The Ice Is Flying: A Look at the Playoff History Between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers

Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As the Washington Capitals prepare to meet the Philadelphia Flyers in Thursday’s round robin game to determine playoff seeding, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle is taking a quick look back at the playoff history between the Capitals and the Flyers. 

As the teams are just 130 miles apart geographically and have been division rivals for much of their shared history, they are natural rivals. Both teams were in the Patrick Division together from 1979-80 season through 1992-93, in the Atlantic Division from 1993-94 through 1997-98, and in the Metropolitan Division since 2013-14.

1984 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The first time the Capitals met the Flyers in the playoffs was only the second year in the history of the Caps in which they had even made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The prior spring, they had lost to the New York Islanders in four games.  During the 1983-84 regular season, the Caps finished second in the Patrick Division with a record of 48-27-5 and 101 points, while the Flyers finished third in the division with a record of 44-26-10 and 98 points.  As the second and third-place finishers in the division, they would meet in the first round of the playoffs (the Patrick Division Semifinals), which was at that time, a Best of Five series (the NHL switched the first round to a Best of 7 starting in the 1986-87 season).

The Capitals won the first contest 4-2 in a game that was tied 2-2 after two periods, followed by Gaetan Duchesne and Mike Gartner both scoring third period goals to push Washington to a win. Game 2 was more decisive. Like the first game, the second game was tied 2-2 after two periods. However, the Caps scored four unanswered goals in the third period to win 6-2; Gartner scored a goal during the first period in that game.  For the third game, the two teams traveled to Philadelphia. This game had a different sequence. The Capitals struck for five goals during the first two periods and gave up one to the Flyers during the third period. The final score was 5-1 for a Caps’ sweep of the best of 5 series and moved on to Round 2, in which they played the New York Islanders and lost in five games. This series was also notable for ending the career of the last two “Broad Street Bullies”, Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber.

1988 Stanley Cup Playoffs

In 1988, the teams met once again in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams finished with records of 38-33-9 with 85 points, tying for second place in the Patrick Division. The Capitals were awarded second place, based on tie breakers, and had home ice advantage as a result. The Caps lost the first game by a 3-2 score. Initially, the Flyers scored two goals but the Capitals tied up the game on two power play goals, but the Flyers got the game-winner on a power play goal by Dave Poulin. The Capitals won the second game, 5-4 in a see-saw affair which involved multiple lead changes.

The series then went to Philadelphia. The Flyers won Game 3 by a 4-3 score in another back-and-forth contest with multiple lead changes. The Flyers continued the trend by winning Game 4, this time in overtime on a goal by Murray Craven in a game in which the Capitals had led 4-1 midway through the third period. They then won Game 5 by a 5-2 scored. This time they did NOT blow the 4-1 lead that they had midway through the second period. They followed this with a decisive Game 6 win in Philadelphia, this time winning 7-2.  Now, they returned to Washington for Game 7.  This time, the Flyers got off to a 3-0 lead early in the second period, but the Capitals roared back to tie it before the period was over. Both teams traded goals during the third period before the game headed to extra time. Not quite six minutes into overtime, Capitals forward Dale Hunter scored the game-winner, a goal that will forever remembered as one of the great playoff memories in team history.

Advancing past the Flyers proved anti-climactic as the Caps lost the Patrick Division Finals to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The 1988-89 season saw the Capitals finally win the Patrick Division during the regular season with a record of 41-29-10 and 92 points. The Flyers finished fourth in the division with a record of 36-36-8 and 80 points giving the Capitals a home ice advantage once more.

In this particular series, the Capitals started well, winning the first game 3-2. However they lost the next game by an identical 3-2 score. The Capitals’ Dino Ciccarelli and Geoff Courtnall but the Flyers ended up scoring three unanswered goals during the third period, including two power play goals by Brian Propp, the second with just under a minute in regulation to go. The Caps rebounded in Game 3 with a 4-3 win in Overtime, with Kelly Miller providing the game-winner. Game 4, meanwhile, was a downer in which the Flyers scored the first five goals and the Capitals were never able to fully recover, with the final score sitting at 5-2, in favor of the Flyers. Game 5 was a penalty-filled, high-scoring game. Five minutes into the third period, Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson scored to Washington up 5-4. However, Philadelphia scored four unanswered goals to secure a 8-5 victory. Game 6 was a close game that also was a see-saw affair in which Flyers forward Rick Tocchet scored a late goal in the third period to put the Flyers ahead 4-3, a goal that proved to be the game series winner. The Flyers advanced to the Patrick Division Finals, got past the Pittsburgh Penguins, and ultimately lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals.

2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

After 19 years, the playoff rivalry was reborn in a new era for both teams. The Capitals were now led by superstar left wing Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the “Young Guns” (Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green) that began the “Rock the Red” era. The Flyers, meanwhile, were now headed by stars in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The Capitals had made an incredible regular season comeback after being last in the NHL on Thanksgiving Day and near the bottom of the NHL in points on New Year’s Day, but won the Southeast Division with a record of 43-31-8 for 94 points. The Flyers had finished fourth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 42-29-11 for 95 points. With the Capitals being a divisional winner, they ended up with home ice advantage over the Flyers, despite the fact the Flyers had more standings points.

The Caps won the series opener by a score of 5-4, thanks to a goal by Ovechkin. However, the team’s fortunes took a downward spiral as they lost the next three games; they lost Game 2 by a score of 2-0 when their offense did not show up and two Flyers goals in the first period held up as the final score, lost the next two games in Philadelphia, losing Game 3 by a 6-3 score and Game 4 by a 4-3 score, losing on a Mike Knuble goal in double overtime. The Capitals rebounded in Washington to win Game 5 by a 3-2 score and won Game 6 in Philadelphia in a game in which the team came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game by the end of the second period and won thanks to two goals from Ovechkin. The series followed a similar script as the 1988 playoff matchup, but the end result was not to be. In Game 7, with the score tied at 2-2, Joffrey Lupul scored a power play goal to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory and advancement to Round 2. Ultimately, the Flyers advanced to the Conference Finals, and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Capitals compiled a 56-18-8 record and 120 points during the 2015-16 season, winning the President’s Trophy and the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers finished fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 41-27-14 and 96 points. By virtue of having more points than the fourth place Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division, who had 93 points, the Flyers were the second Wild Card team in the Eastern Conference and as a result were the Caps’ opponent for the first round.

Washington started off the series by winning 2-0 in Game 1. After the opening game, they downed the Flyers 4-1 in Game 2 at the Verizon Center (now Capital One Arena). After starting off the series with two home wins, they had a commanding series lead.  However, as Capitals fans knew all too well, while the odds of winning a series with such a lead is 87%, the Caps’ track record was that they lost more such series with that lead than they had won.

The series now moved to the City of Brotherly Love for Game 3. The Flyers scored an early goal during the first period to go up 1-0, but the Capitals struck back on a power play goal by Marcus Johansson to tie the game. The Caps added another goal in the second period to take the lead. The Flyers took numerous penalties during the third period, with the visitors taking full advantage and scoring four power play goals. The final score was 6-1 in a game that was very reminiscent of a playoff game in 2012 between the Penguins and the Flyers. Like this game, it featured numerous penalties, a relatively lopsided score in the end, and put the Flyers up to a 3-0 series lead. The Flyers eventually won that series in six games. This game also featured angry Flyers’ fans tossing the bracelets they had received as a tribute to their recently-deceased owner, Ed Snider, onto the ice.

For Game 4, the Flyers made a goalie change, using former Capitals netminder Michal Neuvirth instead of Steve Mason, who had not performed well. This change was the tonic to keep them alive for at least one more game as the score ended up 2-1 in favor of the Flyers. The teams returned to Washington but the Caps were unable to finish the series and lost 5-2.  The Caps traveled to Philadelphia for Game 6, a game the Capita;s won 1-0, thanks to a goal by Nicklas Backstrom. Sure enough, the Capitals ended up following the script of the 2012 Flyers in Round 1 by winning the first two games of the series, winning the third game in a high scoring penalty fest, and ultimately winning the series in six games.
Like the Flyers of 2012, who fell in Round 2, the Capitals also fell in the second round of the playoffs, once again to the the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Capitals face the Flyers for their second round robin game of the 2020 playoffs to determine playoff seeding. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Washington on local stations. Game start is 4:00 PM.

By Diane Doyle

Further Reading
Capitals/Flyers: A Philthy Rivalry
Last Time Around: A Writer’s Reflection on 2008
Flyers/Capitals: A Love Story Gone Horribly Wrong
10th Anniversary: A Lookback at the 2007-08 Season

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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1 Response to The Ice Is Flying: A Look at the Playoff History Between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers

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