The St. Louis Blues made three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Finals from 1968-1970, making them the first post-Original Six era expansion team to make it to the Finals. While the feat is impressive, it seems a little less so when considering that the six expansion teams were put into their own division, and one of them had to make the Finals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Blues’ combined record in those three series was 0-12. Prior to the 1970-71 season, there was a realignment in the NHL, and for a few years, the Finals were once again matchups between Original Six teams. In 1974, however, one of the new teams made a breakthrough – the Broad Street Bullies.
The Philadelphia Flyers won the regular season crown of the Western Division of the NHL in their first season, 1967-68, albeit with a losing record. The gap between the existing teams and the expansion teams was so great that all of the Original Six teams, save the Detroit Red Wings, posted a winning record. Other than the afore mentioned St. Louis Blues, no non-Original Six squad managed to post an above-.500 record through the 1971-72 season.
A change took place in 1972-73 when the Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers all finished the season with more wins than losses. That season, one of those three teams – the Flyers – began to set themselves apart from their fellow newcomers. They were the only non-Original Six team to make it to the NHL semi-finals, and they earned themselves their now famous nickname from their hardnosed play. The “Broad Street Bullies” name came from Jack Chevalier and Pete Cafone of the Philadelphia Bulletin following a 3-1 win on January 3, 1973 over the Atlanta Flames. In his recap of the game, Chevalier wrote “They're the Mean Machine, the Bullies of Broad Street and Freddy's Philistines.” In the accompanying headline, Cafone wrote, “Broad Street Bullies Muscle Atlanta.”
The biggest bully of the bunch was left wing enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz. Schultz’s 259 PIM were the most on a team with six players that amassed 100 or more penalty minutes. However, it was not only enforcers like Schultz delivering punishing play to Philly’s opponents. Right winger Gary Dornhoefer posted 79 points in 77 games, but also racked up 168 penalty minutes. Even star center Bobby Clarke, who excelled as a two-way forward was well known for his gritty, grinding style of play. Clarke won the first of his three Hart Trophies in 1973. He and his team put the league on notice in 1973, but that season was only a hint of what was ahead.
In 1973-74, the Flyers made a huge jump in the standings, improving from 85 to 112 points. Only the Bruins (with 113 points) had a better regular season record. All the while, the Bullies were still at their game. Seven players reached 100 PIM, this time including Clarke, and once again led by Schultz, who posted an NHL record 348. A key addition to the team for the 1973-74 season was Bernie Parent, an original member of the Flyers. Parent was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the middle of the 1970-71 season. After spending a season and a half with the Leafs, and spending the 1972-73 season with the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA.
After his stint in the WHA, Parent wished to return to the NHL, but did not want to return to Toronto. A trade was worked out to send Parent’s NHL rights back to the Flyers, and Parent posted one of the best single seasons for a goalie in the history of the NHL. His 47 wins set an NHL record that stood for 33 years, and his 1.89 GAA, 12 shutouts, and 4,314 minutes played also led the league. Parent’s play reduced the Flyers’ goals allowed from 256 to 164, helping the Flyers establish themselves as one of the best squads in the NHL.
In the playoffs, the Flyers swept the Flames in the first round, followed by a seven game series against the New York Rangers. Finally, they met the Boston Bruins in the Finals. It seems fair to say that the Bruins were at the strongest point in their history. They had won the Cup in 1970 and 1972, and had the likes of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, and Johnny Bucyk on their roster. The Flyers, however, were more than up to the task, and took down the B’s in six games. Parent, with a playoff GAA of 2.02, took home the Conn Smythe, as the Flyers became the first expansion era franchise to win the Cup.
The 1974-75 season was more of the same for Philadelphia. Bobby Clarke won his second Hart Trophy, while Parent once again led the league in wins (44), GAA (2.03), and shutouts (12). The Flyers 51 wins were the most in the league, and their 113 points tied with the Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens for the most in the league. Reggie Leach joined the Flyers in 1974, and the now famous LCB line was created. Once again, six Flyers eclipsed 100 penalty minutes, and Dave Schultz smashed his NHL record from the previous season posting an amazing 472 PIM – a single season record which still stands and has hardly been threatened.
The 1975 playoffs even looked similar to the playoffs from the year before. Once again, the Flyers won in a sweep in the first round (this time against the Maple Leafs), before a hard-fought seven game series against a New York team in the second round (this time the Islanders). For the second straight year, the Stanley Cup Finals presented a first. The year after the Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Cup, they and the Sabres gave the hockey world its first Finals matchup between expansion teams.
In the series, the home team won each of the first five games, but in game six, the Flyers broke the streak and won their second consecutive Cup. Parent, who posted a 1.89 GAA and four shutouts in the playoffs won his second Conn Smythe Trophy. An interesting side note about that particular Flyers team is that it is the last team to win the Stanley Cup with an all-Canadian roster.
The 1975-76 season was another great season for the Flyers. Bobby Clarke won his third Hart Trophy in four years, and they improved on their record from the year before with 118 points, but they were denied dynasty status when they became the first of four consecutive victims of the Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s.
They say that nice guys finish last. Well, the Broad Street Bullies were not “nice guys” and did not finish last. They ushered in a new era for the NHL. Even without the third Cup, the Flyers still marked a shift in the balance of power in the NHL, and will always be remembered for such. Sometimes, it does pay to be a “Bully.”