The 1988-89 regular season did not meet the expectations the Philadelphia Flyers had before the season. Head coach Paul Holmgren's club posted a 36-36-8 record during the regular season and finished in fourth place in the Patrick Division.
However, the team peaked at just the right time, saving its best work for the playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs, the Flyers knocked off the Patrick Division champion Washington Capitals in seven games; a series best remembered for Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall becoming the first goalie in NHL history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the second, round, the Flyers beat Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
Few pundits gave the Flyers much chance heading to the Igloo for Game 7, even after Philly staved off elimination in Game 6 with a 6-2 win at the Spectrum.
For one thing, the Penguins had humiliated the Flyers with a 10-7 pasting in Pittsburgh in Game Five -- it took a Flyers four-goal rally in the third period to get the score even somewhat close - with Lemieux racking up five goals and three assists.
For another, Hextall was unavailable to play in Game 7. He had muddled through the third period of Game 6 with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and emerged victorious (20 saves on 22 shots) but was ruled out for Game 7. That meant backup goaltender Ken Wregget, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 6 at the extortionate price of two first-round draft picks, would be pressed in starting duty.
Acquired for depth, Wregget had appeared in just three regular season games down the stretch (two stars and a 10-minute relief outing), yielding 13 goals in 130 minutes. In the playoffs, he had just a 29-minute mop-up outing in replacement of the besieged Hextall in Game Five against Pittsburgh before being called upon for Game 7.
Wregget responded in a big way. The goalie, who later joined the Penguins as part of 1992 stretch run trade from the Flyers, yielded only a Lemieux goal at 4:21 of the second period after Brian Propp gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead late in the second period. Overall, Wregget played brilliantly in stopping 39 of 40 Penguins' shots.
The turning point of the game came at 6:57 of the second period. With Jeff Chychrun in the penalty box for cross-checking, Brian Propp blocked a shot and sprang Mark Howe and Dave Poulin past a fallen Penguin for a two-on-one rush. Poulin received a perfect Howe centering pass and rifled it past Tom Barrasso before the Pittsburgh netminder could react.
The Flyers led the rest of the way. Mike Bullard added to the lead with a power play goal 30 seconds into the third period and Scott Mellanby took a pass from Howe and tacked on an empty net goal in the final minute to seal a 4-1 win in the game and a four games to three win in the series.
Wregget earned first-star honors, while Ron Sutter and Kjell Samuelsson turned in yeoman checking work to receive second-star and third-star selections. The Flyers went on to face the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens (115 points in the regular season) in the Wales Conference Finals, putting up a valiant fight in pushing the series to six games before falling two wins shy of the Stanley Cup Final.
April 29: Through the Years
- 1975: The defending champion Flyers open their Stanley Cup semifinal series against the New York Islanders with a 4-0 shutout victory at the Spectrum. Wayne Stephenson stops all 21 shots he faces, while Don Saleski, Bill Barber, Bobby Clarke (shorthanded) and Rick MacLeish provide the goal support. Things will get much tougher later in the series, but the Flyers will prevail in seven games.
- 1976: The Flyer tie the Stanley Cup semifinal against the Boston Bruins at one game apiece with a 2-1 overtime win at the Spectrum. Don Saleski scores his sixth goal of the playoffs in the opening period. The lead holds until John Bucyk ties it up with a third-period power play goal before Reggie Leach nabs his eighth goal of the playoffs at 13:38 of overtime. Wayne Stephenson stops 32 of 33 shots.
- 2012: The Flyers take Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinal with a comeback 4-3 overtime against the New Jersey Devils. After having a would-be OT goal by Danny Briere disallowed, Briere scores again -- this team officially -- to add to his earlier regulation goal. James van Riemdsyk and Claude Giroux also score in regulation. Ilya Bryzalov stops 23 of 26 shots.
- 2014: Continuing a series-long pattern of alternating game wins, the host Flyers defeat the New York Rangers by a 5-2 count (both Rangers goals come late in the game) to force a seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal the next night at Madison Square Garden. Wayne Simmonds racks up a hat trick on two power play goals and an even strength tally. Erik Gustafsson and Claude Giroux (empty-netter at 15:49 of the third period) round out the scoring. The Wells Fargo Center crowd erupts in chants of "Ma-son! Ma-son!" in honor of a brilliant 34-save goaltending performance by Steve Mason. The Rangers remove starter Henrik Lundqvist (19 saves on 22 shots) after the second period.
April 29: Flyers Birthdays
- The Flyers' first-ever amateur selection in what today is called the NHL Entry Draft, center Serge Bernier was born on April 29, 1947 in Padoue, Quebec and raised in Matane, Quebec.
- Depth defenseman Dave Fenyves was born April 29, 1960 in Dunnville, Ontario.
- The late Jean Gauthier, a defenseman, was born April 29, 1937 in Montreal.