Today in Hockey History: May 31

Goaltenders and defenseman grabbed the spotlight through National Hockey League history on May 31. This date was also a very busy day behind the bench across the league, while some teams got one win closer to the ultimate prize. So, let’s begin our daily trip back in time to relive all the great moments from this day.

Goaltenders Take Center Stage

The Edmonton Oilers won their third championship in four seasons on May 31, 1987, by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Jari Kurri scored the game-winning goal late in the second period as the Oilers outshot the Flyers 43-20.

Rookie goaltender Ron Hextall was the real star of the series. Following the game, Hextall is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the most valuable player of the postseason. He joined Roger Crozier, Glenn Hall, and fellow Flyer Reggie Leach as the only players to win the Conn Smythe despite being on the losing side of the Final.

Ron Hextall Philadelphia Flyers
Hextall won the 1987 Conn Smythe Trophy. (Photo by John Giamundo/Getty Images)

Dominik Hasek proved to be a brick wall on May 31, 2002, in the Detroit Red Wings’ 7-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. He only had to make 19 saves to set an NHL record with his fifth shutout of the 2002 postseason. After the Avalanche took a 3-2 series lead with a Game 5 overtime win, they didn’t score against Hasek in the final two games of the series.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s 2003 magnificent postseason run continued on May 31, 2003. Rusian Salei scored in overtime to give the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. In the extra session, Giguere set an NHL record the longest overtime shutout in playoff history, surpassing Patrick Roy’s previous mark of 162:56.

Blue Ribbon Day for Blueliners

The New York Rangers signed defenseman Doug Harvey on May 31, 1961, to serve as both a player and coach. Due to league rules at the time, the Rangers sent forward Lou Fontinato to the Montreal Canadiens as compensation for signing Harvey. The move plays off as Harvey won his seventh Norris Trophy for being the league’s top defenseman, and the Rangers qualified for the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

On May 31, 2001, the Avalanche beat the Devils 3-1 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Ray Bourque scored the game-winning goal in the opening minute of the third period. This was the defenseman’s 41st and final playoff goal of his Hall of Fame career. Bourque, at 40-years-old, became the oldest player in NHL to score in the Stanley Cup Final.

Front Office & Coaching Moves

The Flyers named Bud Poile as their first general manager in franchise history on May 31, 1966. The move was made a year and a half before the team’s first NHL game. Poile held the job until December of 1969. He laid the foundation for the team’s Stanley Cup success in the 1970s by drafting Bobby Clarke and Dave Schultz in 1969.

Four months before making their NHL debut, the Washington Capitals named Jim Anderson as the team’s first head coach on May 31, 1974. Anderson didn’t make it through the Capitals’ inaugural season as he was fired after a 4-45-5 record. This was his only NHL head coaching job, but he spent 19 years as a pro scout for the Los Angeles Kings. He is a member of the American Hockey League’s Hall of Fame for his playing days with the Springfield Indians/Kings.

The Devils had two coaching changes on this date. On May 31, 1984, they named Doug Carpenter as their new head coach, replacing Tom McVie. He was fired during the 1987-88 season and replaced with Jim Schoenfeld. He went 100-166-24 during his time in New Jersey.

On May 31, 1993, Herb Brooks resigned as Devils’ head coach after just one season. He was eventually replaced by Jacques Lemaire, who led them to the Stanley Cup in 1995.

Odds & Ends

Greg Adams celebrated his 34th birthday in grand fashion on May 31, 1994. He scored in overtime to give the Vancouver Canucks a 3-2 win over the Rangers in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Martin Gelinas drew the Canucks even with just a minute left in regulation. In overtime, goaltender Kirk McLean, who made 52 saves in the game, stopped all 17 shots he faced before Adams scored. This was the franchise’s first-ever victory in the Stanley Cup Final after being swept by the New York Islanders in 1982.

The Buffalo Sabres returned to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1975 on May 31, 1999. Erik Rasmussen scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period in a 4-2 win at the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. Curtis Brown, Vaclav Varada, and Dixon Ward also scored for the Sabres.

On May 31, 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Calgary Flames 1-0 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Brad Richards’ power-play goal, less than three minutes into the game, was the only tally of the night. With the goal, he set an NHL record with his seventh game-winning goal of the 2004 playoffs. His record still stands today. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin made 29 saves to pick up the sixth postseason shutout of his career, to even the series at 2-2.

The Atlanta Thrashers were officially sold to True North Sports & Entertainment on May 31, 2011. The team was renamed the Winnipeg Jets and began play in Canada in October of 2011. This was the first time the NHL would call Winnipeg home since the original Jets relocated to Arizona following the 1995-96 season.

Jake Guentzel scored a pair of goals, on May 31, 2017, to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Jake Guentzel
Guentzel was money on May 31, 2017. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pontus Aberg struck first for the Predators, but the Penguins answered with the game’s final four goals. Guentzel tied the game less than four minutes after Aberg’s goal. He gives the Penguins a 2-1 just 10 seconds into the third period. Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin add on to the Pittsburgh lead, giving them a 2-0 lead in the series.

Happy Birthday to You

A total of 24 current and former NHL players were born on May 31. The most notable among them, besides Adams, are Jeff Odgers (52), Jim Carey (47), Erik Karlsson (31), Joel Armia (28), Jared McCann (25), Pierre Engvall (25) as well as late Hall of Famers Tiny Thompson and Art Coulter.


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