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Oilers win, big debuts for Hextall, Robitaille in 1986-87

by EJ Hradek

The 1986-87 NHL season featured the Edmonton Oilers' return to Stanley Cup form, the arrival of a different kind of goaltender, and a playoff game that didn't want to end.

In this eighth installment of our series on the NHL in the 1980s, we revisit a season that kept fans on their toes to the final minutes.


After a shocking second-round exit ended the Oilers' two-year championship run in the spring of 1986, they rebounded to lift their third Stanley Cup in four seasons with a 3-1 Game 7 victory against the tenacious Philadelphia Flyers.

Edmonton rolled through the first three rounds of the postseason, going 12-2 en route to series victories against the Los Angeles Kings, Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings.


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In the Cup Final, the Oilers seemed poised for a repeat of the 1985 title series, a five-game triumph against the Flyers. Edmonton carried a 3-1 series lead onto home ice for Game 5, but unlike 1985, they couldn't seal the deal, falling 4-3.

Energized by the road win, the Flyers returned home to the sold-out Spectrum and tied the series with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory in Game 6.

That set the stage for the first Game 7 in a Stanley Cup Final since 1971, when the Montreal Canadiens bested the Chicago Blackhawks in the decisive tilt.

At Northlands Coliseum, the home fans barely had settled into their seats before they found their team down 1-0 on a power-play goal from Flyers forward Murray Craven at the 1:41 mark.

The Oilers shook off the early setback, tying the game on a goal by Mark Messier before the end of the period.

At 14:59 of the second period, Edmonton grabbed the lead on a goal from star sniper Jari Kurri. The game remained a tense one-goal drama into the final minutes before speedy Glenn Anderson ripped a shot past Flyers goalie Ron Hextall with 2:24 remaining to ice the victory.

After accepting the Stanley Cup, Oilers captain Wayne Gretzky immediately passed the silver chalice to defenseman Steve Smith, whose gaffe during Game 7 of the 1986 Smythe Division final against the Calgary Flames led to the club's playoff ouster. Smith would be part of three championship teams during his stay in Edmonton.

Not surprisingly, Gretzky led all playoff scorers with 34 points in 21 games. Kurri, Anderson and Messier were the champs' most prolific playoff goal-scorers, netting 15, 14 and 12, respectively.

Grant Fuhr handled the majority of the goaltending duties, working in 19 of the 21 games, finishing with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.

In defeat, Hextall was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for his sensational goaltending. He stands among five players to earn that honor on a non-Stanley Cup winning team. (Detroit's Roger Crozier, St. Louis' Glenn Hall, Philadelphia's Reggie Leach and Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere are the others.)


Despite failing to score at least 200 points for the first time since the 1982-83 season, Gretzky's 183 points were 75 more than his next closest rival (Kurri) in the scoring race as he cruised to a record seventh straight Art Ross Trophy.

The Great One again led the League in the big three offensive categories -- 62 goals, 121 assists, 183 points -- averaging 2.32 points per game.

He also topped the League with a plus-70 rating and seven short-handed goals en route to his record eighth consecutive Hart Trophy.


Few rookies have burst onto the NHL scene like 22-year-old Hextall.

A sixth-round pick (No. 119) in 1982, Hextall was called upon to fill the void left by the tragic death of Pelle Lindberg, who died as a result of injuries suffered in a one-car crash in November 1985.

Hextall responded by posting League-highs with 66 games played, 37 wins and a .902 save percentage. For his amazing work, he was named a First-Team NHL All-Star, selected for the League’s All-Rookie Team and awarded the Vezina Trophy to go along with his Conn Smythe honors from the playoffs.

An aggressive goaltender who wasn't afraid to drop his glove and blocker, Hextall would play 12 more entertaining seasons and become the first goaltender to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opponent's net.


Pat LaFontaine's goal at 8:47 of the fourth overtime ended the Easter Epic between the Islanders and the Capitals six hours and 18 minutes after the puck first dropped.

On April 19, 1987, when fans arrived at the Cap Center in Landover, Md., for the seventh and decisive game of the New York Islanders-Washington Capitals first-round series, they couldn't have imagined what they would witness.

From opening puck-drop, they sat (and stood) for six hours and 18 minutes, until 1:58 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning, when a winner was decided.

Finally, at the 8:47 mark of the fourth overtime, Islanders sharpshooter Pat LaFontaine wheeled around and fired a deceptive blast from approximately 45 feet that eluded Capitals goalie Bob Mason, sending the Islanders to the second round and the Capitals to the dressing room to clean out their lockers.

New York goalie Kelly Hrudey turned in a sterling performance, stopping 73 of 75 shots (including 50 consecutive saves after allowing the Capitals' second goal) to earn the win.


A two-game international exhibition series, contested at Le Colisee in Quebec City as part of an elaborate five-day winter carnival, between a select group of NHL stars and the Soviet National Team replaced the League’s annual All-Star Game.

The NHL team was led by Oilers stars Gretzky, Messier, Anderson, Kurri and Fuhr. They were joined by budding mega-star Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Michel Goulet and Chris Chelios, among others.

The Soviet team included Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov and Valeri Kamensky.

The NHL squad won the first game 4-3 on a goal credited to Flyers captain Dave Poulin with 1:15 left.

Two days later, the Soviets gained a series split with a 5-3 victory. Kamensky, who would begin an NHL career with the Quebec Nordiques in 1991, scored the goal of the series in the second game, when he walked in on veteran defenseman Rick Green and slid the puck past Fuhr.

Many of these same players would meet again later in the calendar year in the well-remembered 1987 Canada Cup final series.


On April 4, 1987, Islanders captain Denis Potvin became the first defenseman in League history to crack the 1,000-point plateau during a 6-6 tie with the Buffalo Sabres.

Potvin reached the impressive milestone in unique and dramatic fashion, having a shot from teammate Mikko Makela deflect off his arm and into the Sabres' net to tie the game with 17 seconds left in regulation.

"This was definitely not the way I envisioned getting my 1,000th point," Potvin later told the New York Times, "but it's certainly satisfying to have gotten it."


On Nov. 26, 1986, at Joe Louis Arena, an Original Six match between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs was marked by a nasty injury to Maple Leafs defenseman Borje Salming.

In a net-front scramble in the third period, Salming was knocked to the ice, and while prone, was gashed across the right side of his face by the skate of Red Wings forward Gerard Gallant.

Salming needed more than 200 stitches to close the wound, which ran from the area above his right eyebrow to below his mouth. Fortunately, the skate narrowly avoided his right eye.

Ironically, in the weeks leading up to that game, Salming had been wearing a visor as a result of being accidentally hit below his left eye by an errant stick; however, he discarded the protective shield just days before the game in Detroit, saying it impaired his vision.

Salming missed several games, but he returned to action later in the season.


On March 10, 1987, Los Angeles Kings general manager Rogie Vachon surprised the hockey world when he sent longtime club icon Marcel Dionne, along with minor-league left wing Jeff Crossman and a 1989 third-round draft pick across the country to the Rangers for center Bobby Carpenter and defenseman Tom Laidlaw at the trade deadline.

Vachon reportedly made the deal at the request of Dionne, who was said to be unhappy over the pace of the contract talks for an extension with the Kings.

At the time of the deal, the 35-year-old was the League's second all-time leading scorer, behind  Gordie Howe. To that point in the 1986-87 season, Dionne had 24 goals and 50 assists for 74 points in 67 games.

In New York, he finished the season with four goals and 10 points in the club's final 14 games. In six postseason games, he had a goal and an assist.


RIGHT Wing - #22
G: 573 | A: 553 | Pts: 1,126
GP: 752 | PIM: 210 | Shots: 2,705
On May, 2, when the Islanders were eliminated by the Flyers in the seventh game of their second-round series, no one would have guessed that we'd seen the last of legendary sniper Mike Bossy. After all, the nine-time 50-goal scorer had just turned 30.

Sadly, however, Bossy never would play another NHL game.

During the 1986-87 season, back problems limited him to 63 games and forced him to miss eight of 14 playoff games.

He decided to sit out the 1987-88 season with the hope of returning healthy for the 1988-89 season. When those health issues didn't improve, he decided to officially retire in October 1988.


While Hextall enjoyed a fabulous rookie season in Philadelphia, there was another first-year player making lots of noise on the other coast.

Kings left wing Luc Robitaille, the 171st pick in the 1984 NHL Draft, was bringing fans to their feet at the Fabulous Forum with his knack for lighting the lamp.

In 79 games, he totaled 45 goals and 84 points, earning Calder Trophy honors, outdistancing Hextall and teammate Jimmy Carson in the voting.

Follow E.J. Hradek on Twitter: @EJHradek_NHL

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