Battered and besieged by key injuries, written off several times by pundits and rallied by team leaders to play for one another, the 1986-87 Philadelphia Flyers came as close as a team can get to winning hockey's ultimate prize before falling just short of capturing the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, the Flyers ran out of steam and comebacks in Game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers.
In the deciding game in Edmonton, the Flyers' will to win remained strong and they even grabbed an early first-period 1-0 lead on a Murray Craven power play goal. As the game progressed, however, the Oilers began to outskate the Flyers and out-possess the puck as the accumulated fatigue took its toll. Mark Messier tied the game at 1-1 before the opening period was eight minutes old, and the Flyers never led again as they got outshot, 43-26.
Flyers rookie goaltender Ron Hextall almost singlehandedly kept the game tied but the Oilers' otherworldly firepower eventually broke through. Jari Kurri converted a Wayne Gretzky setup to put the Oilers ahead, 2-1, with 5:01 left in the middle frame.
Unlike Game 5 and Game 6, when the Flyers were similarly outplayed but dialed up a game-tying power play goal by Brian Propp and third period game-winner by J.J. Daignault, there were no more comebacks to be drawn from the well by the Flyers. Hextall kept the deficit to one goal for the rest of the second period and most of the third until Glen Anderson added an insurance goal with 2:24 left in the game. The Flyers were outshot 25-14 over the final 40 minutes.
Hextall was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player of the playoffs but he would gladly have traded that individual award for the Stanley Cup if he could. Distraught on a somber plane ride back to Philadelphia, the Flyers' spirits were somewhat lifted as they were surprised by a crowd of Flyers' fans who gathered at Philadelphia International Airport to cheer their arrival and hold up signs thanking the valiant team for doing the city and fans proud.
May 31 in Flyers History
1997: The 1997 Stanley Cup Finals opened with a 4-2 loss at the Wells Fargo Center (then CoreStates Center) at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. A late second-period John LeClair goal off a feed from Mikael Renberg temporarily cut the deficit to 3-2 but a long-range Steve Yzerman shot in the opening minute of the third period eluded Ron Hextall to re-establish a two-goal lead.
2000: The Flyers acquired veteran two-way forward Paul Ranheim from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a 2002 eighth-round draft pick.
2010: The visiting Flyers controlled much of the play in the latter half of the game but a pair of closely spaced second period goals by the Chicago Blackhawks proved to be too much to overcome. A third period goal by Simon Gagne brought the Flyers back to within 2-1 but goaltender Antti Niemi - in the best netminding performance for either team in the series - stepped up to prevent an equalizer. The Blackhawks took a two games to zero lead in the Stanley Cup Final.
2016: Flyers Hall of Fame center Rick MacLeish passed away at age 66 from complications stemming from multiple health problems.
May 31: Flyers Birthday
Rugged left winger Greg Adams was born May 31, 1960.