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Austin Murphy
May 18, 1987
Swedish scorer Pelle Eklund and rookie goalie Ron Hextall powered Philadelphia to a 3-1 playoff lead over Montreal
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May 18, 1987

The Shooter And The Stopper

Swedish scorer Pelle Eklund and rookie goalie Ron Hextall powered Philadelphia to a 3-1 playoff lead over Montreal

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Gambles take on a dreadful weight at this point in the hockey season. On Sunday night Montreal coach Jean Perron bet the rent on the hero of the Canadiens' 1986 Stanley Cup championship, goaltender Patrick Roy, and the Philadelphia Flyers—two in particular, a rookie goaltender and a reticent but deadly Swedish center—all but nailed an eviction notice to Perron's door.

His decision to bench Brian Hay-ward, who had started nine straight playoff games, and play Roy, who had been practicing halfheartedly since his demotion, backfired badly. Roy, obviously rusty, was beaten four times before Perron mercifully waved him back to the bench and went once more with Hayward, who gave up two more goals. When it was all over, the Flyers had a 6-3 win, a two-game sweep at the Montreal Forum, a 3-1 lead in the semifinal-round Cup series and a surprise hero.

Pelle Eklund, a 24-year-old second-year center from Stockholm, had a dream weekend in Canada. He scored five goals—two in a 4-3 comeback win in Game 3 on Friday night and three in Sunday's rout. A thoroughly reserved sort, Eklund also set some kind of record for the least amount of exulting after a playoff hat trick. "Don't worry," said the terminally poker-faced Swede, "inside of me, I'm excited."

In the other semifinal series Edmonton recovered from a shocking 3-1 loss at home in Game 1 to take a shaky two-games-to-one lead over Detroit. The normally high-flying Oilers were held to a meager seven goals in the three games by Detroit's smothering defenders. Edmonton coach Glen Sather didn't exactly blame the Red Wings for their clutch-and-grab tactics, but he did wonder aloud why the referees had called so little of the holding and interference. In Game 2 referee Bob Myers did caution Detroit defender Gil Delorme that he would have to stop the holding or be called for it. To which Delorme shot back, "What do I have, a time limit?"

Philadelphia and Montreal split their first two games in the Spectrum, the Flyers winning 4-3 in sudden death, the Canadiens coasting 5-2 in Game 2. Then came the Metamorphosis, the 15 minutes the Flyers spent in their dressing room after falling behind 2-0 in the first period of Game 3. Opinions varied as to whether the 20 minutes they had just spent on the Forum ice was their worst period of the playoffs, the season or recent franchise history.

"We stunk the place out," defense-man Brad Marsh would say later that night. True enough. But Philadelphia was only two goals behind because goal-tender Ron Hextall had been brilliant. The Canadiens had kept the rookie flopping like a marionette, firing 21 shots at him in the period. Recalls Marsh, "Between periods, Ron Sutter just said, 'C'mon guys, think how bad we played and how much better we can play.' "

Off in a corner, maintaining his usual silence, Eklund was ready to put the power of positive thinking on display. In the next two periods, Eklund, the 167th pick in the 1983 entry draft, went out and turned the game—and perhaps the series—around. He scored two goals and later set up a third.

Afterward, reporters naturally sought out Eklund for interviews. Problem was, all they knew about him was that he is Swedish. "Which one is Eklund?" became the question of the hour.


"No, I am Ilkka Sinisalo."

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