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He has been the guts of the Flyers ever since, their prototypical forward—hardworking, hard-checking, none too fancy with the puck. "We're not a great one-on-one hockey team," he says. "We're not going to win a lot of games with Denis Savard-type moves. But sometimes it helps to know your limitations."
Whereas the old Flyers favored fisticuffs, these Flyers "try to intimidate you with their work ethic," says current Chicago co-coach Roger Neilson. They usually succeed. Shaking off the aftershock of four straight losses to the Oilers in the Cup finals, the Flyers started this season 12-2. They were not merely playing in midseason form; it was playoff-style hockey, and they had a 10-game winning streak to show for it after a 5-3 win over the Bruins in the Spectrum on Saturday, Nov. 9. There were four days off before the next game. Then came the accident.
Lindbergh was a car freak. The turbocharged Porsche 930 that he crashed into a retaining wall early Sunday morning in Somerdale, N.J. has the reputation of being the closest thing to a race car that you can buy for the streets. Lindbergh had been drinking. The accident occurred at 5:41 a.m. Most of the Flyers were at the hospital by 10. Lindbergh was brain dead, hooked up to a respirator. His mother and fianc�e, Kerstin Pietzsch, were there; his father was flying over from Sweden. It would be Tuesday before the decision would be made to donate Lindbergh's organs to the living and unhook his body from the machines.
The Flyers were together almost constantly the three days following the accident. Monday's optional practice became mandatory, and afterward everyone went to Keenan's home for lunch. On Sunday they had gone to Poulin's. "They were essentially group therapy sessions," says Poulin. "Talking things out that usually go unexpressed and would have remained unexpressed had we been alone. So many of the players were confused. It was easier to go through it as a group."
The first thing that had to be reconciled, of course, was the loss of Lindbergh as a friend. After that came the realization—and this was the team thing again—that the Flyers' strong suit, goal-tending, was suddenly no longer that. Lindbergh was last season's Vezina Trophy winner (with a 3.02 goals-against average) and was voted the Flyers' MVP.
There was some comfort in the knowledge that Lindbergh's backup, Bob Froese—a free agent signed by the Flyers in 1981 after the St. Louis Blues had cut him—is generally considered the best second-string goalie in hockey. His career won-lost record now stands at a phenomenal 65-20-9, and he has the second-lowest career goals-against average (2.84) of any active goaltender. However, at a morning practice just hours before the private memorial service for Lindbergh that the Flyers would attend, Froese was hit in the groin with a puck. The shot shattered his protective cup, and after the workout Froese began to pass blood. He could not play for at least a week. "That's when we began to wonder if we were being tested," recalls Poulin.
On Thursday the Flyers were playing the champion Oilers, the first meeting of the season between the Stanley Cup finalists. What should have been a highlight of the regular season for both teams had turned into a grim but necessary chore. Philadelphia had to call up from Hershey yet another free-agent signee, rookie goalie Darren Jensen, who responded to the emotional evening—which began with a 22-minute ceremony honoring Lindbergh—by backstopping the Flyers to a dramatic 5-3 victory. It was remarkably therapeutic. "No one knew what to expect, including us," says Poulin. "But we're hockey players and are most comfortable in our own environment, which is a hockey rink, rather than a hospital or a chapel."
Everyone expected an emotional letdown to follow, but the Flyers won their 12th straight game that Saturday in Hartford, beating the Whalers 5-2, and on the flight home Keenan, so proud of his young team that his eyes misted over when talking about it, helped the stewardesses serve meals. The Flyers won their 13th straight the next night against the Islanders—a club record that tied (with Boston) the third-longest winning streak in NHL history—by overcoming 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to triumph in overtime. "Philly taught us a lesson in this game," the Isles' John Tonelli said afterward. "They were down three goals twice and never gave up."
"The way they've faced the tragic loss of someone they loved and respected has been an inspiration to everyone in the community," says Keenan. "The tragedy didn't really add to this team's character. The character was always there. The only difference is that now it's public."
The Flyers finally lost on Nov. 19, to the Islanders, their streak ending two games short of the Isles' NHL record of 15 consecutive wins. Falling behind 5-1 early in the second period, Philadelphia rallied to 7-6 before a last-second open-net goal by Bryan Trottier cemented the Flyers' first defeat since Oct. 17. It had been a gallant run. "Games can be good therapy," says defenseman Brad Marsh. "As a team, we're basically over Pelle's death, but during the year it's going to continue to hit us as individuals."