Seventeen thousand, two hundred and twenty-two.
In 1987, that was the capacity for a hockey game at the Spectrum (WFC today: 19,537). I would suggest that on May 28, 1987, that number was elevated like a Brian Propp slap shot — because the Flyers hosted the Edmonton Oilers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. It would be the last Flyers home game of season. It was the ticket of the spring season in Philadelphia. Sixers games, concerts, Phillies games — nothing came close to the anticipation, the electricity surrounding this game.
The orange and black were supposed to get swept by an Oilers team that featured seven future NHL Hall of Famers starting with Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr.
But the Flyers had some great players of their own — Propp, Rick Tocchet, Ron Hextall. Trailing 3-2 in the series, they returned to the Spectrum hoping to force a Game 7.
I was covering the game for Channel 3 and I had close to an ice-side seat. No, I didn’t sit in the press box. The press box was overflowing because of the clamor surrounding the game. The Spectrum's press box was not that big. So, Lou Tilley (Channel 3), Joe Pellegrino (Channel 10) and I were about 10 rows from the glass, slightly left of the Flyers' bench. It was awesome. Until the Oilers scored the first two goals and the Flyers were staring at elimination.
To the third period with the Flyers trailing 2-1. With 6:56 left in the game, on the power play, Propp! The goal capped off an awesome rush that saw the puck go to Pelle Eklund in the corner and he snapped it cross ice to Propp, who was in the slot and put it past Fuhr. Tied at 2!
The reason this game was so special to me, the reason I recall it here, was not just because of the excitement on the ice. I have been blessed to attend every manner of sporting events in the world — World Series, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Olympics, major tennis championships, track meets. I’ve never heard fans as loud as I did that Thursday night in South Philadelphia. They made the building tremble — like aftershocks from an earthquake.
If the volume was dialed to 10 for the Propp goal, it was at a 15 1:24 later. That’s when J.J. Daigneault (Dane-YO!) scooped up a weak Oilers’ clear attempt. The puck waffled to him lightly just inside the blue line. And he hammered it. One-timer. With Scott Mellanby standing at the crease screening Fuhr. The Flyers had the lead 3-2!
You couldn’t hear yourself speak let alone think. I’m telling you, Tilley and I were right up to each other’s ears trying to hear each other. Not a word. The fans were screaming and stomping and shouting and laughing. Eventually we gave up and just took it in. The roof blew off the Spectrum in its first season in 1967. It almost came off again on this night. Pow! The sheer, unchecked joy of the 17,222 (plus a few more) in attendance that night is something I will always remember. It was the joy of possibility because the Flyers had evened up the series at three games apiece.
Really, that’s all you can ask for is possibility. Hope. They had that going to Edmonton for Game 7. And when Murray Craven scored the game’s first goal, I thought, “We’re having a parade down Broad Street!” But ... Edmonton, on its home ice, scored the next two goals and battle as the Flyers might they couldn’t get the equalizer. The Oilers added one more inside two minutes to play and that was that. The Oilers were champs. Again.
But, I’ll always hear the echo of those two Flyers goals at the Spectrum the night the team took Game 6.
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