It's not that he has anything against being named playoff MVP. It's just that the Philadelphia Flyers goaltender left the ice after Game 7 of the 1987 Final without the trophy he really wanted. The rookie goaltender earned the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player in the championship round for his heroics against Edmonton. But the Oilers went home with the big prize — the Stanley Cup.
Hextall still felt the emptiness of going home without the Cup years later.
"Winning the Conn Smythe meant nothing at the time," said Hextall, now an assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Kings. "The loss was so disheartening — I still think about it. I look back on it now and I'm proud of winning the Smythe, but I'd take the other Cup ahead of that one."
Through the first four games of the Final, it didn't look like Hextall would get a chance to win either trophy. The Oilers, looking for their third championship in four years, led 3-1 after winning Game 4 in Philadelphia and were poised to close out the series at home. But Hextall wouldn't let than happen. He made 31 saves as the Flyers rallied for a 4-3 victory in Game 5, then stopped 30 shots in a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in Game 6, setting up the first full-length championship series in 16 years.
Despite pushing the series to the limit, the Flyers weren't exactly brimming with confidence entering Game 7. That may have been because their pre-game inspiration from Games 5 and 6 was missing. Coach Mike Keenan had inspired his troops before the two previous games by having the Stanley Cup wheeled into the Flyers' dressing room. But the Cup was nowhere to be found before Game 7 — it later turned up in the trunk of a car belonging to a trainer.
The Flyers knew they could use every edge they could find.
"It wasn't like we went out there thinking 'we're going to win,'" Hextall said. "We had won Games 5 and 6, so we knew we had a shot. But we were playing maybe the best team of all time."
The Flyers' roll continued in the early minutes of the game. They capitalized on an early penalty and took the lead on Murray Craven's power-play goal 1:41 into the game. But Mark Messier tied it at 7:45, and Jari Kurri got what proved to be the game-winner at 14:59 of the second period. Glenn Anderson's insurance goal with 2:24 remaining in the third period assured the Oilers of being champions again. Hextall was left with an honor he didn't much care for at the time.
"It was frustrating to have come so far and worked so hard and accomplished nothing," he said. "I look back at it now and realize that we accomplished a lot. But it was an empty feeling. I fretted about [that game] for months."
"Winning the Conn Smythe meant nothing at the time. The loss was so disheartening — I still think about it. I look back on it now and I'm proud of winning the Smythe, but I'd take the other Cup ahead of that one." -- Ron Hextall
Part of the frustration at not winning was the grit the Flyers had shown. They trailed by at least two goals in all three of the games they won, and all were won with third-period rallies -- in Edmonton's six trips to the Final from 1984-90, the Flyers' three wins were the only games in which the Oilers lost when leading after two periods.
Year later, Hextall still had fond memories of that 1987 squad.
"This was a special team," Hextall said. "I've been on some dedicated teams, but never on one like that, where all 25 guys worked so hard. We were outmanned, but we took maybe the greatest team in hockey right to the end."