The Penguins were on life support when they drafted Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick in the 1984 Entry Draft. Although No. 66 would eventually lead the team to two Stanley Cups, it didn’t alter the nature of the Pens-Flyers rivalry—at least not right away. Paced by burly 50-goal man Tim Kerr, Hall-of-Fame defenseman Mark Howe, truculent Rick Tocchet, and All-Star goalie Ron Hextall (the son of former Pen Bryan Hextall), the Flyers kept on winning.
When the two teams met, talk invariably turned to “the Streak.” As incredible as it seemed, the Pens had not won a game in “the City of Brotherly Shove” since January 20, 1974.
“I graduated from high school, graduated from college, got a job, got married, got divorced, moved to San Diego, moved back to Pittsburgh, and the Penguins still hadn’t beaten the Flyers in Philadelphia,” Penguins vice president Tom McMillan said.
“We weren’t the only team that got clubbed by the Flyers,” Phil Bourque recalled. “But, when we went to the Spectrum, as much as you wanted to believe you were going to win, you just knew something bad was going to happen. You had the feeling you were going to get beat up, and not just on the scoreboard. They never took their foot off the gas pedal. They kept hammering us. It wasn’t enough to rub our noses in it, they grabbed us by the hair on the back of our heads and shoved our faces into the pile.”
By the 1988-89 season, however, the roles had begun to reverse. Stocked with young stars like Lemieux, Paul Coffey, and Rob Brown, Pittsburgh finally was ready to compete with Philly on even terms. On February 2, 1989, the Pens did the unthinkable—they beat the Flyers at the Spectrum 5-3. The Streak, which had reached 42 games, was dead.
“We’re not the fire hydrant anymore,” Bourque declared. “We’re the bigger dog.”
The Flyers quickly exacted their revenge. In the 1989 Patrick Division Finals they overcame a 3-2 deficit (and Mario’s stunning five-goal, eight-point performance in Game 5) to win the series. But the nature of the rivalry had shifted. While the black and gold went on to equal Philly’s feat of back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Flyers embarked on a Penguin-esque streak of their own by missing the playoffs five years in a row.
Philadelphia GM Russ Farwell even provided the missing pieces to the Pens’ second Stanley Cup puzzle when he traded Tocchet, towering defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, and goalie Ken Wregget to Pittsburgh for Mark Recchi and Brian Benning.
For the next few seasons the Penguins dominated their in-state brethren like never before. On March 20, 1993, Lemieux scored four goals to pace a 9-3 demolition of the formerly fearsome Flyers. The following season the Pens walloped Philly, 11-5, at the Civic Arena.
Once again the tide of the series would turn with the arrival of a franchise player.
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 1: Roots (1925-1967)
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 2: The Early Years (1967-1972)
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 3: Rise of the Broad Street Bullies (1972-1984)
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 4: Super Mario and “the Streak” (1984-1994)
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 5: Eric Lindros and the Legion of Doom (1994-2005)
- Penguins-Flyers Rivalry Part 6: Sid versus Richy (2005-present)
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.