Flyers Faithful presents the fifth in a seven-part series examining and celebrating the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers, arguably the best NHL championship pairing of the last 30 years.
Pride and confidence are great things to display in the right quantities, in the right time. And karma can be a real bitch.
One game away from claiming their third Stanley Cup in four seasons, the print media in Alberta’s capital simply lost its mind on Tuesday and published parade plans for a few days hence.
“Coming home to our adoring fans, the scene was set,” Kevin Lowe admitted in that season’s documentary “The Boys on the Bus.” “The parade was set, the civic reception was set. We were going to win the Stanley Cup in Game 5.”
It seemed like a lock, given that the Oilers held a 3-1 series edge and won the fifth game on home ice in both 1984 against the Islanders and the following season in their first crack at the Flyers. So I guess someone up the chain of command thought it would be a good idea to start the celebration a little bit early.
And for the first 22 minutes of Game 5, the Flyers gave little reason to refute those plans as they watched the Oilers turn into a swarm of Killer Bees in Blue and Orange, intent on ending things once and for all.
Perhaps it was a feeling that the end was near in the comfort of home, or maybe it was some long-buried hubris bubbling to the surface, but it all went from rainbows to storm clouds in a New York Minute. The Oilers stopped asserting their will and the Flyers, who had done their best to stay just a step behind, suddenly received a collective burst of oxygen and started to skate stride-for-stride.
They also began converting their chances, tearing at the force field Grant Fuhr erected around his crease for the previous game and a half:
“And then the Flyers showed us something we never thought they had. They came back to win the game,” Kevin Lowe said. “We could see it on their faces at the end of the game. We knew that the Flyers were for real and that we knew that they believed they were for real.”
The “Life Line” of Brian Propp, Rick Tocchet and Pelle Eklund rode to the rescue and kept the season alive, responsible in some fashion for all four scores on the night.
“It’s as good as I’ve ever seen Brian play, and that’s saying something because I’ve seen him play some terrific games,” noted Philly captain Dave Poulin. “Somehow he’s topping it.”
Propp’s four assists helped him tie a franchise record for most points in a single postseason, picking up the primary helper on Tocchet’s third-period winner which was his second of the night. Eklund showed textbook persistence on the tying score. And Hextall held back the flood for the final 38:28 of regulation, stopping 31 shots in all.
As the rookie said in Full Spectrum,” Only one thing will bother me, and that’s if we lose. That would bother me a lot.”
Hextall had to face down his own personal demons, embodied through the voices of the sellout crowd at Northlands, who had the Nilsson slash fresh on their minds. Despite chants of “Hackstall” and calls for Chico Resch to come into the game, he showed steely resolve and pushed back with his perfect play in the latter half of the game.
We’d be suckers not to think that a lot of luck, and the inability of the Oilers once again to bear down with victory in sight.
Edmonton’s first goal, in modern times, wouldn’t have held up to scrutiny after Jaroslav Pouzar’s contact with Hextall coupled with Marty McSorley’s bowling-ball impersonation to actually put the puck in. That’s goaltender interference, plain and simple these days.
Second, at 3:31 of the video, notice how the puck was never close to being frozen though referee Don Koharski couldn’t have possibly made any other call with his view completely obstructed. Note also that Gene Hart calls it correctly on the replay.
If that goal was rightfully allowed, simply put, the game and series is over. At that time, there was zero replay, and official’s discretion, particularly that of the referee, wasn’t questioned with much intensity. Hard to imagine that wouldn’t have been pored over in the War Room in Toronto.
Shockingly, the Oilers repeated the same mistake of Game 3 just four days earlier. It appeared the lesson from that loss, and by extension the one to Calgary in Game 7 the previous Spring after Steve Smith’s own-goal, was still falling upon deaf ears. Three separate breakaways when they had the lead went by the wayside, all by skilled players who should have been in for the kill.
And then, to have the Flyers turn the tables after the lead goal and dominate stretches of the third period, didn’t seem to be taken very seriously, either. With the exception of the final minute when Grant Fuhr was pulled for an extra attacker, the team which already won it all couldn’t gear up to make a hard-working stand in front of an impatient crowd.
“Hey Peter, what went wrong?,” yelled a random but clear voice to Oilers owner Pocklington following the shocking defeat. “When’s your damn parade now?”
And so, it was back to Philadelphia and the roar of that madding crowd 48 hours later. Back to the fans who think nothing of engaging the opposition’s coaches, and who so cleverly hang Wayne Gretzky dolls in effigy — albeit with the top half Wayne and the bottom half a woman in a skirt.
Will the Oilers finally take things to heart and put away the Flyer pests?
The pressure builds for Game 6, coming up on Tuesday.