It obviously pained him to mumble the words in praise of a hated rival. Defenseman Brad Park of the New York Rangers had been a prime target of the menacing Philadelphia Flyers, and now as he sat dejectedly on a dressing-room bench his body was a mass of welts and bruises and there were two ice bags strapped to his right knee. "I didn't think the Flyers could do it," Park said slowly, "but they finally beat us with a good, honest hockey game."
What Park meant was that the Broad Street Bullies forsook their shivs and spiked helmets last Sunday afternoon at the Spectrum in Philadelphia—as indeed they had in the two previous games—and removed the Rangers from the Stanley Cup playoffs with a cool, methodical 4-3 victory in the seventh and final battle of their Amtrak War (the cities are two hours apart by rail). There was only one fight, in which the Flyers' Dave Schultz thrashed Ranger Defenseman Dale Rolfe, sending him to the medical room for treatment. Instead of brawling and marauding, the Flyers wore down the Rangers with relentless forechecking over the first two periods as they took a 3-1 lead, and then relied on Bernie Parent's superior goaltending when the Rangers became aroused in the third period. Until then Parent was practically a spectator as the Flyers blitzed Ranger Goalie Eddie Giacomin, with about half of their shots labeled goal. But Giacomin, playing his finest cup series, repeatedly stymied the Flyer shooters with one acrobatic save after another. If Giacomin had not performed sensationally the Flyers would have had a rout after two periods instead of a 3-1 lead. "He kept us alive," said Defense-man Rod Seiling.
At 8:49 of the third period New York's Steve Vickers beat Parent with a short forehand flip from the front of the slot after taking a backhand pass from line-mate Walt Tkaczuk, and suddenly the Rangers were not only alive but kicking. But 12 seconds later Philadelphia struck again. The Flyers shot the puck into the Ranger end, where Park collected it and skated behind Giacomin. Rick MacLeish, the mercurial Flyer center, tracked Park down, banged him into the boards and knocked the puck loose. Ross Lonsberry picked it up, passed it to Gary Dornhoefer in front of the net—it seems he is always there—and before Giacomin could move, Dornhoefer whipped a high shot over his left shoulder.
Again the Rangers rallied, pelting Parent with shots and finally closing to within 4-3 at 14:34, when Pete Stemkowski beat him on a rebound. Staunchly, surely, Parent protected the slim lead, and thus the Flyers became the first expansion team ever to beat a member of the Establishment in the playoffs.
It had been tight and taut all the way. Earlier in the week the Flyers and Rangers had traded 4-1 victories in games that were uncannily similar. First Philadelphia and then New York, employing close-checking tactics, rallied from early 1-0 deficits and concluded the scoring with empty-net goals. But while the first four rounds had been marked by violence, destruction, bloodletting and vicious name-calling, these games were so serene—at least on the surface—that they could have passed for intra-squad scrimmages of the California Golden Seals. Not that the Flyers and the Rangers suddenly came to like each other, mind you. Asked if she would be inviting any Philadelphia players to dinner during the off-season, Park's wife Gerry bluntly replied, "I wouldn't invite them to our garage."
All things considered, however, it was not surprising that the brash and lippy Flyers were subdued when they checked in to their Spectrum dressing room before the start of the fifth game. For one thing, they knew they would have to wear their official Clarence Campbell-approved NHL gags, muzzles and good-guy sweat shirts the rest of the series. The NHL president was so incensed by Philadelphia's behavior in the early part of the series that he ordered the Broad Street Bullies to become the Broad Street Sweethearts. Campbell's timing was thought-provoking. Until then the NHL had tolerated Philadelphia's fighting approach because the Bullies filled buildings everywhere they played. The Flyers set single-game attendance records for the season in five NHL rinks, indicating that spectators—even in cities with supposedly purist fans, such as Montreal—prefer gladiators to hockey players. But when the New York-based national media began to focus on Philadelphia's lead-with-your-left style in the playoffs, the NHL put its clamps on Flyer Captain Bobby Clarke and friends.
Campbell's action stirred the anger of Ed Snider, board chairman of the Flyers. "The Boston Bruins used to triple-team us and beat us up," Snider said. "Why didn't people scream then? Oh, but now there's a whole new situation, and Campbell tells us this team must be controlled."
Moreover, there was a message on the Flyers' dressing-room blackboard: ASHCAN PHONED AT 5:30 WISHING US ALL GOOD LUCK TONIGHT. Though the message was cheerful, it was a sobering reminder that Philadelphia's top defense-man was out for the rest of the series. In the overtime period of the fourth game, in New York, shortly before Rod Gilbert's goal tied the series for the Rangers at two games apiece, Barry Ashbee had stopped a Dale Rolfe shot with his right eye and plunged to the ice. For a time it was feared that Ashbee would lose his sight in that eye. Fortunately the crisis passed, but he was still in the hospital with bandages over both eyes. "There are three players this team cannot afford to lose," said Clarke. " Bernie Parent, Rick MacLeish and Barry Ashbee."
Ashbee was lost, and now Clarke was trying to buck up MacLeish. Unlike most of his teammates, MacLeish suffers from a lack of confidence. He is Philadelphia's best skater and stickhandler and in the last two seasons has scored 50 and 32 goals, respectively, but he seems to think he should be playing for the Richmond Robins. "Maybe someone should tell him how good he is," Clarke said.
In the first two semifinal games, played at the Spectrum, MacLeish fired 11 shots at Giacomin and scored three goals. In New York he took only four shots in two games and never threatened the Ranger goaltender. So what did Clarke tell MacLeish? "He said I had to get off my rear," MacLeish reported.