The Philadelphia Flyers broke the National Hockey League record for consecutive games without a defeat with style today, routing the proud Boston Bruins, 5-2, in their own building.
The Flyers now have gone 29 games without a defeat, dating back to a 9-2 loss to Atlanta on Oct. 13. Today, they broke the record of 28 set two years ago by the Montreal Canadiens.
Appropriately, Bobby Clarke, the heart of the Philadelphia franchise the last 10 years, scored the first goal that put the Flyers ahead for good in a game they controlled almost from the start.
"Any time you get the first goal in this building it's very important," said Clarke, dripping a little blood from his mouth in the Flyers' tiny, jampacked dressing room. "We knew they would come at us very hard and it would be an emotional game. The early lead helped."
Philadelphia Coach Pat Quinn, who along with his player-assistant coach, Clarke, has engineered the glorious streak -- 20 wins, nine ties -- admitted after Thrusday's 1-1 tie with Pittsburgh that his team has been pressing lately.
Despite a roaring, stomping sellout crowed of 14,673 rocking ancient Boston Garden, the Flyers looked loose from the start today. They survived a fight-filled first period and a second-period letdown, then put the game away in the third with superb fore-checking.
"From a coaching standpoint that third period was near-perfect," Quinn said. "That's the way we like to play hockey. We've tried very hard to get away from the rough stuff. I didn't like the first period at all."
Neither first-year coach, Quinn nor Boston's Fred Creighton, is a believer in pugilistic hockey. But with only the second sellout crowd of the season on its feet from the start, both teams came out with their elbows up. Eventually, chippiness led to punches. Before the end of the period, four Flyers had gone to the locker room for Stitches.
Clarke had put the Flyers ahead, 1-0, at 5:58 with a typical Clarke goal. Gliding in on the right side, he udged Boston's Al Secord off the puck as Secord tried to skate it behind the net. Spinning at the right faceoff circle, he fired a quick wrist shot which was behind goalie Gillies Gilbert before he could move.
"It's an instinct play," said Clarke, the Flyers' old man at 30. "If I don't get the puck, he's just going behind the net with it anyway. So why not give it a whirl?"
Stunned by the suddenness of the goal, the Bruins, who owned a 20-4-6 edge on the Flyers in the Garden coming in, turned a little mean.
Little more than a minute after the goal, John Wensink elbowed the one Flyer always willing to mix it up, Paul Holmgren, whose 123 penalty minutes coming in were more than double any of his teammates. Wensink and Holmgren slammed into the boards to the left of the Bruin bench and the donnybrook was on.
As the two tried to headlock one another and punch away with their free hand, Philadelphia's captain, Mel Bridgman, and Boston's 18-year-old rookie defensemen, Ray Bourque, began exchanging words. Seconds later they were down on the ice flailing away with Bridgman using his skate to try and push himself off Bourque's hip.
With the Garden now resembling the Colosseum in Rome, the clutter was finally cleared at 7:18. Referee Greg Madill charged all four with fighting penalties, sending Holmgren and Wensink to the showers with misconducts and throwing in a roughing call on Wensink for the initial elbow.
Referee Madill made a less-than-championship-caliber call shortly after the fight and it cost the Bruins. Trying to Kill Wensink's penalty, Boston's Bobby LaLonde bumped with Brian Propp in his own end, with no damage done either way. But Madill, aparently concerned that he was about to lose control of a rough game, decided Lalonde's bump was a slash and banished him for two minutes at 8:39. That left Phildelphia with a 5-3 edge in manpower and quickly the Flyers took advantage.
Defenseman Behn Wilson dumped the puck into the left-hand corner where Rick MacLeish picked it up, whirled and slid it to the point to Bill Barber. Barber, one of the best slapshot artists in the league, quickly knocked his 17th goal of the season past Gilbert at 8:51 and it was 2-0 Flyers.
"That took some pressure off," Flyer goalie Phil Myre said. "I think we were tighter going to tie the record against Pittsburgh than we were today."
The Flyers looked ready to laugh their way to the win early in the second period. The Bruins, apparently convinced that they had to take the body to slow down the superior-skating Flyers, came out hitting anything orange. In fact, Bridgman and O'Reilly got into a shoving match before the opening faceoff, struggling for position outside the circle.
But the Flyers, much like the Canadiens at their best the last four seasons, had a ready answer. Bridgman led a quick burst out of the Bruin zone and slid a pass to Jim Watson, who found rookie Ken Linseman behind the defense on the right.
Linseman, one of 10 new players on the Philadelphia roster and the leading rookie scorer in the league, beat Gilbert with a Clarke-style wrist shot from 15 feet for his 10th goal. It was 3-0, 56 seconds into the second period and there were scattered boos.
Those boos turned to cheers moments later. Bruin rookie Tom Songin tried to feed Bob Miller in the slot, only to watch with delight when Flyer defenseman Bob Dailey, skating between the two, kicked the puck past Myre, who had slid left to pick up Songin. That cut the lead to 3-1 at 3:03.
Quickly, Myre made it 3-2, botching Mike Milbury's 70-foot slap shot. Milbury fired, unscreened from the point, and Myre caught the puck in his legs. The time was 4:10 and the Bruin fans were screaming.
"I just told myself not to analyze what happened now, to analyze it after the game," said Myre, the goalie in Philadelphia's only loss in a 21-19 season. "I just tried to clear my mind of everything. I'm glad we got another one quick, though."
Defenseman Watson got that goal, a screened slap shot which Gilbert slid for as it flew over his prone body at 4:40. That made four goals in 3:44, but the Brunis were back where they started -- two goals down.
Their forechecking produced the clinching goals. Bruin defenseman Brad McCrimmon, unable to clear the puck, threw a careless pass from behind his net on the stick of the Flyers' Mike Busniuk. Busniuk flipped to Bob Kelley, a forechecking terror the entire day, in the slot, and Kelly easily beat Gilbert at 10:21 to send the fans to the exits.
When it was over, those that were left in the stands gave the Flyrs an ovation and the Flyers finally admitted they were glad they had the record.
"We won a pressure game today and that's encouraging for the long run, the most important thing is still the Stanley Cup," Clark said.
Perhaps, but even as the Flyers tried to low-key the record, "it was a nice two points," was Kelly's comment, Clarke conceded they were aware of what they had accomplished.
"We haven't talked about the record," he said. "We don't have to. We know what it means. We're not dumb. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. We lived up to it."