October 14, 1979
With a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third game of the season, the Flyers were back over the .500 mark at 2-1-0. They hung on for the victory and were thrilled to get the bad taste out of their mouths from a 9-2 drubbing the night before in Atlanta.
They wouldn’t have that taste of losing again for almost three months.
That victory over Toronto was the beginning of an uncanny and certainly unexpected 35-game unbeaten streak (25-0-10) that still stands today as the longest undefeated streak in the history of major professional sports.
That season was one in which the Flyers were in a bit of transition, mixing younger players in with the core of veterans from the Stanley Cup years. With Pat Quinn coaching his first full season after taking over for Bob McCammon, Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach were still leading the charge on offense.
Younger talent by the names of Propp, Gorence, Linseman and Bridgman were on the rise. On defense, mainstays Bob Dailey and “Moose’ Dupont still guarded the backline with the likes of Mike Busniak, Norm Barnes and 21 year-old Behn Wilson.
The goaltending was left to 22 year old upstart Pete Peeters and solid veteran Phil Myre.
The streak had several threats to it in which the Flyers had to come up big to keep it rolling along. With the ‘streak’ still in its infancy at seven games on November 7, they headed to the Montreal Forum to take on the Canadiens, winners of four Stanley Cups in a row.
Down 2-1 going into the third period, Norm Barnes and Al Hill scored in the first five minutes and the Flyers took a 3-2 lead. Mark Napier scored for the Habs to tie it at three, but bill Barber’s tally 90 seconds later gave the Flyers the lead once again. Reggie Leach put the game out of reach at 18:07 and they left with a 5-3 victory.
As the streak grew, so did the teams’ confidence. To tie the streak of the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens of 28 unbeaten, the Flyers would have to win or tie the Pittsburgh Penguins at home. Going into the third period, they were down, 1-0, on a first-period goal by Ron Stackhouse.
As the third continued, each passing minute drew more tense in the sold-out Spectrum. Finally, at 15:52 on the power play, Behn Wilson scored to tie it at one. The streak was still intact. 28 games without a loss. No. 29 to break the record would be a monumental task in the Boston Garden against the Bruins.
December 22 in Boston, the Flyers took any nervous energy they had and put it to good use. Goals by Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber in the first nine minutes got them off and running. A goal by Ken Linseman just a minute into the second period gave the Flyers a 3-0 cushion. At the end of two, the Flyers led 4-2. Bob Kelly sealed the win with the fifth Flyers goal halfway through the third period and the record was theirs after a 5-2 win.
The next scare came on the day after Christmas in Hartford versus “Father Time” fifty-one year old Gordie Howe, his son Mark and the rest of the Hartford Whalers. The Flyers had just defeated the Whalers 4-2 at home, the game following the Bruins victory. In the second game of the home-and-home series, the Flyers were up 4-2 after a Mel Bridgman goal at 3:21 of the third. Less than a minute later, Mark Howe scored, assisted by Gordie to make it 4-3. Less than three minutes later, Brian Hill scored for Hartford to tie it. Phil Myre and the rest of the Flyers hung on and earned a tie at four, the streak was alive at 31 games.
The Flyers went on to win the next four games on the road, defeating both Winnipeg and Colorado to end the calendar year. To start 1980, they headed up to New York on January 4 and beat the Rangers 5-3 then had a 4-2 win at ‘The Aud” in Buffalo. The streak was at 35 games heading into Minnesota to take on the North Stars.
It was the third game for the Flyers in four nights. The trip went from N.Y to Buffalo, then to Minnesota. Facing the North Stars, led by budding superstar Bobby Smith and coached by the respected Lou Nanne, this was a tall task for any team, let alone one with a 35 game unbeaten streak strapped to their backs.
As in many games during the streak, the Flyers once again jumped out to a lead. Bill Barber beat Gilles Meloche for his 21st goal of the year at 3:49 of the first. Unfortunately for the Flyers, that was the lone highlight of the game. Three goals by Minnesota in the last seven minutes of the period gave them a 3-1 lead.
The second period wasn’t any better as the Flyers could not close the gap for the first 15 minutes, then the Stars popped in two more goals at the end of the period to make it 5-1. Two more tallies in the first seven minutes of the third period by Minnesota nailed the door shut en route to a 7-1 win.
The streak had ended - their first loss since the mess in Atlanta. They held their heads high and were heading home,a tired, proud team having made their mark in sports history.
A few notable facts regarding the streak and the 79-80 season:
- The Flyers went 14-0-6 at home and 11-0-4 on the road during the streak
- They did not record a shutout during the streak
- The Flyers were 22-11-10 after the streak ended in Minnesota
- The Flyers finished the season with a record of 48-12-20, leading the NHL with 116 points and their division by 25 points. They lost the Stanley Cup Final that summer to the New York Islanders in six games.
Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99.