Lightning might not be here without the 2003-04 Flyers

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While the Philadelphia Flyers did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders are facing off in the NHL Semifinal round. The series is even at one apiece after Tampa’s 4-2 victory in Game 2.

The defending champion Lightning have shaped into one of the premier franchises in the NHL thanks to their explosive offensive firepower, headlined by stars Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. However, there was a point in time when their status as a young franchise in a non-traditional hockey market clouded the perception of their high-powered attack. That all changed during the 2004 Playoffs.

Flyers Primed for a Stanley Cup Run in 2004

The Flyers expected to make a deep playoff run and compete for a Stanley Cup on a yearly basis through the better part of the previous decade leading up to the 2003-04 season. However, a multitude of crushing playoff exits and the unfortunate demise of center Eric Lindros as the franchise centerpiece held them from earning the ultimate prize.

Veterans Keith Primeau, John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, and Mark Recchi made up the core during the years following the departure of Lindros, and their best chance to bring the Stanley Cup back to Philadelphia came during the 2004 Playoffs. General manager Bobby Clarke made three separate trades during the 2003-04 season for Russians Alexei Zhamnov, Vladimir Malakhov, and Danny Markov, a surprising move for a franchise with an archaic lack of Russian talent. Markov was acquired for young winger Justin Williams in what would later turn out to be one of the worst trades in franchise history.

Strong play from goaltender Robert Esche in the first two rounds solved questions in net following a poorly thought-out trade for veteran Sean Burke and a short-lived cry from the fans to call up Antero Niittymaki.

The third-seeded Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils, their true arch-nemesis of the era, in the opening round and followed with a second round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have not advanced in the playoffs since.

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