.
And sure enough, the Flyers fell behind 2-0 and eventually 3-0 in Game 3, before rattling off five unanswered goals to win and send us home with hope. But that was short lived. Game 4, the Flyers again fell behind 2-0, but … lost.
Down 3-1 in the series the Oilers were returning home and planning a parade. A parade?! The disrespect brought curses to the lips of nearly every Flyer fan. Game 5 in Edmonton the Flyers, again, fall behind 2-0. But this time, they battle back and win, sending the series back to Philadelphia. My chance to see one more game.
Game 6 (the 14th home game) and the Flyers, AGAIN, go down 2-0. We have them just where we want them! And we did, pulling out a 3-2 victory and sending it back to Edmonton for Game 7.
Pandemonium. All 17,222 elated, hopped up, screaming, filing out of the building, strangers pumping each other up with congratulations and encouragement. The City of Brotherly Love. High fives down Broad Street.
Yes, the Flyers lost Game 7. It was sad, but the memory of those 14 games more than makes up for it.
Section 38, Row 6, Seat 6.