The 19,539 spectators at Wachovia Center had enjoyed a fairly normal game up until the final 1:45 on March 5, 2004. For once, the Philadelphia Flyers were about to defeat the Ottawa Senators. Since it was not likely the Senators would catch up before the end, the Flyers took the opportunity to pay them back for an event during their previous matchup. The result was a record-setting 419 penalty minutes.
The first period only had one penalty, a holding by the Flyers. The call came after Ottawa’s Chris Neil scored on a rebound at 4:07 and before Philadelphia responded with Claude Lapointe’s goal six minutes later and Mark Recchi’s goal less than a minute after that. The Flyers finished out the scoring that period at 16:10, when defenseman Danny Markov scored their 10,000th goal as a franchise.
In the middle session, the number of penalties picked up. When the Senators were called for tripping at 3:57, Kim Johnsson scored a power play goal at 5:22. The Senators were caught holding shortly thereafter. At 13:08, the Flyers received a penalty for slashing, allowing Zdeno Chara to score on the power play. However, the Senators finished the period with one more penalty, for high-sticking, before the period ended.
Near the start of the third period, Alexei Zhamnov scored the final Flyers’ goal, earning his 700th NHL point. About two minutes later, at 9:03, the teams became restless. Zhamnov and Ottawa’s Alfredsson both received penalties for roughing. At 12:18, another pairing were sent to the box for roughing. A silly too many men on the ice penalty was incurred by the Flyers at 15:57.
As of 18:15, the teams began fighting so much the announcers worried that not be enough men on the ice would remain to finish the game. These two teams carried some bad blood between them. When they last met, on February 26, Ottawa’s Martin Havlat swung a “two-handed high stick” at the face of Philadelphia’s Mark Recchi. Knowing Havlat was a target, Ottawa coach Jacques Martin sent him to the penalty box. Recchi said after all the fights, “It got to 5-2, and that type of thing happens. This game was played with a lot of emotion. My team didn’t forget what Havlat did last game. Brash made a statement. They responded and we responded back. We played a terrific game.”
Flyers’ Donald Brashear confirmed, “I started. Why wouldn’t I? There was a little emotion built up from past years, past games. We wanted to win the game in every department.” He chose his moment and his opponent, Rob Ray, saying, “I went out and fought a tough guy. I could have jumped on one of their good players and hurt him.” The Ottawa Citizen claimed that after Brashear bloodied Rob Ray, he sucker-punched defenseman Brian Pothier. Senators’ center Mike Fisher justified the brawl that ensued, “Obviously for us it was a disappointing effort and we got frustrated. What started it was Brashear going after (Pothier), one of our skill guys. After that, we weren’t going to sit there and let it happen. Then everything started. It was like a gong show, I guess. We didn’t win, but the guys stood up for each other, and I guess we can be proud of that.” Brashear received a “double minor-double major-misconduct-game misconduct” (for roughing, fighting, and being the instigator) for a total of 34 penalty minutes. Ray was given a major for fighting.
In the general melee instigated by Brashear and Ray, even the goalies became involved. Patrick Lalime of the Senators was penalized a “minor-major-game misconduct for leaving the crease and fighting (for 17 penalty minutes), while Robert Esche of the Flyers received the same but for his being a double game misconduct (for 27 penalty minutes). Their backup goalies, the Flyers’ Sean Burke and the Senators’ Martin Prusek, had to finish the game. The others receiving multiple penalties during that round included Van Allen and Simpson for Ottawa and Radivojevic and Markov for Philadelphia. Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock commented, “I’ve seen a lot of those before. I coached in a lot of these type of games. It’s the wild, wild West.”
Finally, the referees cleared the ice. They set up for a faceoff, but players immediately dropped the gloves. During this round, Ottawa’s Chris Neil “speared” and “jumped” Philadelphia’s Radovan Somik while Mattias Timander and Zdeno Chara fought nearby. Another faceoff had just begun when Flyers’ center Michal Handzus went after Mike Fisher. Handzus said, “When it was time to go, we knew it was our turn [to fight]. We stuck together as a team. I’m proud of our guys.”
At the next faceoff, the players actually skated for a bit before two fights broke out. Recchi took on Bryan Smolinski, and John LeClair fought to a draw with Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden. Afterwards, Redden commented, “Obviously it wasn’t a great game for us. But the guys did a good job and stood up for each other. It’s probably a wakeup call to lose a game like that, and that’s something we can build on.” With 1:15 still remaining in the game, the teams lined up with four for the Senators and three men for the Flyers. Once more, players immediately dropped the gloves. Philadelphia’s Patrick Sharp and Ottawa’s Jason Spezza received the final penalties of the game.
All in all, the game restarted four times. A total of 23 players were ejected. Some were even confused as to who was kicked out and who was supposed to remain on the bench. It seemed that for the last minute or so, the Flyers only had seven players and the Senators only six. Once the game was allowed to finish, Ottawa’s Peter Bondra scored the final goal at 19:47, leaving the score at 5-3.
Overall, the two teams combined had a whopping total of 419 penalty minutes. That broke the record of 406 minutes held by the Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars from February 26, 1981. It only took one period for them, since the third period tally came to 409 minutes. The most in one period prior to that was when the Flyers took on the Los Angeles Kings on March 11, 1979. Philadelphia also took away the record for penalty minutes for one team with 213. Ottawa came close with 206 minutes of their own.
As something of a justification, Flyers goalie Esche said, “I don’t like speaking for the team, but I think collectively we all wanted to say we’re not scared of Ottawa, we’re not scared to play them, and we’re not intimidated by their talent, and I think that may have been the problem with all the stuff [coach Ken] Hitchcock talked about over the last few years, about the mental advantage they have on us. We just got tired of hearing it, and it worked out to our advantage.” Coach Hitchcock agreed. “This wasn’t about putting our foot down. They’ve been the better team in every aspect, in offense and checking and special teams. We needed to change, and we did.”
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365: Daily Stories from the Ice (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018), kindle version.
- Tim Panaccio, “Flyers win as things get wild,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 March 2004, pp. E1 and E4.
- “Summary,” Philadelphia Daily News, 6 March 2004, p. 41.
- Edward Moran, “Flyers Knock Some Sens Into Ottawa,” Philadelphia Daily News, 6 March 2004, p. 42.
- Allen Panzeri, “It was like a gong show,” Ottawa Citizen, 6 March 2004, p. F1.