Third in a series counting down the 10 most memorable playoff wins in the Flyers’ history. Today: No. 8.
Thirty-three years ago, with Flyers fans squirming uncomfortably as their underdog team tried to avoid being knocked out of the Stanley Cup Finals, a 21-year-old defenseman who, moments earlier, was told to stay on the ice by his screaming coach, found a way to terminate the tension.
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J.J. Daigneault intercepted an Edmonton clearing attempt and blasted a slap shot from the left point that made the Spectrum shake.
“I thought the roof was going to come off,” Mark Howe, then a Flyers defenseman and now the Detroit Red Wings’ pro scouting director, has said.
“I never heard a building that loud,” Daigneault said earlier this month from his home outside Montreal.
The date: May 28, 1987.
The situation: Game 6 of the Finals.
The result: a 3-2 Flyers win over mighty Edmonton, a team with six players who would become Hockey Hall of Famers. Daigneault’s goal snapped a 2-2 tie with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left in regulation, tying the Finals at three games apiece. He had missed most of the playoffs because of a sprained ankle, but he returned in the Finals.
Funny thing is, Daigneault skated toward the bench and tried to get off the ice seconds before his famous goal. The reason? Edmonton’s Wayne Gretzky had jumped on the ice, Daigneault said, and he figured his coach wanted him on the bench when the Great One was out there.
Daigneault, who played on the third pairing with Doug Crossman, had replaced Mark Howe on defense when he started his shift. About 10 seconds later, he tried to leave the ice when he saw Gretzky.
But as Daigneault skated toward the bench, Flyers coach Mike Keenan shouted a five-word command.
“Stay the --- out there!”
A short time later, Daigneault rifled a long one-timer into the net.
“There was a lot of traffic in front,” Daigneault said. “I kind of seized the opportunity.”
The Flyers had faced a 2-0 deficit before getting a second-period goal from Lindsay Carson.
With 6:56 left in regulation, Brian Propp took a pass from Pelle Eklund and scored a power-play goal from the slot, ripping a shot over Grant Fuhr’s right shoulder to tie the score at 2-all.
Just 84 seconds later, on their next shot, Daigneault intercepted Jari Kurri’s clearing attempt off the boards and, with Scott Mellanby screening Fuhr, launched the Shot That Made the Spectrum Shake.
The crowd, which two minutes earlier feared the Flyers were headed to a season-ending one-goal loss, erupted. Some think it was louder than when Rick MacLeish scored a first-period goal – it turned out to be the game’s only score – in the Cup-clinching 1-0 win over Boston in 1974.
“It was an incredible moment in an incredible building,” said Daigneault, 54, now the head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “It wasn’t only loud when it happened, but it was loud for the last five or six minutes of the game. Everybody was standing.”
The Flyers did the improbable in their three series wins against the Oilers, overcoming deficits of 3-0, 3-1, and 2-0, respectively.
They ran out of comebacks in Game 7. Murray Craven scored a power-play goal 1:41 into the game to give the Flyers an early lead, but the Oilers outshot the Flyers, 43-20, and won the game, 3-1.
In Game 7, the Oilers’ goals were scored by Glenn Anderson, Kurri, and Mark Messier, and Fuhr was the winning goalie. All four later made the Hall of Fame, along with teammates Gretzky and Paul Coffey.
But the fact the Flyers, playing without injured star Tim Kerr (58 goals in the regular season), took the powerful Oilers to a Game 7 was remarkable.
For that, they can thank Daigneault, who eventually won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993.
Daigneault, who played for 10 teams during a 16-year career, was asked who would win a series between the 1986-87 Flyers and the 1992-93 Canadiens.
“That,” he said, “is a very difficult question to answer.” He couldn’t pick a winner, but he said the series probably would have gone seven games.
Those Canadiens played with a gritty style, Daigneault said, and then-general manager Serge Savard was “25 years ahead of his time with the way he put the team together."
The Habs defensemen could play with some physicality, but for the most part, were mostly adept at skating and passing, Daigneault said. “Just like all the GMs are looking for these days. We had a defense that didn’t take chances but was willing to abide by the structure we had in place. We didn’t give up many odd-man rushes.”
As for the 1986-87 Flyers, Daigneault said, “when I look back, it was probably the hardest-working team and the most resilient team I’ve ever played with. You had grit, you had toughness, and you also had very skilled players. Guys like Timmy Kerr, Pelle Eklund, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Peter Zezel, Rick Tocchet. And you had the leadership of Brad McCrimmon, Mark Howe, Brad Marsh, and Hexy [Ron Hextall] in the net. You need that. You need a goalie that’s going to take you the distance.”
As for Daigneault, he said it was on his “bucket list” to become a head coach on any level and he is happy to be heading a junior team after seven years as an AHL assistant and six seasons as a Canadiens assistant.
He and his wife, Janie, have three daughters: Juliette, 12; Gabrielle (a Villanova graduate), 24; and Valerie, 22, a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was recently accepted to law school at Drexel and is considering her options.
“So I’ll have some ties with Philly for the rest of my life,” Daigneault said.