You didn’t think that I would let the anniversary of such a painful but pivotal moment in Philadelphia Flyers history go by without discussing it, did you?
That’s right, today marks the 20th anniversary of Scott Stevens’ hit on Eric Lindros that signaled the end of Lindros’ time with the Philadelphia Flyers. On another note that often gets lost in the shuffle, the Devils beat the Flyers that night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, advancing to play for the Stanley Cup, which they’d win two weeks later.
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Obviously, the result of the game was extremely important, but did anyone have any doubt about the outcome of the game once Lindros was sent crumpling to the ice, even though there were still over 52 minutes left to play? There’s just no coming back from that. The Flyers, trailing 1-0 at the time of the assault — I mean “hit” — actually did tie the game in the second period. But that only served to make things more painful when Patrik Elias scored the back-breaking game-winner with under three minutes to play. The Devils mustered only 18 shots on goal for the game, but they chewed the Flyers up and spat them out the same way they’d been doing for years with their trap system that prioritized defense first, second, and third.
The fact that the Flyers lost the game and the series was essentially secondary to the numbness felt by fans over the fact that the franchise icon-turned-divisive figure was all set for a comeback that would vindicate him, only to see things end as badly as humanly possible. This hit, this game, remains the most soul-shattering loss over the last few decades of Philadelphia sports history, rivaled only by the Phillies’ Achilles-tearing Game 5 NLDS defeat to the Cardinals in 2011. Like that game, the Game 7 loss to the Devils left an indelible mark on the losing franchise, one from which you can argue that they still haven’t recovered.
The 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs marked the third time in six years that the Lindros-led Flyers had made it to at least the third round, including one Cup Final appearance. Meanwhile, in the 20 years since, the Flyers have made the third round three times, including one Cup Final appearance. It’s taken them two decades to accumulate the same amount of objective success that they did in the six-year span at the end of Lindros’ tenure, and the Stevens hit acts as the clear point of demarcation.
The Flyers haven’t been totally devoid of success since Lindros left the picture, but imagine a world where he doesn’t get laid out in Game 7 against the Devils, with the Flyers going on to win the game and the series. The Cup Final matchup with the defending champion Dallas Stars wouldn’t have been easy, but the Flyers were a better overall team. There’s a good chance that there would have been a parade. Lindros would have stayed in town, and he likely would have improved upon his Hall of Fame statistics and legacy, all while wearing Orange and Black.
Yes, this is revisionist history, but it’s a totally legitimate scenario that very well may have played out if not for that one fateful moment in South Philly 20 years ago. The Devils continued their winning ways, securing the second of what would become three Stanley Cups in nine years, while the Flyers’ trophy case waits to be replenished, the dust of decades growing thick.
What if Lindros kept his head up? What if the NHL was cracking down on hits to the head back then the way that they do now? The list of questions goes on, and it will never stop. Just as we continually relive our fondest sports memories, our minds are hard-wired to remember the worst ones as well. And May 26, 2000 was the lowest of the low.