Just as he did 38 years ago to the day, Bobby Taylor still has the best seat in the house to watch the Flyers do battle.
The only difference is this time he wasn’t supposed to play.
That was the case when he backed up Wayne Stephenson in goal in the Flyers’ 4-1 win over the Soviet Red Army, Jan. 11, 1976, arguably the franchise’s greatest single moment next to their two Stanley Cup clinching wins.
The 68-year-old Taylor was back in town Saturday in his familiar role as TV analyst for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who erupted for four second-period goals to beat the Flyers, 6-3, and snap their 10-game home winning streak.
Fittingly, much of that was due to the play of their own backup goalie, Anders Lindback, who kicked out 35 shots, many from point blank range
Taylor, who spent most of his five-year Flyers career as Bernie Parent’s backup — including both Cup winning squads under Fred Shero, then remembered the day he was scheduled to go, but got bumped at the last minute.
“We had a shutout and they had like seven shots on goal,” recalled the man Taylor known as “The Chief” long before Craig Berube came along, who played just 44 games as a Flyer, going 15-16-7, with a 4.05 goals against. “Freddy came to me in the middle of the game and said he was going to stick with Stephenson.
“I was supposed to play the second half of the game, so it was a disappointment. But with the team we had we didn’t care who scored or who played. We just wanted to win.”
The then two-time defending Cup champion Flyers did convincingly that day, to the utter relief of the rest of the NHL. In what they called the “Super Series,” the Russians had sent two teams over and taken it to the rest of the NHL.
While the Soviet Wings went 3-1, their consensus top team Central Red Army beat the Rangers and Bruins and tied Montreal.
Only the infamous “Broad Street Bullies” stood in their way of claiming worldwide hockey supremacy.
The Flyers made sure that didn’t happen, stifling the Soviets’ pass happy attack with their physical play.
The highlight came midway through the first period when defenseman Ed Van Impe leveled Soviet star Valeri Kharlamov with a hard check that so infuriated the Russians they left the ice in protest.
When they finally returned after Flyers owner Ed Snider threatened to withhold their payment for the entire Super Series, the Flyers systematically took them apart.
“We dominated them,” said Taylor, as goals by Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, followed by defenseman Joe Watson’s shorthanded score broke it open early. “It was really a testament to how well we could play.”
“I had no idea it’s 38 years today. All I know if the League was really worried we were gonna be overwhelmed by the so-called Russian machine”
“They didn’t want us to play ‘stupid’ and push them around,” he continued. “But we had the best pre-game scouting. We knew what they were gonna do. They wanted us to chase them but we just sat back and waited for them. They didn’t know what to do. They only had 13 shots.’’
The NHL’s reputation temporarily “saved” by the team everyone loved to hate, hockey began to change from that point on.
Eventually the league opened its arms to the Russians, Czechs and the rest of Europe to the point where international players now permeate virtually every team’s roster.
Not only that, but 38 years since this ’76 “Russian invasion” it will all come full circle in a matter of weeks when the NHL sends its best players to Sochi for the Olympics.
“Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that,” laughed Bobby Taylor, who covers a vastly improved Lightning team which has managed to stay near the top of the Atlantic Division without injured star Steven Stamkos. “But all those young Russian kids playing now don’t even know about it.
“It woke up the hockey world.”
And it made Jan. 11, 1976, in the overall global scheme of things, perhaps the most important day in Flyers’ history.