By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
As one of the first franchises in the National Hockey League, the Boston Bruins have had their fair share of time to stir the pot with essentially every other team. Typically, when the word “rivalry” combines with the name “Boston Bruins”, the other five Original Six teams come to mind. The rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens, as fellow Black n’ Gold Hockey Podcast writer Joe Chrzanowski wrote about in a recent article, is widely regarded as the greatest rivalry in the history of the NHL.
As well, rivalries with the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and even the Detroit Red Wings are fairly well-known. These teams are rivals with the Bruins more-so because of the fact they were the only teams in the league at the time and played each other in high-stakes games often, thus creating hatred for one another on the ice.
However, in the 1967-68 season, the National Hockey League introduced six new organizations to the league – the California Seals, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, and the Philadelphia Flyers, bringing the size of the league to twelve teams instead of six. With more competition and more opponents, winning a Stanley Cup became even more challenging and opened the door for more rivalries.
As an expansion team, the Philadelphia Flyers had losing records in each of their first five seasons, making the postseason three times and losing in the quarter-finals each time – twice to the St. Louis Blues and once to the Chicago Blackhawks. It wasn’t until the 1972-73 season where the Flyers, led by captain Bobby Clarke, finished with a winning record of 37-30-11. Philly knocked out the Minnesota North Stars in six games but fell short in five games to the Montreal Canadiens in the next round.
In the very next season, the Bobby Clarke scored a team-leading 87 points to help lead the Flyers to a 50-16-12 record and the 1st place position in the NHL West Division. After sweeping the Atlanta Flames in the opening round and bouncing the New York Rangers in seven games, the Flyers were in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history – against the powerhouse Boston Bruins.
The Start of a Rivalry: 1974 – 1978
Led by Bobby Orr and company, the Boston Bruins were one of the strongest teams in the National Hockey League. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in the 1969-70 season, won 57 games before losing in the first round in the ’70/’71 season, won a second Stanley Cup in 71-72, won another 51 games in 72-73, and were coming off a 52-17-9 record in the 1973-74 campaign.
Boston eliminated both the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-0) and Chicago Blackhawks (4-2) in the previous two rounds which led to the Finals against Philadelphia. During the regular season, the B’s won the season series 3-1-1, out-scoring Philly 20-to-16 in those five games. Boston was arguably the favorites to win their third Stanley Cup in five seasons.
The 1974 Stanley Cup Finals was also a series between two of the scariest NHL teams at the time and quite possibly of all-time. The Bruins were known as the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ with the likes of Terry O’Reilly and Wayne Cashman and truly paved the way for the physical, hard-hitting teams like the Broad Street Bullies to even exist. Now, with the likes of Dave Schultz and Don Saleski, these two tough teams were going toe-to-toe with Lord Stanley on the line.
Boston took the first game, but the Flyers won Game Two in overtime followed by wins in Games Three and Four to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. In Game Five, the Bruins scored more than three goals for the first (and only) time in the series, winning the game 5-1. However, Hall-of-Fame goaltender Bernie Parent stopped every shot in Game Six as the Philadelphia Flyers won their first franchise Stanley Cup with a 1-0 victory. Parent was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The Broad Street Bullies did not stop there. In the very next season, they dominated once again all the way to their second-consecutive Stanley Cup, defeating the Buffalo Sabres in six games. The Bruins, on the other hand, lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the best-of-three preliminary round.
In 1975-76, both the Bruins and Flyers were top-three in the final league standings and found success early on in the postseason. Thus led to a semi-finals matchup between the two, a rematch from the Finals two years prior. The Flyers dominated the Bruins, winning four-straight games after losing Game One, sending them to the Stanley Cup Finals again. However, the Montreal Canadiens proved to be too good and swept Philly in four games.
For the next two seasons, these hard-hitting franchises played against one another in the semi-finals with Boston winning both matchups before going on to lose to the Montreal Canadiens – as most teams did back in this era of the NHL. During those five years, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers played in four playoff series with each team winning twice. Although, only the Broad Street Bullies managed to go on and win the Stanley Cup (1974) after their series.
The 1970s went down as arguably the most entertaining decades for each of these teams. Philadelphia and Boston had seemingly the perfect blend of scoring talent, solid goaltending, and the willingness to drop the gloves and pound your body into the glass. Ruthless, intense, physically-demanding are the best ways to describe the Big Bad Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies back in the day.
A Recent Resurgence: 2007 – Present
This rivalry appeared to die down a little during the 1980s, 1990s, and beginning stages to the 2000s. We did not see another playoff series between the two organizations and neither team won another Stanley Cup in that period. While they played each other in the scheduled regular-season games, there just was not as much intensity as a best-of-seven elimination series.
However, the bad blood between Boston and Philadelphia started to amp up more recently. On October 27th, 2007, defenceman Randy Jones brutally hit 22-year-old Patrice Bergeron on the numbers into the glass. Bergeron laid unconscious on the ice before being stretchered out of the arena. He was later diagnosed with a broken nose and a concussion and was forced to miss the remainder of the 2007-08 season. Jones received a two-game suspension for his hit.
Two seasons later, in 2009-2010, the Bruins and the Flyers each made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after finishing third in their respective Eastern Conference divisions. Boston dispatched of the Buffalo Sabres in six games while Philadelphia knocked out the New Jersey Devils in five games. This subsequently led to a Bruins-Flyers playoff series for the first time since 1977-78 – 32 years prior.
Following a 5-4 overtime win in Game One, the B’s would win the next two meetings to have a dominating 3-0 series lead over the Black and Orange. Most hockey fans expected Boston to come out victorious, but the Flyers were not done yet. Simon Gagne, who missed the first three games due to injury, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to avoid the four-game sweep.
Philly shutout the Bruins 4-0 in Game Five and stole Game Six by a final score of 2-1 to somehow, someway force a pivotal Game Seven in Boston, Massachusetts. With goals from Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic (2), the Bruins exploded to a 3-0 lead in the first period of play. However, James van Riemsdyk buried one with less than three minutes to go in the opening frame to cut the lead down to two.
Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere each potted one of their own to equal the score after forty minutes. Then, the Boston Bruins took a too-many-men penalty (a Déjà vu moment from the 1979 Semi-Finals against Montreal) which lead to a power-play goal by Simon Gagne with just around seven minutes remaining in the final regulation period.
Philadelphia held on to win Game Seven, 4-3, and became just the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and win the series (Maple Leafs over Red Wings in 1942, Islanders over Penguins in 1975). This series loss remains to be one of the most heartbreaking moments for many Boston Bruins fans as an almost certain series win came crashing down. The Flyers would go on to win the Conference Finals but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.
During the 2010-2011 campaign, both Boston and Philadelphia finished with 100-plus-point records and were considered to be two of the favorites to make it to the Finals coming out of the East. The Bruins defeated the Canadiens in seven at the same time the Flyers eliminated the Sabres in seven – setting up an immediate rematch of the year prior.
Once again, Boston came out strong, winning Game One 7-3, Game Two 3-2 in overtime, and Game Three 5-1. With another 3-0 series lead over Philly, the Black and Gold were looking to finish the job successfully this time. In a masterful game of offensive and defensive success, the Bruins won Game Four by a score of 5-to-1 and eliminated Philadelphia to move onto the Eastern Conference Finals.
As we know, the Boston Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games and the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their sixth Stanley Cup and first since 1972. The 2011 Bruins went down as one of the toughest teams in NHL history as their defense and hard-hitting style helped lead them to victory. It was shades of the old-school 1970s Big Bad Bruins – the team that as we discussed, started the rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers.
In 201 regular-season games dating back to 1967-68, the Boston Bruins have a combined 107-61-21-12 record over the Philadelphia Flyers, outscoring them 659-to-583. In addition to that, these two teams have played six playoff series against one another with each winning three times. The Bruins have outscored the Flyers in the postseason 100-to-86.
Now, in 2019-20, this rivalry has the potential to gain new ground. On March 10th, 2020, the Bruins defeated the Flyers 2-0 in what ended up being the final game of the regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the NHL’s Return-to-Play format, the Bruins and Flyers will each play in a Round Robin to determine seeding for the remainder of the playoffs. This means that there is the potential for another high-stakes game between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers and to be quite frank, I am ready for it.
To a lot of Bruins and Flyers fans alike, this rivalry is heated, intense, and quite historic. However, with other more high-profile rivals for each respective franchise, this one often goes unnoticed. For that reason, the rivalry between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers is one of the most underrated ones in NHL history.