1980 Philadelphia Flyers: A Finals Loss That Begins A Pattern

The 1980 Philadelphia Flyers enjoyed a tremendous regular season, racking up 116 points and winning the old Patrick Division title, beating out the New York powers, the Islanders and Rangers. There was no one great star among the regular starting five for Philadelphia. Winger Reggie Leach was the one counted on to light the lamp, and he got help from fellow wingman Brian Propp and center Ken Linesman.

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Goaltending duties were split between veteran Phil Myre and 22-year old Pete Peeters, although the latter had the job secured by playoff time. Philly began its postseason hockey run with a 3-2 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers and the young Wayne Gretzky.

1980 was the first year of a 16-team bracket in the NHL, as the league had expanded from 17 to 21 and decided that having a mere 12 teams in the playoffs  was no longer acceptable. The bracket was not seeded with regard to conference alignment so the top-seeded Flyers were able to draw the Oilers at this stage of the playoffs.

Philadelphia won that series, then eliminated the Rangers in five. At this point they got a bracket break and were able to play #6 seed Minnesota in the semi-finals. The North Stars (as the name indicates, they were eventually to become the Dallas Stars). Minnesota lacked someone who could really distribute the puck, and after an overtime win to start the series, Philadelphia took over from there and won the next four. They were on their way to the Finals and the opponent would be the New York Islanders.

The Islanders were a franchise that had started knocking on the door in recent years, but all of the NHL ceased its championship pursuits while the Montreal Canadiens rattled off four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-79. The last team other than Montreal to hoist the Cup? That would be Philadelphia and its Broad Street Bullies of 1974-75, that again reached the Finals in 1976 before losing a changing-of-the-guard series to Montreal.

The 1980 Stanley Cup Finals opened up in Philadelphia with the Islanders bringing in veteran center Bryan Trottier and a 23-year old winger named Mike Bossy headed for an excellent career. The Isles had some goaltending issues through the season, but like the Flyers they’d settled on their man by playoff time, and Billy Smith was in the net.

New York won the opener on a power play goal in overtime, but the Flyers had an offensive outburst in Game 2 and won 8-3. Goaltending problems were paramount the next two games, as the Islanders scored a combined 11 goals and took a 3-1 series lead.

Normally in hockey you like to trust your goalie to carry you in a must-win spot, but the Flyers needed to rely on their offense as they took Game 5 by a 6-3 count. On May 24, the dream finally came to an end with another overtime loss.

While the Flyers have made four Finals appearances since then, the most recent in 2010 when they also lost a decisive Game 6 in overtime, but they haven’t hoisted the Cup since. The Islanders had the first of what would be four straight championships. At the time, the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals just looked like a tough end to a great season when a championship memory was still recent. The ensuing years have made 1980 the beginning of a pattern where the Flyers would tease their great fans, but never quite deliver.