Over the previous few weeks, as the NHL’s pause has gone on, we looked back at great playoff moments for the Flyers in Series in Review. Now, we want to shine the spotlight on some great regular season memories with a new series called Flyers Greatest Moments.
Our series begins with a look at the Flyers all-time leader in goalie wins making some NHL history in one of them. Ron Hextall was certainly a colorful and unorthodox netminder. He had a mean streak that fit the city of Philadelphia like a glove. He also had a knack for playing the puck and there was just the sense that sooner or later, he would give it a try and go for a goal with an empty net at the other end of the ice.
On Dec. 8, 1987, Hextall was in the middle of his second season in the NHL and the opportunity presented itself in a game against the Boston Bruins at the Spectrum. To that point, only one goaltender had scored a goal in NHL history. It happened when Billy Smith was credited with a goal after the Colorado Rockies scored into their own net on a delayed penalty call. But no goaltender had actually fired a shot on an empty net and scored a goal.
Hextall’s place in NHL history doesn’t come until the late stages of the game and it took a big third period from the Flyers just to make it possible.
Brian Propp scored a power-play goal at 6:58 of the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead, but two goals by the Bruins from Gord Kluzak and Keith Crowder separated by 1:42 in the second period but the Bruins ahead going to the third.
Peter Zezel tied the game at 5:38 of the third with a power-play goal, then scored again on the power play with 5:20 remaining to give the Flyers the lead.
But that was still not enough for Hextall to tempt fate. A one-goal lead would need to be protected and Hextall would need at least a two-goal cushion to feel like it was at least a safe gamble. So when Propp scored his second goal of the game with 2:27 remaining, the opportunity surfaced. The Bruins would need to pull the goalie in a hurry to have any chance in the game.
With just under 90 seconds to play in the game, Hextall stopped the puck at the side of the net and cleared the puck to center, almost as if to test the waters to see if he could find the time to control and get a legitimate shot on goal. Sure enough, just seconds later, the Bruins dumped the puck on goal from the neutral zone and Hextall stopped it and let it rip, sailing the puck over the heads of everyone on the ice. It finally landed at the Boston blue line, well out of the reach of Ray Bourque, the only Bruins player even close to the puck. The rest is history, as the puck glided just inside the right post and Hextall had stamped his name in the hockey history books.
The entire Flyers team came off the bench to celebrate with Hextall, as his goal with 1:12 remaining in the game sealed a 5-2 win for the Flyers. You can relive the moment below:
For a while, Hextall was the only goalie with a legitimate goal to his name. He even repeated the feat in the 1989 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals in an 8-5 Game 5 win. It wasn’t until the 1995-96 season that Chris Osgood scored for the Detroit Red Wings to join the exclusive club. Martin Brodeur also scored in the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs to join the club.
Only 12 goaltenders in NHL history have been credited with a goal. Hextall is joined only by Brodeur as goaltenders credited with more than one in their career, though Hextall is the only one to have actually shot the puck twice. After his goal in 1997, Brodeur was credited with goals again in 1999-2000 — against the Flyers no less — and 2012-13, but never shot the puck.
In addition to Hextall, only six other goalies have shot and scored a goal in NHL history — Osgood in 1996, Brodeur in the 1997 Playoffs, Jose Theodore in 2001, Evgeni Nabokov in 2002, Mike Smith in 2013 and Pekka Rinne earlier this season on Jan. 9, 2020.
Our series will continue on Wednesday with a look at a historic fight night in Philadelphia from 2004.