One of the things I think about from time to time is the moment that a sports franchise was at its summit. While this exercise factors in great moments in franchise history, it is not judging which single moment is the best a franchise has experienced. It's a look at the exact moment that a franchise was at its apex.
We looked at the Phillies' apex Monday. Today, we'll dive into the Flyers' with the Sixers' to come Wednesday.
April 25, 1976
The Broad Street Bullies stormed their way through the NHL, changing the game forever en route to Stanley Cup titles in 1974 and 1975. Then, in January 1976, the Flyers took down what many considered to be the world’s best team, the Soviet Red Army, in a 4-1 thrashing at the Spectrum. It was the only loss the Soviets experienced in their exhibition tour of the NHL.
On the back of two titles, defending democracy, capitalism and the North American version of the sport, the Flyers found themselves back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the spring of ’76. After missing all but 11 games in the regular season because of a serious neck injury, Bernie Parent returned in time for the postseason. On this date, the Flyers defeated the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their quarterfinal series with Parent between the pipes.
But in the first game of the semifinal series against the Bruins, a still-limited Parent struggled as the Flyers dropped Game 1. Fred Shero turned to Wayne Stephenson in net for Game 2 and he backstopped four straight wins as the Flyers reached a third straight Cup Final. Reggie Leach would lead the way in that series for the Flyers with a performance worthy of a Cy Young award: nine goals and zero assists in five games. Leach would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Yet without Parent and his heroics available to them, the Flyers were swept by the Canadiens in the final round — losing four games by a total of five goals. That was the first of four successive Cup wins for Guy Lafleur and Montreal. Meanwhile, the Flyers have yet to win a Stanley Cup since, despite appearing in the Cup Final on five more occasions.
It’s impossible to know whether the Flyers would have won a third straight Cup had Parent been healthy, but his injury made it nearly impossible. We do know Parent always saved his best for the biggest stage.
Honorable mention: May 28, 1987
After making the Stanley Cup Final in 1985 and finishing with 110 points in 1986, the Flyers returned to the Final again in 1987 to take on Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers. This is the date the Flyers won Game 6 of that series to even it up at three games apiece.
The Flyers found themselves down a goal with under seven minutes to play in the third period before Brian Propp took a Pelle Eklund pass in the slot and fired it past Grant Fuhr to knot the game at 2-2. Less than 90 seconds later, with the building still abuzz, a failed clear made its way to J.J. Daigneault. The 21-year-old blueliner skated into a slap shot that Fuhr never saw clearly thanks to a Scott Mellanby screen. When the puck hit twine, the roof nearly came off the Spectrum for a second time. Those who were there swear it was the loudest moment in that building’s history.
The final five minutes felt like an eternity for those wearing orange and black but Mike Keenan’s group of twenty-somethings held on to push the series to a Game 7. The injury-ravaged Flyers went stride for stride with arguably the greatest team ever assembled.
The Flyers even took a first period lead in Game 7 in Edmonton. But a team with eight future Hall of Famers including the coach is tough to keep down. The Oilers edged the Flyers at the finish line, winning Game 7 by a final of 3-1.