Once upon a time, before I was conscious, the Flyers (mostly) and the Bruins (to a lesser extent) fielded teams who tried to mow through the league by beating the hell out of opponents. There was one ref back then, not many camera angles, and a still-prevailing Canadian-influenced sentiment that hockey was war on skates: Do what you can get away with to win.
Hardly every Canadian felt that way of course -- Ken Dryden, who did okay by himself in his career and knows a thing or two about the game, was a notable exception -- but enough did to rationalize the Flyers' approach to winning two Stanley Cups, before Dryden's more honest Habs showed them what's what. As part of that mythology though, the Bruins toughened up, and knocked the Flyers out of the playoffs in consecutive years in 1977 and 1978 by a combined series score of 8 games to 1. The Bruins lost to Dryden's Canadiens both times in the final.
In 1980, an annual 100-point team that carried the label of "playoff choke" through the late '70s faced both the Bruins and the Flyers on their way to the Cup. In the quarterfinals, the Islanders beat the Bruins 4 games to 1, but three of the games were settled in OT. One legendary part of the series: No matter what "foil" stuff the Bruins tried, the Islanders would not be pushed around. They fought back, they earned their street cred, they went on to win it all. The wars with the B's looked like this. (That's a compilation of multiple altercations; there is video of the 4-goalie near-fight after the jump.)
Islanders-Bruins, 1980 Game 2, Four Goalies at Once
Disclaimer: Though not able to form words when most of this happened, I couldn't grow up following the Islanders without hearing and reading about this part of the mythology. I was reminded of it yesterday thanks to a comment from a long-time Isles fan at Justin Bourne's blog.
Anyway, if you're like me you dig that these two historic teams are meeting up again for the first time since the 1970s, when they had four epic battles. It's like the Seinfeld motif, which I subscribed to long before Jerry coined it: We're just rooting for laundry. Or in this case, we're just following a logo on the front that, thankfully, hasn't changed over the decades, so the mythology and the colors and the mystique stays with it. Who old enough can watch orange-and-black meet gold-and-black and not think about rough-and-tumble days of yore?
And did I mention, neither franchise has won a Cup since 1975?
That might seem like a long time -- okay fine, it is -- but in the long view of NHL history where few teams have thrown the Cup in their captain's pool, there's a brief narrative explining why, as both teams were very strong throughout the '80s but were stopped by either the Islanders, Habs (1986) or Oilers (1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990):
We've moved from the Bruins' (slightly squandered) early '70s dominance, to the Flyers' roughhouse mid-70s dominance, to Canadiens' beautiful game control, to the Islanders beauty-and-beast 19-series dynasty, to the Oilers' all-but-Steve Smith-and-the-Gretzky-trade dynasty, on to the Penguins' own dynasty interruptus (heh, 19-93! Da-vid Vo-lek!), to the temporary historical mistake of the Oilers in Manhattan, to the age of the Red Wings, Devils, and their nearest Western competitors. Now the Penguins are back with an incredibly achievable path to their third straight finals.
2010: Dig out those video archives
But first, two historic rivals who backed into the playoffs get to do a seven-game sequel to this year's Winter Classic. I hope it's a good one. With Marc Savard returning while scorers Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne and heart/soul PK man Ian Laperriere sit this one out, and with Tuukka Rask trumping Brian Boucher, my bets are on the Bruins. Head Says: I can't believe Boston has home-ice. Bruins in six. Heart Says: Let them battle each other to the death, just like old times.
Game 1 is Saturday at 12:30 p.m., on NBC/TSN/RDS.
Do vote, won't you? And if your feeling verbose, kindly tell us why in comments.