May 24th, 1980
Mention the following two words to just about any Flyers fan and their faces will turn Phillies’ red in an instant:
The Flyers were facing the NY Islanders in Game Six of the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals. After a league-leading 116-point regular season and 48 wins (including their 35-game unbeaten streak of 25-0-10) it was do or die for the Orange and Black on Long Island down three games to two.
With about six minutes to go in the first period and the score knotted at one, the Islanders came down the ice and Clark Gilles was along the left boards. As he entered the zone, he passed diagonally backwards towards the middle of the rink to centerman Butch Goring. The puck left the zone, a full foot onto Goring’s stick -- however, linesman Leon Stickle waived the play as good, having both arms outstretched. The Flyers’ defenseman reacted and let up for just a second, believing the offsides call would be made. It wasn’t. Defenseman Bob Dailey went too far to the center of the zone, and with all three Flyers on the right side of Flyers goalie Pete Peeters, the Isles’ Brent Sutter streaked down the right side ahead of Brian Propp, took Gorings’ pass, and shot high to the glove side to beat Peeters for a 2-1 lead.
It was an egregious non-call that upset the Flyers, but it did not unravel them. Late in the first, Propp tied the score at 18:38 to end the first period at 2-2, however the Flyers should still have been up a goal. In the second period, Hall of Famer Mike Bossy scored on the power play to make it 3-2 and Bobby Nystrom (we’ll hear from him again) scored with just 16 seconds remaining in the frame as the Isles took a 4-2 lead to the locker room heading into the third.
The resilient Flyers fought back from this 4-2 deficit, taking the play to the Isles and outshooting them 11-5 in the third. First, Dailey cranked home a slapshot past goalie Billy Smith at 1:47, and then John Paddock deflected a point shot from “Moose” DuPont through Smith to tie the score just over four minutes later. Both teams battled for the next 14 minutes and no one could break the tie, so we headed to sudden death overtime.
In the overtime, both teams limited each other on chances, at just two shots apiece for the first seven minutes. Then, an Islanders rush saw Flyers’ nemesis John Tonelli streak to the right wing and pivot back to the middle to find a streaking Nystrom in the slot. He had beaten Dailey to that area of the ice and wisely deflected the pass on his backhand over Peeters, who attempted to stack his pads as a wall to make the save. The Nassau Coliseum erupted and many Flyers’ fans were saddened, knowing that the “non-call” of Stickle’s back in the first period helped seal the fate of the Flyers.
The 5-4 overtime thriller gave the Islanders their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups, a true dynasty of a hockey club. They went on to beat the Minnesota North Stars, Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers in successive years, until being dethroned by Edmonton in a rematch of the Finals of '83-'84.
If not for Leon Stickle, they may have only had three…
You can see a recap, from a New York newscast following the game with the Stickle “blown call” clear as day from the YouTube clip here
Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99