Wednesday marks the 40th anniversary of the Flyers' last Stanley Cup, and many of the players from that 1974-75 team can't believe two things: that four decades have passed since that dramatic 2-0 win in Buffalo, and that the franchise hasn't won another championship.
"My God, you look back, and 40 years went just like that," said Bernie Parent, the Hall of Fame goalie who steered the Flyers to titles in 1974 and 1975. "I tell people don't waste time because it flies by, for sure."
Parent, who spends most of his summers on his boat along the Jersey Shore, and his teammates are stunned that the Flyers have been without a Cup since 1975.
"It's hard to comprehend sometimes," said Joe Watson, a key defenseman on the Cup teams who now sells advertising for the Wells Fargo Center and runs the Flyers' alumni team, which has raised $3.6 million for local charities since it was formed in 1984. "There were times where I think we didn't realize how important goaltending was. I think we thought no matter who the goalie was, we'd outscore them. We didn't value the goalie as much as we should have."
In 1975, they didn't have that problem. Parent won his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, and he blanked Buffalo in the Game 6 clincher, giving him four shutouts in 15 playoff games that year.
The Flyers, known as the Broad Street Bullies for their pugnacious play, broke a taut, scoreless tie with third-period goals by Bob "The Hound" Kelly and Bill Clement, and Parent did the rest.
In a surprise, Kelly said that game-winning goal was not his all-time favorite moment.
"The highlight of my career was to get drafted by the Flyers. To get the phone call was unbelievable," said Kelly, who, in his current job as a Flyers ambassador, speaks at about 80 to 100 schools each year. "That and the first time I stepped on the ice at the Spectrum were the highlights."
Kelly scored what proved to be the Cup-clinching goal on a wraparound 11 seconds into the third period. He then skated to the bench to have a conversation with his mastermind coach, Fred Shero.
"People think I went to the bench to get congratulations from the players," Kelly said. "Actually, I went over to tell Freddy he owed me $5 because [the wraparound] was something we spent a lot of time on at practice."
Bobby Clarke, the gap-toothed captain who took a physical beating in the series, said Shero deserves credit for moving the kinetic Kelly, usually a fourth-liner, to the top line at the beginning of the final period.
"That," Clarke said, "was a Freddy Shero coaching moment. He put Kelly up on the line to start the third period. I was just a player and didn't know why Freddy did it at the time. Kelly was always high-energy, and that's what Freddy wanted. He scored right away on the first shift."
Kelly took the puck away from Buffalo's Jerry Korab behind the net. Clarke then screened the big defenseman so he couldn't get to Kelly, and the left winger beat goalie Roger Crozier with a backhander.
Sidelined by torn knee ligaments, Kelly did not play in the 1974 Finals against Boston, "so I never felt a total part of the first Cup," he said. "The second one was sweeter because I got to sweat and bleed with the guys from start to finish."
The 1975 Finals featured a bizarre 5-4 overtime win by the Sabres in Game 3 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium. The matchup included fog, a bat flying near the ice that was killed by the stick of Buffalo forward Jim Lorentz, and more fog. The fog rose from the ice and was so thick, Parent said, that you couldn't see players from the waist down.
"You're trained as a goalie to visually [imagine] where the puck is going from his stick," Parent said, "and that's the only way you could make a save because it was so hard to see."
There were several stoppages as workers skated with bedsheets to try to break up the fog at the Aud, which was like a sauna because the old building did not have air-conditioning.
Rene Robert, part of Buffalo's famed French Connection that included Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault, scored the game-winner with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in overtime.
"Perreault shot it into the corner and it hit the boards," Parent recalled. "I didn't see it, and Robert was skating on the right side and he got close enough to see it and put it in."
No matter. The Flyers were on a mission.
Orest Kindrachuk, a hardworking center, said the second title validated the Flyers, who won their 1974 championship in just their seventh year of existence.
"We wanted to prove the first one wasn't a fluke," said Kindrachuk who, like defenseman Jimmy Watson, won the Stanley Cup in each of his first two full seasons.
Parent said the two titles had different kinds of celebrations.
There was mayhem after the 1-0 Cup-clincher at the Spectrum in 1974, with fans jumping onto the ice to join the lovefest, and scores of family members and friends in the locker room afterward.
The second title, in 1975 in Buffalo, was more subdued and dignified as the players didn't have to fight through fans to skate around with the Stanley Cup.
The players celebrated in the cramped Buffalo dressing room before taking a charter flight back to Philadelphia.
"And that's when magic happened," Parent said. "They put the Cup in the middle of the aisle on the plane and everyone got quiet for 20 minutes or a half hour, just looking at this beautiful trophy and what [it represented]. It was a beautiful sight, and then after a while, the celebration got going."
Two million people lined the streets of Philadelphia for the victory parade. Forty years later, Flyers fans are still waiting for another one.
"Our era was different," Kelly said. "We didn't play for the money. We played for each other. No one cared what kind of car you had or how many houses you had. That's because of the great internal leadership we had from guys like Clarkie and Joe Watson and Barry Ashbee."
"All we wanted to do was play hockey. Nothing else mattered. The dollars didn't matter," said Kindrachuk, who set up Clement's game-icing goal with 2:47 left in the 1975 clincher. "Freddy sent letters to the wives [before the season] and said, 'Hang in there and don't take offense to this, but you may not be the most important thing to your husband now because hockey is No. 1.' He was right."
Clarke, the Hall of Famer who was the heart-and-soul leader of the two title teams, said the first Cup win was more rewarding because the Flyers knocked off two Original Six teams - the New York Rangers and Bruins - in the last two playoff series.
"They were supposed to be better than us, but they weren't," Clarke said. "With the second Cup, I felt like we were supposed to win. The responsibility that comes with 'you're supposed to win' is a lot more than when 'you have a chance to win.' "
The 1974-75 team featured league MVP Clarke (116 points, an astounding plus-79 rating), Reggie Leach (45 goals), Rick MacLeish (38 goals), and Bill Barber (34 goals); all-star defensemen Ed Van Impe and Jimmy Watson (Joe's younger brother); enforcer Dave Schultz (472 penalty minutes, still an NHL record); and the impeccable Parent, the Vezina Trophy winner who had a 2.03 goals-against average and 12 shutouts.
"The first two lines had unbelievable skill and the other two lines were grinders," said defenseman Andre "Moose" Dupont, whose team couldn't overcome injuries to MacLeish and Parent and lost to Montreal in the 1976 Finals. "Everyone was good on D. Not flashy, but everyone played good defense, and Bernie was the best."
The Flyers went 51-18-11 for 118 points in 1974-75. It still stands as the most points in franchise history.
Kindrachuk said it's "kind of shocking" the Flyers are still searching for Cup No. 3 "because I know Mr. Snider and how he'll do whatever it takes to win," he said, referring to Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor. "Money has never been an object.
"They've been on the doorstep so many times, but . . ."
Since beating Buffalo in 1975, the Flyers have lost six straight Finals, falling in 1976, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1997, and 2010.
"It's tougher today because of the salary cap," Kelly said. "Nowadays, you almost have to win instantly because players move around [through free agency] and there's so much parity."
Kindrachuk said some fans believe the players from the '75 team don't want the Flyers to win another Cup because it takes away from their long-ago accomplishment. That, he said, is simply not true.
"Our [Cup] fraternity is shrinking," he said. "When you have guys who have gone to the top of the mountain and have that feeling, you want that to grow."
"We've been to the Finals so many times and played so good and so hard and didn't quite get it done," said Clarke, the Flyers' senior vice president. "It [angers me] that teams try to lose continually to come up with the Crosbys . . . and Malkins" in the draft.
Clarke, of course, was talking about Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"The Flyers have never intentionally tried to lose. That would put a foul taste in my mouth," Clarke said. "Who wants to be a part of any organization like that? I wouldn't want to be."