One of the most memorable games on the Philadelphia Flyers' road to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final was Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. Entering the match with a two games to one lead, the Flyers had an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the series if they could defeat the Rangers for a second time at Madison Square Garden.
Playing through a foot injury that hampered him for the remainder of the playoffs, Legion of Doom right winger Mikael Renberg was moved to Rod Brind'Amour's line during the series while 18-year-old rookie Dainius Zubrus moved up to play with Eric Lindros and John LeClair.
At 7:08 of the first period, Renberg gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead on a power play tally as he scored from close range a split second before he was leveled by a cross-check by Rangers defenseman Jeff Beukeboom. The Beukeboom cross-check touched off a scrum and offsetting penalties but the goal had already been scored.
The Flyers' skinny 1-0 lead held until the third period when veteran Esa Tikkanen finally solved Ron Hextall (31 saves) to knot the game. Turnabout was fair play as Flyers checking line forward struck for a shorthanded goal off his own initial rebound to put the Flyers ahead again, 2-1, with 3:13 remaining in regulation. A little more than a minute later, veteran Rangers blueline superstar Brian Leetch forged a 2-2 tie with 2:08 on the clock as he found a wide open lane to the net, took a centering pass from Wayne Gretzky and beat Hextall.
On the next shift, Beukeboom's careless use of the stick resulted in him clipping and cutting LeClair in the face behind the Rangers' net. The Flyers received a four-minute power play. With time in regulation ticking down below 10 seconds, Brind'Amour got the puck and sent it toward the net to LeClair. In too close to Richter to do much if he tried to shoot the puck, LeClair transferred the puck from his skate to his stick and slid the puck cross ice toward the left circle, where Lindros received it. With Richter overcommitted to the other side, the Flyers captain put a quick backhander toward --- and into the back of - the half-vacant need ahead of Richter's desperate feet-first lunge.
With 6.8 seconds left in regulation, the Flyers now held a 3-2 lead. Still shorthanded, the Rangers put goaltender Richter on the bench in favor of an extra attacker to make it 5-on-5 manpower. On the ensuing center ice faceoff, Joel Otto tied up Mark Messier. By the time the Rangers got the puck and dumped into the Flyers' defensive left corner, the final buzzer sounded.
The Flyers would go on to eliminate the Rangers in Game 5 in Philadelphia to capture the Price of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions. During their playoff meetings in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals and the 1997 Eastern Conference Final, the Flyers compiled an 8-1 record against the Rangers, although many of the games in the two series were close ones that were up for grabs late in regulation or into overtime.
May 23 in Flyers History
1973: The Flyers sell the contract of defenseman Willie Brossart to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1985: Leading the Stanley Cup Final one game to zero, the Flyers had a golden opportunity to ensure the series would get back to Philadelphia no matter what happened against the Edmonton Oilers when the scene shifted to Edmonton for the next three games (the Final at that time had a 2-3-2 format). Game Two was there for the taking but Philly bowed by a 3-1 score. The final Edmonton goal was an empty netter. Pelle Lindbergh stopped 27 of 29 shots while the Flyers mustered only a mid-game Tim Kerr goal that temporarily tied the game at 1-1. Wayne Gretzky, Willy Lindström and Dave Hunter (empty net) scored for Edmonton.
May 23: Flyers Birthday
Mustachioed longtime NHL defenseman Dave Babych was born May 23, 1961.