The orange and black of Philadelphia crushed their biggest nemesis and division rival from across the river, the New Jersey Devils, on April 4th to secure a playoff berth with just one game remaining in the regular season.
With the Southeast Division’s Washington Capitals having been one point ahead of them and the Carolina Panthers breathing down their necks, the Flyers played with the passion that made them back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the 1970s and the team with the most total playoff wins in the modern hockey era.
The Devils, who are also going to the playoffs, have typically outplayed the Flyers all year long, with their ability to psyche-out Philadelphia which arguably began back in the mid-1990s when low-scoring New Jersey’s "trap" defense and superstar goaltending could frustrate the hard-hitting Flyers and their "Legion of Doom" first line of John LeClaire, Eric Lindros, and Michael Renberg.
Ironically, the New Jersey Devils used to be a Flyers minor league team, before they joined the ranks of the NHL in 1982.
The Devils also throw into relief the "great divide" in New Jersey. Most of the Devils’ fans are in the northern half of the state (above the capital, Trenton). Most hockey fans in south Jersey are die hard Flyers fans, and Philadelphia sports fans in general.
There were probably a lot of south Jersey residents at the Wachovia Centere in Philly on Friday night, and the Flyers gave them plenty to cheer and bang the glass about, without giving the notoriously harsh Philly fans anything to boo about as they did when injuries and shoddy defense and goaltending combined to send the once upon a time division-leading Flyers into a 10-game losing streak that kicked them down to the 8th and final playoff seed position.
With their victory against their nemesis, the Flyers secured a playoff berth after having missed the playoffs last year in what was probably the worst season since the team began in 1968, and finally brought about what many Flyers fans had long been hoping–and shouting–for: the ousting of Bobby Clarke as GM.
Clarke had been one of the great hockey players of all time, but as a GM he continuously attempted to re-create the Broad Street Bullies long after Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers had proven that speed kills. The Flyers twice played for the Stanley Cup against The Great One’s Oilers in the late 1980s and twice lost.
The Flyers this season have been one of hockey’s most lethal offensive teams once again, but more importantly they have been so because of depth. Inexperience has led them to blow games in the 3rd period and they still have some holes to patch on defense and in the net, but as they gain experience they should become, once again, a powerful force on the ice and consistent Cup contenders.
The Flyers’ shutout of the Devils was all the more impressive because they accomplished the victory without two of their most important offensive players, the injured Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne. Briere should be ready for the first round of the playoffs, and Gagne has said that if the Flyers get to the second round of the playoffs he will lace up his skates and take to the ice. Gagne has missed much of the season with recurring concussions.
“If we play like this, we’re going to be very, very dangerous,” said center R.J. Umberger, who scored his 13th goal of the season and the official game-winner.
"They just outplayed us.There was a lot of incentive for them. The atmosphere was unbelievable and we had a hard time matching it," said the Devils’ future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, who played a mostly virtuoso game but ultimately got beaten by the Flyers’ relentless pursuit of the goal.