Series in Review: Flyers-Rangers 1997

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

In 1997, the Flyers were two years removed from their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 1987 and had the pieces in place to make a run. They had a veteran goalie, a defense with a solid mix of veterans and budding young players and a top line that put immense fear into the opposition.

Their playoff run to this point reflected it. The Flyers handled the Penguins in five games in the quarterfinals. They downed the Buffalo Sabres in five games in the semi-finals too. In both series, they had stormed out to a 3-0 series lead and despite a Game 4 slip, finished the job with relative ease.

The conference final was no different. After the Eric Lindros-led went through Mario Lemieux and the Penguins, another passing of the torch took place when the Flyers faced the Rangers in the conference final.

Here is a closer look at the 1997 Eastern Conference Final between the Flyers and Rangers.

Game 1: Flyers 3, Rangers 1

The Flyers early dominance continued in the playoffs as Dainius Zubrus scored on a rebound at 2:28 and Janne Niinimaa added a power-play goal at 4:39 to give the Flyers an early 2-0 lead.

They carried that lead into the second period where Eric Desjardins padded the lead with a shot that was thrown to the net and hit a Ranger skate before going in to make it 3-0. 

With just 10 seconds remaining in the game, Luc Robitaille scored to snap Garth Snow’s shutout bid. The goalie finished with 24 saves in the Game 1 win.

Game 2: Rangers 5, Flyers 4

Just like in Game 1, the Flyers took advantage of an early power play to grab the lead with John LeClair tipping a Desjardins shot by Mike Richter at 4:11. Just 58 seconds later, Doug Lidster tied the game for the Rangers. A series of penalties on the Flyers allowed the Rangers to take control. It was Wayne Gretzky striking for two power-play goals separated by 1:59 to make it 3-1 Rangers.

The Flyers rallied back in the second with two quick goals. Paul Coffey scored at 6:45 and Rod Brind’Amour added a goal 49 seconds later to tie the game at three. Less than two minutes later, Gretzky was on the board again, finishing off the hat trick to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead.

With 6:15 remaining in the second, Mark Messier got on the board for the first time in the series to extend the Rangers lead to two. Less than two minutes later, the lead was back to one as Shjon Podein scored for the Flyers.

From there, the Flyers were held off the board by Richter, who finished with 25 saves. Snow exited after allowing five goals on 10 shots and Ron Hextall finished out the game with 12 saves.

Game 3: Flyers 6, Rangers 3

With the series back in New York, the Flyers were locked in a series tie for the first time in these playoffs. There would be another early surge like in Game 1, then a back-and-forth high-scoring affair like in Game 2.

The Flyers started things off with Lindros scoring on a wrap-around that required review to confirm. Lindros thought he had scored as Richter dove across and got his stick on the shot. Replay showed that the puck crossed the line before Richter could save it and the Flyers had the lead at 7:33. Four and a half minutes later, Petr Svoboda scored to make it 2-0. 

Early in the third, the Rangers erased the deficit with Russ Courtnall scoring twice, first just 43 seconds into the period and again at 4:02. At 6:35, Lindros put the Flyers ahead again with his second goal of the game with a slapper from the slot to make it 3-2. 

With time winding down, the Rangers got the game tied with Gretzky scoring once again with 5:39 to play. Just 38 seconds later, the Flyers got the lead back with Trent Klatt scoring on a two-on-one to make it 4-3 with 5:01 remaining.

Instead of things shifting back in favor of the Rangers, the Flyers put the game away. Brind’Amour scored on a breakaway with 3:08 remaining and then Lindros finished off the hat trick by winning a race against Messier and scoring into an empty net with 38 seconds remaining to give the Flyers a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4: Flyers 3, Rangers 2

Another Flyers youngster opened the scoring as Mikael Renberg got the Flyers on the board at 7:08 of the first period with a power-play goal. Much like Game 3, that was the only scoring to speak of before a scoring barrage in the third period.

Just 1:41 into the third, Esa Tikkanen scored a shorthanded goal by splitting the Flyers defense and going to the backhand to beat Hextall and tie the game at one.

The 1-1 tie held into the final minutes of the third and the Rangers were on a power play in the final four minutes with a chance to get the goal that could even the series. Instead, the Flyers took advantage of a break with John Druce stealing the puck at the blue line and cutting in on a two-on-one. His initial shot was stopped, but he found the rebound first and scored to make it 2-1 Flyers with a shorthanded goal. But the Rangers still had power-play time left and made the most of it. Just as the penalty expired, Gretzky centered for Brian Leetch and he scored to tie the game at two with 2:08 remaining.

But the Rangers took a penalty with 1:35 remaining as Jeff Beukeboom caught LeClair with a high-stick that drew blood and was handed a double-minor, putting the Flyers on the power play. With just 6.8 seconds remaining, Lindros scored with a backhander from the left circle to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead and the Game 3 win.

Game 5: Flyers 4, Rangers 2

The Flyers were one win away from the Stanley Cup Final and again jumped out to an early lead in the game. The big guns were out as Lindros started the scoring on a rebound on the power play at 5:18 to put the Flyers ahead.

The Rangers had a 5-on-3 midway through the period and capitalized on both ends. First Alexander Karpovtsev fired one by Hextall at 12:30 and 26 seconds later Tikkanen was on the board to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

The Flyers got the goal back with another power-play tally as LeClair was parked at the front of the net to tip in a centering pass from Desjardins and tie the game at 15:53. With under a minute to play in the first, Brind’Amour put the Flyers ahead with a backhander under Richter after taking a feed from Chris Therien to make it 3-2.

The Flyers carried the 3-2 lead into the third as they started to shut down the Rangers, limiting them to just 19 shots in the game. At 6:43 of the third, Brind’Amour added his second of the game on a rebound to cap the scoring and help the Flyers advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Over the years, there have been several times when the Flyers have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final and had a chance to snap the Cup drought. Of the teams that have had the chance, this may be the one that many thought would be able to get it done. They had dominant depth and were a team in their prime. Coffey and Joel Otto were the oldest veterans on the team at 35 years old. They had a future Hall-of-Fame in Dale Hawerchuk at 33. The majority of the team was age 30 or younger.

The first two goal-scorers of the series, Zubrus and Niinamaa, were the two youngest on the team. Zubrus was 18 and Niinimaa was 21. The team captain Lindros was a ripe 23 years old. Renberg was 24. Klatt and Brind’Amour were 26. Desjardins and LeClair were 27. Even Hextall, 10 years removed from his first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1987, was in the prime of his career at 32 years old. 

This series really points to the overall dominance that Lindros and LeClair had during that era. Both players had nine points in the five-game series, including five goals for Lindros. Brind’Amour was also a force in the series with four goals and six points. 

It was the opposite story for the Rangers, who were a team built up of future Hall-of-Famers that was trying to squeeze the last bit of life out of the 1994 Cup team. Gretzky was 36 and in the twilight of his career, but still as great as ever, matching the Flyers leaders with nine points in the series. Messier was 36. Tikkanen was 32. And while Richter, Leetch and Adam Graves were in the prime of their careers, those two massive names at the top were starting to watch their careers wind down. After losing this series, the Rangers missed the playoffs for the next seven seasons. 

By now, everyone knows how the Flyers run ended in 1997. They were swept away by the Detroit Red Wings, another team that featured a host of Hall-of-Famers. But this was a team that had a dominant quality to it in the prime of the careers of some of the best to ever play for the Flyers.

Tomorrow, our Series in Review will continue with a look back at the 1987 Stanley Cup Final between the Flyers and Edmonton Oilers.

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