May 23, 2008

1987: Oilers Back On Top

The year is 1987. It is a great year for hockey, highlighted by Rendez Vous '87, the 1987 Canada Cup, and an enthralling seven game Stanley Cup finals.

The Edmonton Oilers mean business this time around, determined to make up for lost opportunities in 1986. The Oilers had a relatively easy route to the finals, thanks mainly to Winnipeg's upset victory over the Oilers' chief rival, the Calgary Flames. The Oilers faced little trouble in eliminating the Kings, Jets and Red Wings.

In a rematch of the 1985 Stanley Cup finals, the Oilers faced the Philadelphia Flyers. Most of the main characters returned for the rematch Cup, but the Flyers had found a new goalie. Late in 1985 Pelle Lindbergh, star of the 1985 playoff run, died in a car crash. The Flyers found an even better goalie in rookie Ron Hextall for the 1987 playoff run. The fiery Hextall would capture the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP, thanks mainly to his 2.77 GAA, .908 save percentage and 2 shutouts. He was especially dominate in games 3 and 4, encouraging Wayne Gretzky to proclaim Hextall as "the best goaltender I've ever played against."

Though he pushed them to the brink, Hextall's flash and fireworks were not enough to knock off the Oilers. The Flyers, who were led by the Life Line of Pelle Eklund, Rich Tocchet and Brian Propp but were without 50 goal scorer Tim Kerr due to injury, came up just shy in the 7 game thriller.

The Oilers were again led by Gretzky, who led the playoffs with 34 points. In just his 6th playoff he recorded 177 points, establishing a new NHL career playoff record.

In a typical move of great class, upon receipt of the Stanley Cup at center ice, captain Gretzky made sure the first player to be handed the Cup was Steve Smith. Of course, a year earlier the rookie defenseman immortalized himself when he scored into his own net and unexpectedly eliminated the Oilers.

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