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On This Date in Sports March 5, 2024: Fighting in Philly

A hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center turns into Thursday Night fights as a record 419 penalty minutes are assessed. The Senators had eliminated the last two seasons in the playoffs, laying the foundation for bad blood. In their previous meeting on February 26, a stick swing incident furthered the anger. The Flyers would win the fight fest 5-3.

Three decades removed from the fight-filled era, when the Philadelphia Flyers were known as “The Broad Street Bullies,” came a night of throwbacks that helped thrill fans at Wachovia Center. The Flyers, coached by Ken Hitchcock, were the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They had been eliminated in each of the past two seasons by the Ottawa Senators. The Senators led by Jacques Martin were also among the top teams in the East, having reached the Eastern Conference Finals and losing in seven games in 2003.

Both teams had similar records coming into the game, the Senators had record 35-17-9-5, while the Flyers were 34-16-12-6. This was the third of four meetings between the Senators and Flyers. On December 1st, the Flyers recorded a 4-1 loss in Ottawa, while the two teams played to a 1-1 tie on February 26th in Ottawa. In that game, Martin Havlat swung his stick at Flyers winger Mark Recchi, who had been called for hooking on Havlat. Havlat was called for a game misconduct and suspended two games for the incident.

Heading into the first meeting in Philadelphia, there was talk of revenge, as the Flyers were winless in the last five regular-season meetings with the Senators. Ottawa got on the board first, with a goal by Chris Neil at 4:07 of the first period. The Flyers would answer in the middle of the opening period, as they took the lead with goals by Claude Lapointe and Mark Recchi 30 seconds apart. Philadelphia made it 3-1 with a Danny Markov. Kim Johnsson scored for the Flyers in the second period, while Zdeno Chara answered for Ottawa, making it 4-2 heading into the final period. The game had been uneventful at that point, as the trouble and bad blood had yet to boil over.

In the third period, Alexei Zhamnov scored to make it 5-2 for the Flyers, putting them in full control, as things began to unravel with just over ten minutes left. A little over two minutes after scoring Zhamnov scored, he was called for a coincidental roughing minor with Daniel Alfredsson. Brian Smolinski and Patrick Sharp were each called for roughing three minutes later as the game became more intense.

With just under two minutes left, each team had put their enforcers on the ice, with the Flyers Donald Brashear seeking out Rob Ray of Ottawa. Brashear had caught Ray and bloodied the Senators' enforcer in a fight near the Flyers' goal crease. The fight was not out of the ordinary until Brashear was hit, Brian Pothier and Todd Simpson. This was the fulcrum that lit the fuse for one of the biggest brawls in years as all 12 players on the ice including the goalies dropped their gloves. After the dust settled, each team received a host of penalties and game misconduct, including the ejection of goalies Patrick Lalime and Robert Esche. When play resumed, it took just three seconds for the flames to rise again as the two teams brawled with another host of game misconducts handed out.

The game resumed with Wachovia Center whipped into a frenzy when a third mass brawl ignited as Recchi and John LeClair battled Wade Redden. Again, more players were ushered to the locker, but the fighting was not over as the Flyers and Senators dropped gloves for a fourth time at the next face-off.

When it was all over, a total of 419 penalty minutes were handed out, breaking the record of 406 penalty minutes set during a 1981 game between the Minnesota North Stars and Boston Bruins. Jason Spezza of the Senators who had ignited the final brawl received the most of those penalty minutes at 35 after getting assessed a double game misconduct. The final minute was played with more players in the locker than on the bench, as the Flyers were down to six players apiece.

Following the game, the bad blood continued as Bobby Clarke, the captain of the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970’s now serving as General Manager appeared at the Senators locker room door, looking to challenge Senators Coach Jacques Martin. Clarke was restrained as the game became an instant classic in Philadelphia.

Despite the number of incidents, only one statutory suspension was handed out to Danny Markov of the Philadelphia Flyers for his third game misconduct of the season. The two teams would meet again near the end of the regular season, with the Flyers losing at home 3-1 in a relatively incident-free game. The Senators' season would end with a first-round defeat against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs. At the same time, the Flyers lost in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning.