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NHL Centennial

Flyers recall great run in 1979-80 season

Undefeated streak reached 35 games, North American pro record, on Jan. 6

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

Paul Holmgren remembers not feeling all that good about his Philadelphia Flyers following a 9-2 loss at the Atlanta Flames on Oct. 13, 1979, their second game of the 1979-80 season.

"And we scored late to make it 9-2," said Holmgren, a forward on that Flyers team. 

The despair wasn't long-lived.

"We had to play the next night at home, and then we didn't lose until Jan. 7," Holmgren said. 

On Oct. 14, 1979, the Flyers won 4-3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs to start a 35-game undefeated streak (25 wins, 10 ties), the longest in the history of North American major professional sports.

Video: Flyers from the 1979-80 team discuss unbeaten streak

"I would say that it's a record that won't be touched," said Hockey Hall of Fame member Bill Barber, who was third on the Flyers during the streak with 20 goals and 38 points. 

Holmgren, who scored the final goal in the loss to the Flames, got the Flyers going with the first of three first-period goals in their streak-starting victory against the Maple Leafs at the Spectrum.

Philadelphia won three straight before holding on for a 6-6 tie against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 21 in a game it led 6-2 in the second period.

The Flyers won their next nine games, their longest winning streak during their undefeated run, with contributions coming from across the lineup.

"We had a great blend," Barber said. "We had some guys that spent some time in the minors, players that earned their way there to play in our lineup that did a great job. … We had some of the older guys like myself and [Bobby Clarke], then we had the young guns there too that carried the load. It was distributed through the team itself."

Barber, Clarke, Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish were among the seven holdovers from the Stanley Cup championship teams of 1974 and 1975. They were joined by a crop of younger players, among them 20-year-old rookie forward Brian Propp, 21-year-old center Ken Linseman and an unheralded group of defensemen that included Behn Wilson, Norm Barnes, Bob Dailey, Frank Bathe, and Mike Busniuk.

"They nicknamed our defense the no-name defense because we had guys coming up from Maine (of the American Hockey League)," said goaltender Pete Peeters, who at 22 had five games of NHL experience entering 1979-80. "Barnes, Bathe, Busniuk, Behn was new, and [veterans] Bob Dailey and Moose [Dupont]. Lot of new guys up front: Brian Propp and Kenny Linseman and [Tom] Gorence, Al Hill, John Paddock. Phil [Myre] and I were just newly put together as a goaltending duo because Bernie [Parent] and Wayne [Stephenson] had left."

Mel Bridgman, at 24 years old, was in his first season as captain after Clarke gave up the role to serve as player/assistant coach.

Managing the ice time and keeping everyone happy was the job of Pat Quinn, who was in his first full season as an NHL coach.

Quinn had played against a number of his players in nine seasons as an NHL defenseman, and he knew others from stints as an assistant coach with the Flyers in 1977-78 and as coach with Maine to start 1978-79. He returned to the Flyers as coach later that season when Bob McCammon was fired with 30 games remaining in the season.

"He was a man's man," Holmgren said of Quinn. "Just walking in the room he had your respect. He didn't really change a lot from what we were doing in the Fred Shero days, just a different voice delivering it. … Quite frankly, nobody wanted to disappoint [Quinn]. Everyone knew what Pat was talking about, and because of that respect, no one wanted to disappoint him." 

The Flyers tied the NHL record of 28 straight games without a loss (the Canadiens had 23 wins and five ties between Dec. 18, 1977, and Feb. 23, 1978) when Wilson scored with 4:08 remaining in the third period for a 1-1 tie against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 20, 1979. 

Two days later, the record was theirs when they defeated the Boston Bruins 5-2 at Boston Garden.

"That game, I would classify it as a mini war," Barber said. "It was a tough game, lot of guys were beat up. We accomplished [the record], but we kept going."

The wins kept coming into the new year, including a 5-3 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 4, 1980, that pushed the streak to 34 and set a new all-sports North American record, besting the 33 straight games won by the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA in 1971-72. 

The Flyers defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 at Memorial Auditorium on Jan. 6, the third time they defeated them during the streak, to reach 35 in a row.

One night later, against the Minnesota North Stars at Met Center, Barber gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead 3:49 into the first period, but the North Stars scored the next seven goals for a 7-1 win.

It was the Flyers' first loss in 86 days.

During its history-making run, Philadelphia got at least one goal from 18 players, topped by 25 by Leach, 21 by MacLeish and 20 each for Propp and Barber. 

The Flyers won six one-goal games and 11 two-goal games. They rallied from down two goals eight times and from down three once, and they came from behind in the third period to prolong the streak six times.

The Flyers continued winning after the streak ended, reaching the Stanley Cup Final, which they lost in six games to the New York Islanders. 

That loss, though, does little to dampen the memories of their streak.

"It was a great run, great bunch of guys," Barber said. "There's memories and moments, and that was a memory, not a moment. A great accomplishment by a great team."

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