Philadelphia Flyers-New York Rangers: Rivals Or Blood Feud?

The New York Rangers host the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. The game is being broadcast on NBCSports Network as part of the Wednesday Night Rivals series. To say that the Flyers and Rangers are rivals is putting it quite mildly; these two teams crossed from a rivalry to a blood feud a long time ago.

The tensions between the two teams started as a “we-don’t-like-you, you-don’t-like-us rivalry”. In the run to the 1974 Stanley Cup, the Flyers defeated the Rangers in the semi-finals. The Rangers in 1974 were a finesse team, while the Philadelphia Flyers had earned their nickname of The Broad Street Bullies; the Flyers didn’t just beat the Rangers, they beat them up and down the ice. The Rangers had their revenge when Fred Shero, the Flyers beloved coach, resigned from the Flyers and joined the Rangers staff. The Flyers lost to Shero’s Rangers in the 1978-79 quarterfinals.

The rivalry went on much in the same manner until the 1986-87 playoffs; when a line was crossed, and a blood feud was born between Broad Street and Broadway. To fully understand this particular feud, a bit of history needs to be addressed. Let us travel back in time to the 1984-85 season, when the upstart Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Edmonton Oilers in five games. The Flyers were led by goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, who was despondent over the loss. Despite being the first European goaltender to be awarded the Vezina Trophy, Lindbergh vowed he would lead his Flyers back to the Stanley Cup Finals, only this time, the boys from Philadelphia would drink champagne from Lord Stanley’s prized silver chalice.

Sadly, Lindbergh would not realize this dream. On November 10, 1985, Lindbergh lost control of his high-powered Porsche 930 Turbo, and crashed into a brick wall in Somerdale, NJ. Lindbergh was declared brain-dead, and was kept on life support until his family could be flown in from Sweden to say goodbye. Unlike Dany Heatley, Philadelphia’s blue-eyed golden child did not receive a second chance; he was removed from life support after his organs were harvested for donation, and was gone.

Hockey players are tough; tough as nails. The 1985-86 Philadelphia Flyers were a good example of tough, but images of players like Dave Brown, Rick Tocchet and Tim Kerr, who was once called “tougher than a garlic milkshake” by hockey analyst Mike Emerick, sobbing unashamedly were splashed across newspapers and newscasts throughout the Philadelphia region. The team never recovered, and lost in the first round of the playoffs to, you guessed it, the New York Rangers.

The following year, the Philadelphia Flyers were bestowed another gift from the goaltending gods; a feisty, fiery young man named Ron Hextall became their starting goalie. He back-stopped the Flyers to a Patrick Division Championship, and took the net versus the first round of the playoffs against…..the Rangers. The Flyers won the series in six games, but the first game played in New York’s Madison Square Garden is where this rivalry crossed into feud territory. Fans in attendance at that game brought signs to support their Rangers; some fans, and some signs crossed a line. Most notable was a sign that read “Hextall, Go Buy A Porsche”. There were crudely constructed coffins with the numbers 31 (Lindbergh) and 27, which was Hextall’s number. The Rangers fans had crossed a line; a blood feud was born.

While most current Flyers players and fans are not old enough to remember Lindbergh’s death and the subsequent events, the bad blood has been passed down generation to generation. The latest chapter of Broad Street versus Broadway plays out tonight as Philadelphia visits New York once more; tonight, the playoffs are on the line.

[Image courtesy zimbio.com]