We continue our look at Washington Capitals Patrick Division rivalries of the past in anticipation of renewing them this fall in the new Metropolitan Division. Next up…the Philadelphia Flyers.
Washington and Philadelphia are cities separated by about 150 miles of Interstate 95. That proximity made for a convenient – and mutual – hatred between fans of the Washington Capitals and those of the Philadelphia Flyers. That hatred paled, however, in comparison to what the players had for their opponents over the 14-year history that the clubs shared in the Patrick Division from 1979-1980 through the 1992-1993 season.
At the north end of the rivalry when these teams found themselves together in the Patrick Division, the Flyers were the “Broad Street Bullies.” They were only in their fourth season removed from a Stanley Cup championship and still among the most fearsome – and feared – teams in the NHL. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, and Reggie Leach provided the offensive firepower. Paul Holmgren, Mel Bridgman, and Behn Wilson provided the enforcement and intimidation.
At the other end of I-95 the Washington Capitals went into their inaugural season in the division coming off a 24-41-15 record in 1978-1979, but did so with a revamped lineup. Dennis Maruk and Tom Rowe – team-leading 31-goal scorers each in the 1978-1979 season – would play lesser roles on the 1979-1980 team. For Maruk, who arrived in Washington from the Minnesota North Stars the previous season, his reduced role would be the product of injuries that limited him to 27 games. For Rowe, it was the result of his being traded to Hartford in exchange for the Whalers’ Alan Hangsleben. The Caps would go younger with this edition of the team. Mike Gartner, Ryan Walter, and Bengt-Åke Gustafsson – none of them older than 21 years of age – would play bigger roles for this team.
The Capitals held their own in that first season, given the relative stature of the two clubs. Washington went 0-2-2 against Philadelphia that first season in the Patrick Division. It was the young guys leading the way in that first season series. Gustafsson was 3-1-4 in four games, Gartner was 1-3-4, and Walter was 0-3-3.
Things got better for the Caps after that first Patrick Division season against the Flyers. Over the next four years the Caps would do no worse than split the season series and won it outright three times. The high point of that early era, at least in the regular season, might have been January 8, 1984. The Caps traveled to Philadelphia for a game that night in the midst of a soft patch in their schedule. They were 3-4-1 over their previous nine games and were stuck at 19-20-3 for the season, comfortably in fourth place in the six-team Patrick, but 11 points behind the second-place Flyers. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was on an 11-3-4 roll that had them breathing down the necks of the first-place New York Islanders.
On that night, though, history was made for the Caps. Dave Poulin scored at 5:20 of the first period to give the home team the lead, but it would not survive the next full minute of play. Bengt Gustafsson scored at 6:19 to tie the game. Then he scored at the 11:15 mark to give the Caps the lead. After Dave Christian put the Caps up by a pair before the end of the first period, Gustafsson completed the hat trick on a power play at 11:41 of the second period. In the third period, after Doug Jarvis gave the Caps a 5-1 lead, Gustafsson scored at the 5:12 mark to tie the club record for goals, which he then shared with six other players (Dennis Maruk turned the trick twice).
Gustafsson grabbed the record all for himself with his fifth goal of the game on a power play at the 10:11 mark. It escaped no one’s attention that the victim of the barrage in goal was Gustafsson’s fellow Swede, the late Pelle Lindbergh. But not everyone was impressed. The Flyers’ Darryl Sittler, who was playing in his 1,000th game that night and who was no stranger to big nights himself, having scored six goals in a ten-point night for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Boston Bruins in 1976 (a points game record that still stands), said, “the game itself is one only Washington and Gustafsson will remember.”
Gustafsson’s five-goal night in a 7-1 win was the spark the Caps needed. Starting with that win the Caps would close the regular season with a 29-7-2 record. On ten occasions in that 38-game stretch they scored at least six goals. It did not stop there, either, at least as far as the Caps’ matchups with the Flyers was concerned. The Caps would draw first blood against the Flyers in their playoff rivalry that same season. The Caps dominated the orange and black in their best-of-five Patrick Division semi-final, sweeping the Flyers in three games and outscoring the Flyers by a total 15-5 margin. Craig Laughlin led the Caps in the series with three goals.
The Caps would see their fortunes sour against the Flyers in the next few years, though. Over the next three seasons the Caps would manage only a 4-14-2 regular season record against the Flyers and be outscored, 80-55, in the process. Over that same period the Caps were 130-66-24 against the rest of the NHL.
It was during this period that the rivalry took on a nasty edge. For example, there was the March, 8, 1985 game in which the penalty tote looked like this…
- PHI - Peter Zezel (Roughing) 2:51
- WAS – Scott Stevens (Slashing) 2:51
- PHI - Murray Craven (Slashing) 10:30
- WAS – Mike Gartner (Hooking) 11:32
- PHI - Rick Tocchet (Cross check) 17:48
- WAS – Gaetan Duchesne (Holding) 19:17
- PHI - Brad McCrimmon (Fighting (maj)) 20:00
- PHI - Ed Hospodar (Fighting (maj)) 20:00
- WAS – Lou Franceschetti (Fighting (maj)) 20:00
- PHI - Glen Cochrane (Fighting (maj)) 20:00
- WAS – Alan Haworth (Fighting (maj)) 20:00
- PHI - Ed Hospodar (Game misconduct) 20:00
- PHI - Glen Cochrane (Game misconduct) 20:00
- PHI - Brad McCrimmon (Misconduct (10 min)) 20:00
- WAS – Lou Franceschetti (Misconduct (10 min)) 20:00
- WAS – Alan Haworth (Misconduct (10 min)) 20:00
- PHI - Peter Zezel (Roughing) 20:00
- WAS – Scott Stevens (Roughing) 20:00
…and that was in the first period (source: flyershistory.com). In 20 contests over this three-year period 47 fighting majors were assessed, along with 15 ten-minute misconduct penalties and another four game misconducts.
The Caps and Flyers would have to confine their animosity to the regular season during that period. Their next post-season meeting would not take place until they met in the 1988 division semi-finals. It looked as if the Flyers would use that series to exact a measure of revenge for having been swept in the teams’ only previous playoff meeting back in 1984. After splitting Games 1 and 2, Philadelphia won Games 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the series. The Caps crawled back into the series by getting a fast start in Game 5, scoring four goals in the first 29 minutes of the game on their way to a 5-2 win. Then, with the series returning to Philadelphia for Game 6, the Caps forced a Game 7 when they scored four goals in even less time – 23:17 – in a 7-2 win. That set the stage for one of the most memorable games in Capitals history.
When the Caps took the Capital Centre ice on April 16, 1988, they were looking for their first playoff win in a seven-game series in franchise history, having lost in three previous tries. It looked grim for the Caps when the Flyers scored three goals in a span of 5:23 straddling the first and second periods, putting the Caps in a deep 3-0 hole. However, by the time the second period ended, the Caps had come all the way back after Gary Galley, Kelly Miller, and Kevin Hatcher scored goals 11:12 apart in the period.
Dale Hunter gave the Caps a lead at 5:19 of the third period on a power play, and it might have been the goal to break the Flyers’ back. These being the Caps, though, it was not the case. Brad Marsh tied the game again just 62 seconds after Hunter’s goal. Neither team could break through for the clincher, and regulation ended in a 4-4- tie.
In overtime the Caps had an early chance when Mark Howe was sent off for hooking at the 1:12 mark, giving the Caps a power play opportunity, their eighth of the game. But despite pressure, the Caps could not solve goalie Ron Hextall. Washington would get another chance, though, with Capitals play-by-play announcer Mike Fornes making the most famous call in franchise history on what would be the Capitals’ 40th shot of the game…
The next season the Flyers would finally get their post-season revenge on the Caps. The Caps won the season series, four games to three, and the teams split the first four games of their division semi-final playoff matchup. However, in Game 5 at Capital Centre the Flyers took control of the series. It did not start that way. The teams split four goals in the first period, then repeated the effort in the second frame to leave them knotted at 4-4 entering the third period. The Caps took a lead at 5:35 of the third period when Calle Johansson scored on a power play. Then the roof fell in on the home team.
The Flyers took a 7-5 lead when they scored three goals in 5:29. The Caps were not out of it, though. Jeff Chychrun was sent off for the Flyers on a cross-checking penalty at 17:27. The Caps had a power play and pulled goalie Pete Peeters with 70 seconds left in the game. As Peeters was heading off, Scott Stevens sent the puck hard around the boards into the Flyer zone to get a line change. The puck got only so far as Hextall behind the Flyer net, though. With no Cap within 20 feet of him, and with Rod Langway just coming off the bench in relief of Stevens, Hextall had an unchallenged chance with clear ice ahead to score the first goal by a goaltender in Stanley Cup playoff history. He did not miss…
After the 8-5 win in Game 5, the Flyers won Game 6 and the series in what would be the last time the teams would meet in the playoffs as Patrick Division rivals. The Caps would dominate play in the regular season over the next two years, winning 10 of 14 games. The Flyers would return the favor, going 9-4-1 in the regular season over the last two seasons these two teams would skate in the Patrick Division.
In one of those curious turns of history, the last goal scored in the last game between these two teams as Patrick Division rivals in April 1993 would be scored by a rookie winger for the Capitals by the name of Keith Jones on his only shot of the contest. Jones would spend his first four-plus NHL seasons with the Caps and end his career with three seasons skating for the Flyers. Today, he is a color commentator for the Flyers on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
Flyers and Caps, as “Patrick Division” as it gets.
Note: The flyershistory.com site is really quite a treasure trove of Flyers game information as it includes game information for every regular season and playoff game played by the club. If you are interested in Patrick Division history, even through the eyes of a rival, it is a good place to visit.