The officiating aside, Edmonton's real problem was Philadelphia rookie goaltender Ron Hextall, who had flat-out stonewalled Gretzky & Co. for two straight games and hardly seemed bothered by the pressure. Instead, the normally combative Hextall grew more confident—and more irascible—as the series wore on. Oilers who dared skate near his crease came away with welts on their legs. Right, Kent Nilsson?
" Ron Hextall is the best goaltender I've ever played against," said Gretzky. For his part, Fuhr was only slightly less brilliant and infinitely more composed. He relaxed between games by playing golf. Asked why he played 36 holes one day, he replied, "Because it got too dark to play 54."
As Fuhr and the wounded Oilers headed home to Edmonton for Game 7, Sather tried to play down any home-ice advantage his team might have. "It's going to be a great game in Edmonton," he said. "I just hope the mayor has enough brains to keep his mouth shut."
The people of Edmonton were hardly brimming with confidence by this point. Before the face-off for Game 7, the Northlands P.A. beseeched the crowd: "Let's have fun tonight...all right?" No response. "All right?" Tentative, meager response. Having seen one victory parade canceled, the fans seemed to fear the worst, and less than two minutes into the game their nightmare seemed to be becoming reality. With both Paul Coffey and Messier serving minor penalties, Philadelphia forward Murray Craven beat Fuhr from alongside the net to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. It was the first time in the series that they had been ahead in the first period.
Six minutes later Anderson returned to the form he had demonstrated in the first four games, when he scored three goals. Clearing the puck from his own end, he skated by Carson and fed Nilsson, who passed to Messier flying up the right side. Hextall had no chance on Messier's backhander: 1-1. Late in the second period, Edmonton's Old Reliables, Gretzky and linemate Jari Kurri, came through as they had so many times before. Gretzky whirled around in the corner to Hextall's right, spotted Kurri and hit him with a pass on his forehand. In a flash Kurri turned his stick and wristed a low shot that beat Hextall between his left skate and the post. It was the type of goal that only natural scorers regularly produce, and Kurri, who has scored 354 goals in seven seasons in the NHL, certainly was born with the scorer's hands.
Edmonton led 2-1 with 20 minutes to play, but would this be just d�j� vu for the Flyers? Indeed, they were in their all-too-familiar position for another comeback, this one for the Cup. In Games 5 and 6, Edmonton had contributed to Philadelphia's victories by abandoning its attacking style and trying to sit on its lead. On Sunday night, however, the Oilers came out shooting on Hextall in the third period, and in no time at all the Flyers were dead on their feet. The puck seemed to be in the Philadelphia end for the entire 20 minutes.
"It was their best period of hockey in the entire series," said Flyer alternate captain Mark Howe.
"They just wouldn't let us get to the net," added Keenan. "We couldn't get an offensive opportunity."
It wasn't that bad, but it was close. The Flyers managed two shots at Fuhr in the period; the Oilers blasted 12 at Hextall, including a slapper by Anderson that broke through the goalie's pads to make the score 3-1. Hextall stopped 40 of 43 shots in Game 7—204 of 229 overall—and was named series MVP.
But the parties—and the Stanley Cup—were in the room down the hall.