Lighting the Lamp, with Rick Ackerman
It was extremely easy for Blues' fans walking out of the TradeStocks Center last Saturday night to be down-hearted and discouraged after Ryan Miller and the Blues were black-holed by the Dallas Stars, 4-2. Courtesy of the Boston Bruins afternoon victory at Washington, the Blues found themselves in second place in the overall NHL standings, trailing the Bruins by a point. And Boston extended that lead Sunday, taking two points in a shootout win in Philadelphia in a heavy-duty (87 combined hits by both teams) game over the Flyers, who had 52 shots on goal, including eight in overtime and almost won that game in overtime. However, on the Viagra Play of the Game, Brayden Schenn could not get it up on the backhand to score against Tukka Rask. At least the Blues have a game in hand over the Bruins, and a revenge-minded victory over the visiting Flyers would enable the Blues to get within a point of Boston in the race for the Presidents' Trophy.
It just goes to show you how spoiled Blues Nation has now thankfully become, expecting, no demanding, victories in every game played at the TradeStocks Center. Most fans have already forgotten that the last time the Blues lost in regulation at home was over ten weeks ago when Anaheim slipped by the Blues, 3-2, in mid-January. The only other two home losses since then were the shootout defeat against Ottawa in early February and the overtime affair against Dallas on March 11. Overall, the Blues have now compiled a home record of 26-6-4 for 56 points, outscoring opponents 135 to 85, third best in the NHL. Only Boston and San Jose are better at home. And it just so happens that the Blues have the best road record in the league, 24-11-3 and the best record against divisional rivals, an astounding 21-2-2. So, quit grousing and sulking (or worrying about Miller) and take some time to reflect on just how extremely good things are right now.
Philadelphia comes to town on a blazing hot-streak, earning 20 points in 15 games since the Olympic break, including marquee victories over Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, and two against division-leading rival Pittsburgh. The offense, ranked tenth in the league, features five 20-goal scorers, including center Claude Giroux, wingers Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek, Scott Hartnell and Matt Read. The Flyers' defense is only ranked 17th, yet has improved in the last month or so with the addition of under-rated Andrew MacDonald from the Islanders and the resurrection of Steve Mason as the number-one goaltender. Special teams have also improved as the Flyer power play, led by Simmonds' 13 goals, is now ranked tenth in the league, while the penalty killing is ranked fifth overall.
Like the Blues, Philadelphia joined the NHL in the great expansion of 1967 in which the league doubled in size from six to twelve teams. Ed Snider, then vice-president of the Philadelphia Eagles and now the chairman of Comcast Spectator, a Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment company, quickly applied for an expansion franchise and made plans to build a new arena on Broad Street, the Spectrum, which was completed just before the hockey season started in 1967. In July, 2008, Snider announced plans to tear down the Spectrum and replace it with Philly Live!, a proposed retail, dining and entertainment center. Today, the Flyers play at the Wells Fargo Center, built on the site of the old Veterans Stadium, the former home of both the football Eagles and the baseball Phillies.
Philadelphia won the Western Division championship that first year of play with a sub-.500 record, yet were upset by the Blues in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers met the same fate the following season, making the playoffs with a losing record and bounced by the Blues in four games. Out-hustled and physically dominated by the Blues, Snider instructed GM Bud Poile to obtain bigger, tougher players. Poile never got the chance as he was replaced by former coach Keith Allen, who gambled and won by selecting a 19 year old diabetic from Flin Flon, Manitoba, Bobby Clarke (HHoF 1987) in the second round of the 1969 amateur draft. Dave "the Hammer" Schultz was also obtained in that draft, 52nd overall.
It took several years for the Flyers to begin their domination of the NHL. By 1974, the "Broad Street Bullies" were indeed a force, led by Clarke, sniper Rick MacLeish, defensemen Ed "Around" Van Impe and former Blue Andre "Moose" Dupont and goaltender Bernie Parent (HHoF 1984). With coach Fred "the Fog" Shero (HHoF 2013) at the helm, the Flyers won the Western Division championship by seven points over Los Angeles and cruised through the first round of the playoffs, sweeping Atlanta. It took seven games to dispatch the New York Rangers, both teams winning all their respective home games. The Flyers faced the Bobby Orr-led Boston Bruins in the Cup Finals. With Conn Smythe Trophy winner Parent blanking the Bruins in game six, Philadelphia became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup, followed by another Cup championship the following year and another playoff MVP Trophy for Parent.
Tonight's match between the Broad St. Bullies and the Clark St. Contenders will bring out the best in both teams. Expect a hard-hitting, rough and tough affair tonight as both clubs battle for points in preparation for the playoffs.