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Physical Play Defines Rivalry Between Rangers, Flyers

by Adam Kimelman / Philadelphia Flyers

It's ironic that the rivalry between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers has been so bitter through the years.

Without the Rangers' help, there might not be an NHL team in Philadelphia.

Ed Snider, the Flyers' founder and chairman, found a love for hockey watching Gump Worsley playing for the Rangers in the 1960s. And it was Bill Jennings, the Rangers president and head of the expansion committee, who encouraged Snider to proceed with his bid for a team for Philadelphia.
Bobby Clarke battles for a faceoff against the Rangers during a game at Madison Square Garden in the 1981-82 season. (Flyers Archives)

"He was just glad I showed up," Snider said. "It's a great metropolitan area, a great rivalry for New York. He was great to me from the day I met him."

Those first meetings 40 years ago, however, might have been the last civil exchange between the clubs.

"Both teams hated each other," Bob Clarke, the long-time Philadelphia captain who today works as the club's senior vice president, told "It was like that when I came in 1969. I came the third year after expansion and we didn't like each other then, and it seemed to get progressively worse for a long time."

The latest chapter in that rivalry will be written Sunday, when the Rangers host the Flyers (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC). It will be the 245th all-time meeting. The Flyers lead all-time in wins, 105-102, but the Rangers won the teams' previous meeting, 4-3, on Oct. 11.

They've also met 10 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Flyers winning six of the series.

The most memorable playoff meeting came in the 1974 semifinals, when the Flyers became the first expansion team to defeat an Original 6 team. The teams were tied, 3-3, going into Game 7 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. The game was scoreless midway through the first period when some pushing and shoving near the Rangers' net led to a memorable fight between the Flyers' Dave Schultz and Rangers defenseman Dale Rolfe.

"There was a little altercation in front of their net, he was shoving (Orest) Kindrachuk," Schultz told "And when I came in, he said, 'Oh boy, here comes Schultz.' I wasn't anticipating him dropping his gloves. He wasn't a fighter."

Rolfe was a strapping 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, giving him the size advantage against the 6-1, 185-pound Schultz. But Rolfe wasn't much of a fighter, and it showed against Schultz, who left Rolfe a bloody mess.

Flyers coach Fred Shero told reporters after the game: "That took something out of New York. They didn't do as much hitting after that." The Flyers won the game, 4-3, and then beat Boston to win their first Stanley Cup.

While those Flyers teams of the 1970s and early '80s featured tough guys like Schultz, Moose Dupont, Bob Kelly, Paul Holmgren and Glen Cochrane, the Rangers never had anyone who could match that.

"I never really thought I would have to fight anybody when I went into the Garden," said Schultz. "I fought Jerry Butler one time, Steve Vickers. … I fought Brad Park (but) he actually started it. I had him down on the ice on his back and I was punching him in the belly. I got kicked out and then a fan threw a thing of beer on me, which didn't make me happy."

Dave Maloney, a Rangers defenseman from 1974-84, agrees his team was manhandled physically by the Flyers through the years. He recalled a weekend home-and-home set with the Flyers in 1977 that ended with a Sunday game at the Spectrum.
Simon Gagne always expects a battle when the Flyers and Rangers face off. (Getty Images)

"Fergie (John Ferguson) was our coach," Maloney told "I remember being in Philly and right on an icing somebody ran a Flyers defenseman -- I'm thinking it was Danny Newman. It was at the Spectrum, it's dark, the music is intimidating, they're intimidating, and of course over the boards come all their tough guys. And our toughest guy besides Nicky (Fotiu) was Fergie, and he was the coach. That's not a good sign. And I was the fifth sacrificial lamb that was put out. I often think my 12 years of Catholic school really helped me out in that situation because I lived for another day."
The teams met seven times in the playoffs in a nine-season span. The Rangers, led by former Flyers coach Fred Shero, beat the Flyers in the quarterfinals of the 1979 playoffs, winning three straight after dropping Game 1 in Philadelphia in overtime en route to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens.

The Flyers gained a measure of revenge, topping the Rangers in the 1980 quarterfinals on their way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the New York Islanders.

The Rangers won back-to-back Patrick Division semifinal series in 1982 and '83 under coach Herb Brooks, beating the Flyers in six straight playoff games during the two seasons.

"The Smurf years in the playoffs were pretty roaring because we persevered through a Philly team that tried to intimidate us," said Maloney. "The '79 team, we were rugged enough. Herb Brooks' teams weren't quite as rugged but we were very skilled, we just weren't as big."

The Flyers swept the best-of-3 division semifinals in 1985 and won again in six games in 1987; the Rangers took the 1986 meeting, which occurred months after the tragic death of Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh.

The teams have met just twice in the playoffs since 1987, with Eric Lindros carrying the Flyers to victory in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals and again in the '97 conference finals.

It wasn't just the playoff games that ratcheted up the intensity.

"The exhibition games were just wars," said Clarke. "Fight after fight."
It doesn't take much to get yourself excited for that game. You know it's going to be a big game. You know on both sides, both teams are going to play their best games." - Simon Gagne on Flyers-Rangers games

"There was more of an edge to those games versus playing Winnipeg in February," said Maloney. "I think the games had a certain edge to them."

While that edge might not be as sharp as it was 30 years ago, there's still a good amount of animosity between the teams.

"Flyers-Rangers is a big rivalry," Philadelphia forward Simon Gagne told "It doesn't take much to get yourself excited for that game. You know it's going to be a big game. You know on both sides, both teams are going to play their best games."

"Every time we play those guys I feel like I have 55 hits, it's so physical," said Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky. "I'm getting hit, I'm hitting guys; there's always a few fights. The games are exciting, physical, tough games. They're tough every time we play them. I really look forward to them. I really love those games.

"For those guys you get the adrenaline really pumping. You get fired up, this is going to be a physical game and say, 'No one is going to push me around tonight.'"
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