-- Despite expansion, rule changes and state-of-the-art facilities, the essential characteristics required of a Stanley Cup finalist in previous generations are still the same as they ever were.
At least, that's how Philadelphia Flyers
legend and Hall of Fame forward Bob Clarke sees it -- and who would argue with Clarkie?
"Those things don't change in hockey," he said of the sacrifices and commitment needed to claim the Cup. "No matter what they do to the game or how they change the rules, the same characteristics that win a Stanley Cup were there 50 years ago, and will still be there 50 years from now."
As the senior vice president of the Flyers, he might not be as involved in the decision-making process as he once was as general manager, but that suits him just fine. He'd prefer to watch the game as a fan would -- to critique and then offer his analysis to anyone willing to listen.
"I still get chills every time they sing 'God Bless America' before Philadelphia home games," he told NHL.com. "And while I think the Wachovia Center is a great building for the new buildings, I don't think you can compare with the smaller, more intimate, less fancy buildings such as the Spectrum. Those were special buildings but, again, that's when I played. I'm kind of half-prejudiced."
Clarke, who led the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75, is enjoying Philadelphia's unexpected run to the Final this spring. In fact, it's conjuring up memories of playoffs past.
"What they've done as a team stacks up with any of the great teams the Flyers have had," he said. "Dave Poulin's team in the 1980s did some unbelievably good things, and we also went to the (1997) Final with (Eric) Lindros as a captain and (John) LeClair, and they did some good things. This playoff run, for me, is not quite the same as the one that won the two Stanley Cups -- but probably higher than any of the runs this club has had in the playoffs since."
Perhaps this year's surge doesn't offer the same flair as those teams that brawled their way to consecutive titles in the '70s, when Clarke's Flyers became the first expansion team to win hockey's Holy Grail. Even before making a comparison, this year's Flyers would have to win it all -- and that's certainly no easy task against a Chicago Blackhawks
franchise that's seeking its first title since 1961.
But Clarke said he sees similarities between the Broad Street Bullies of the '70s and the 2010 Flyers.
"When a team wins or goes as far as getting to the Stanley Cup Final, the characteristics are always the same," Clarke said. "The sacrifices and commitment by the players, that's never changed. The individual play of the players … (in Game 5 against Montreal) (Mike) Richards gave you a performance that ranks up there with the top performances of any Flyer in an individual game.
"Dave Poulin had a game like that against Quebec," Clarke said, referring to a goal Poulin scored with his team two men short in a series-clinching Game 6 win in the 1985 Wales Conference Final.
Still, Clarke is a bit miffed at how the Flyers were suddenly able to turn their season around, becoming just the fifth club seeded as low as seventh under the current format to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It certainly is not normal to be as inconsistent as they were during the season and then go on to what they've done in the playoffs," Clarke said. "Usually, inconsistent teams go out of the playoffs pretty early."
The Flyers' run to the Final has been aided by some key performances -- as well as by having a coach in Peter Laviolette
who has each player believing in one common goal.
"No matter what they do to the game or how they change the rules, the same characteristics that win a Stanley Cup were there 50 years ago, and will still be there 50 years from now."
-- Bob Clarke
"It takes a lot more than sheer talent, but you're not going to win if you don't have talent," he admitted. "It starts with the coaching. You have to have really good coaching and all 20 guys playing together that same style. There's going to be guys who do more hitting or more scoring or guys who do more blocking of shots, whatever it takes. But it's always the commitment to your teammates that makes the good team better."
Clarke, who supervised drafts that landed Simon Gagne
, Jeff Carter
, Mike Richards
and Claude Giroux
, applauds the job GM Paul Holmgren
, a former teammate, has done in shaping the team for this playoff run.
"He's done an unbelievable job," Clarke said. "When you think of it, it was only (three years ago) Chicago and Philly were picking No. 1 and 2 in the draft and now they're both in the Finals. Unfortunately, Chicago fired Dale Tallon
(now the GM in Florida), because it's still Dale Tallon
's team. Just like this one is Holmgren's team -- he did it. He hired the coach and got the players. It's not an easy thing to get to the Finals and most managers never get there."
Clarke spent 22 years running the Flyers, Minnesota North Stars and Florida Panthers
. His teams made the playoffs 18 times, won seven divisional titles, went to eight conference finals and played for the Stanley Cup four times -- three in Philadelphia.
When asked if he recalled the only other playoff series the Flyers and Blackhawks were involved in -- the 1971 quarterfinals -- Clarke responded reluctantly.
"Yeah," he said in a monotone. "We weren't nearly as good as them in those days. We were an expansion team and they were an Original Six with (Bobby) Hull, (Stan) Mikita and those other guys in their prime. We were just fodder for them. But we eventually caught up."
Much like this year's Flyers, who seemed to catch up to the leaders of the pack rather quickly.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale