For the past few weeks, we have been looking back at some of the greatest moments in Flyers history that happened outside of the playoffs and some of the legendary playoff series. Today, the series of greatest moments continues with a moment that is not a great moment, but a tribute to one of the greatest players the franchise has ever known.
In 1979, the Flyers drafted a young goaltender out of Sweden and his name started to become known in the 1980 Winter Olympics. During the 1980-81 season, he made his way over to North America and joined the Flyers AHL team, the Maine Mariners. In 1982, he made his NHL debut. By 1983, he was a full-fledged rookie on the Flyers, posting a 23-13-3 record with a 2.98 GAA and .891 save percentage in 40 games and being named to the NHL All-Rookie team.
After another season of working in a tandem, the Flyers unleashed this young goaltending prodigy on the hockey world in the 1984-85 season. In 65 games, Pelle Lindbergh had 40 wins to lead the league and took home the Vezina Trophy with a 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage. The Flyers made a run to the Stanley Cup Final that season, with Lindbergh posting a 12-6 record in 18 games with a 2.50 GAA, a .914 save percentage and three shutouts. Unfortunately, Lindbergh and the Flyers met an All-World group in the Edmonton Oilers in the Final, and after winning Game 1 handily, lost the next four in a row. Lindbergh didn’t get the start in Game 5 after losing three straight games.
Following up on his Vezina-winning season, Lindbergh was off to another great start in 1985-86. Through 12 games, the Flyers were 10-2-0 and had an eight-game winning streak entering a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 7.
Chicago got on the board against Lindbergh and the Flyers just 1:09 into the game with Keith Brown scoring, but a power-play goal by Pelle Eklund at 16:15 and another goal 1:05 later from Tim Kerr gave the Flyers the lead for good.
Ron Sutter and Mark Howe scored in the second to open up the lead to 4-1. Howe and Kerr each scored their second goal of the game in the third, giving the Flyers a 6-1 lead. Curt Fraser scored for Chicago on the power play at 12:58 to cap the scoring in the 6-2 win for the Flyers.
Following that win, Lindbergh had a 6-2-0 record through eight games on the season with a 2.88 GAA and .885 save percentage. With the Flyers off to a hot start and Lindbergh starting to replicate his 84-85 Vezina-worthy performance, it seemed like the Flyers would be a team to beat out of the Wales Conference.
The winning streak reached 10 games for the Flyers in their next game against the Boston Bruins on Nov. 9, a 5-3 victory. Lindbergh was on the bench for the Flyers that night, as Bob Froese made 14 saves on 17 shots in the win. The Flyers continued to ride the high of a long winning streak so early in the season, before it all came to a sudden end just a few hours later.
Following a win, it was common that players would go out for a meal and to grab a few beverages at the bar. It was no different on this night, especially after a 10th straight win. In the early morning hours of Nov. 10, following the Flyers win over the Bruins, Lindbergh lost control and crashed his Porsche 930 Turbo into a wall in nearby Somerdale, NJ, just a few miles away from the Flyers practice facilities. Lindbergh was critically injured and two passengers with him were severely injured as well.
A few hours later, Lindbergh was declared brain dead and on life support. He was held on life support for the next day until his parents were able to arrive from Sweden and give permission to remove life support. Lindbergh’s organs were donated for transplant and he passed away from injuries sustained in the accident on Nov. 11.
The death of the Flyers young netminder at the age of 26 shocked the team, the fan base and the hockey world. After three days of mourning, the Flyers had to take the ice again on Nov. 14 against the defending Cup champion Oilers. Taking Lindbergh’s place on the roster was 25-year-old Darren Jensen, and he was in net that night for just his second NHL game.
Following a memorable opening ceremony, the Flyers and Oilers hit the ice for the first game since Lindbergh’s death. Jensen performed admirably, making 29 saves on 32 shots. Howe opened the scoring on the power play in the first period and Larry Melnyk tied the game for Edmonton in the second, sending the game to the third period in a 1-1 tie.
Just 24 seconds into the third, Ilkka Sinisalo scored on the power play to give the Flyers the lead. Brian Propp added a power-play goal at 3:26 to make it 3-1. Paul Coffey cut the lead to one with a power-play goal at 6:27, but Rich Sutter restored the two-goal lead at 11:04. Just 1:33 after Sutter’s goal, Mark Messier cut the lead back to one. With 3:10 remaining, Brad McCrimmon capped off the scoring in the 5-3 win, extending the Flyers winning streak to 11 games.
In the games that followed, the Flyers stretched the winning streak to 13 games and they would finish the season with a 53-23-4 record. But even after taking first in the Patrick Division, the Flyers were still reeling from the emotional toll of Lindbergh’s death and lost the best-of-five first-round series to the New York Rangers, 3-2.
In the aftermath of Lindbergh’s death, he was posthumously named to the 1986 NHL All-Star Game. The Flyers unofficially “retired” Lindbergh’s No. 31 and have not issued it to a player since. The Flyers also annually award the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as a team award, going to the player who has been most improved from the previous season.
Following that season, another young goaltender emerged for the Flyers and helped get them to another Stanley Cup Final in 1987. Ron Hextall won the Vezina that year and also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy despite the Flyers losing to the Oilers in seven games in a wildly entertaining Stanley Cup Final.
Even in the years since Lindbergh’s death — the 35th anniversary of his death will be this November — the Flyers have struggled to find a goalie of Lindbergh’s ability. Lindbergh is still ranked 10th in Flyers history in games played by a goaltender. He is still ranked seventh in Flyers history in wins by a goalie.
You can watch the memorial ceremony for Pelle Lindbergh prior to the game against the Oilers on Nov. 14, 1987 in full below:
We’ll continue the series of Flyers Greatest Moments on Wednesday with a look back at an undefeated streak that has never been matched.