When discussing New Jersey Devils rivalries, your first inclination is to go right to their feud with the New York Rangers and the Hudson River Rivalry. There is another rivalry, though, that began merely as geographic unpleasantness and, due to the high-intensity stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has grown to be something more: the Devils’ and the Philadelphia Flyers – the Turnpike Rivalry.
Philadelphia came into the National Hockey League during the 1967-68 doubling of the league franchises, being admitted when Baltimore fell out of the running for a team. The Flyers of the late-1960s were not the “Broad Street Bullies” that would come to be the team’s trademark. And, in fact, it was due to the team’s lack of physical toughness that would lead to the team acquiring players like Dave “the Hammer” Schultz and Bobby Clarke built mostly through the draft. Going into the 1970s, the Broad Street Bullies were ready to ride and the Flyers would become the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974 and then won it again in 1975. The Flyers would lose to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1976 Stanley Cup Final, as the Habs were beginning a dynasty that would win them four straight Cups from 1976 to 1979.
The Flyers team that would face the New York Islanders in the 1980 Stanley Cup Final was a much different team than the Broad Street Bullies in their heyday and would lose to the Isles to kick off New York’s dynasty of four straight Cups. It would be five years before Philly would return to the Finals, as they faced Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and lost in five games after winning game one. They would lose to Edmonton again in 1987 and it would be ten years before Philly would get another shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Devils first faced off with the Flyers in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. The Flyers would take out the Buffalo Sabres and the defending Stanley Cup champion Rangers to get to the penultimate round, while the Devils beat the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins to get to that round. Game one kicked off the series on June 3, 1995 at The Spectrum and resulted in a 4-1 Devils win. Game two brought a 5-2 Devils victory as the scene shifted to the Meadowlands for game three. For the next two games on Devils home ice, Jersey’s Team would squander their 2-0 series lead by losing 3-2 in overtime in game three and 4-2 in game four. The teams now returned to the City of Brotherly Love tied at two games apiece, but with just 44.2 seconds left to play in the game, Claude Lemieux’s slap shot just inside the Flyers blueline sailed past goaltender Ron Hextall’s blocker and gave the Devils a 3-2 lead that they would hold on to. Game six back at the Meadowlands saw New Jersey clinch their first Prince of Wales Trophy with a 4-2 victory over the Flyers. The Devils would meet Detroit in their first Stanley Cup Final, and would complete a sweep that would net the franchise their first Stanley Cup. Leading scorers for the series were: Devils: Randy McKay, 4 goals, 3 assists and 7 points; Flyers: Eric Lindros, 2 goals, 3 assists and 5 points.
The teams would not meet for another five years, but it was well worth the wait! Meeting again in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2000, the Devils path included wins over the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs; while Philadelphia defeated Buffalo and Pittsburgh to get there. Game one at the First Union Center commenced on May 14, 2000 and gave the Devils a 1-0 series lead with a 4-1 win. Then things got interesting. Philly would take the next three, including two on New Jersey’s home ice. Game two was taken 4-3; game three, 4-2; game four was won 3-1 with current Flyers head coach Craig Berube scoring the game winner. The Devils now found themselves down three games to one and on the brink of elimination. For the Devils, it was time to get to work. And that they did. Game five in Philadelphia saw Bobby Holik net the game winner as the Devils cut the deficit to three games to two with a 4-1 win. Game six back at the Meadowlands and Alexander Mogilny capped a 2-1 win for Martin Brodeur and the Devils to force a game seven. Game seven: nothing says more to a sports fan than those two words and it was Patrik Elias who came through as the hero, putting a dagger through the Flyers playoff hopes, giving the Devils a 2-1 win and sending them to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in their history where they would face and defeat the Dallas Stars for their second Stanley Cup in five years. Leading scorers were: for the Devils, Jason Arnott with 2 goals and 5 assists for 7 points and for the Flyers, Rick Tocchet with 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points and Mark Recchi with 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points.
The teams next met in 2004’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, where the Devils came in as the defending Stanley Cup champs. Unfortunately for the Devils, it was a short five game series with the Flyers dethroning them. The Devils only win came in game three 4-2 at Continental Airlines Arena on April 12 of 2004 as the Flyers bounced them and marched on in the playoffs. The Devils leading scorer was Scott Gomez with 0 goals and 6 assists for 6 points while the Flyers leading scorer was Alexei Zhamnov with 3 goals and 5 assists for 8 points.
Twenty ten was a year that was another mediocre effort for the Devils in the first round against the Flyers. The Devils were again eliminated in five games with their only win coming this time in game two, 5-3 at Prudential Center. The Devils had lost the first game and would lose game three in OT, 3-2. They would never recover and be eliminated in two more games. For the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk would lead them in scoring with 2 goals and 4 assists for 6 points while for the Flyers, Mike Richards was the leader with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points. The Flyers would continue on to the Stanley Cup Finals that year, losing in a dramatic game seven to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The team’s most recent playoff meeting came in 2012 in the Conference Semifinals. This series was all Devils (after they were victimized in OT in game one by Danny Briere, giving the Flyers a 4-3 home win). After that, the Devils took control and never looked back. They won game two 4-1 with David Clarkson bringing the heroics in the City of Brotherly Love. Game three would be settled in an extra session at the Prudential Center in Newark, 4-3 with Alexei Ponikarovsky notching the game winner for the Devils. Game four was won 4-2 by the Devils in Newark; while game six would wrap things up in Philly with a 3-1 Devils win. Kovalchuk was again the Devils leading scorer with 2 goals and 5 assists totaling 7 points, while Briere led the Flyers with 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points. The Devils would march all the way to the Cup Finals that year, only to be upended in that series by the Los Angeles Kings, who won their first Stanley Cup.
The Devils-Flyers rivalry, while not quite as heralded as the Devils-Rangers rivalry has produced just as many memorable moments and games as the Hudson River version. Like the Rangers, there is certainly no love lost between the teams or their fans and the balance of power has shifted back and forth over the years, but one thing remains constant: if the Devils and the Flyers get together in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is almost a guarantee that there will be tough, hard-nosed hockey being played.