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On This Date in Sports: November 10, 1985: The Tragedy of Pelle Lindbergh

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

 

It is an unspeakable tragedy for the Philadelphia Flyers, as Pelle Lindbergh, the top goalie in the NHL in 1985, is killed in a car crash at 26. The crash occurs hours after a team party in which the Flyers celebrated their ten-game winning streak. Lindbergh had the night off as the Flyers beat the Boston Bruins 5-3 to improve to 12-2-0 on the season. Reports say that Pelle Lindbergh's blood-alcohol level was over the limit as he drove his Porsche at high speed near the Flyers practice facility in Somerdale, New Jersey.  

 

Pelle Lindbergh was born on May 24, 1959, in Stockholm, Sweden. Lindbergh proved himself to be a top-level goalie in Sweden, earning a spot on the National Team during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Lindbergh helped Sweden earn a Bronze Medal as Sweden played the Miracle men on the USA to a tie in the tournament's opening game. 

 

A year before the Olympics, Pelle Lindbergh was drafted by the second round, with the 35th overall pick. After the games, Pelle Lindbergh signed with the Flyers and spent two seasons playing with their AFL affiliate, the Maine Mariners. The Flyers young goalie struggled in his first two seasons in the NHL but had a breakout season in 1985. That year, he became the first goalie born in Europe to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goalie. Lindbergh led the NHL with 40 wins in 1985, posting a 3.02 Goals Against Average with a .899 save percentage. 

 After leading the Flyers to a Conference Championship, while ending the New York Islanders five-year dynasty, Pelle Lindbergh had Philadelphia poised for bigger things. He was 6-2 with a 2.88 GAA and a .884 save percentage. The Flyers coached by Mike Keenan were sitting at 12-2-0 after a win over the Bruins. Everyone on the Flyers was focused on a Thursday Night rematch with the Oilers, who beat them in the Stanley Cup Finals.  

 As dawn hit Philadelphia, the news of Pelle Lindbergh’s accident left everyone in a state of shock. Lindbergh was declared brain dead but kept on a ventilator until his parents arrived from Sweden. Pelle Lindbergh had been under the influence and driving at high speed when his car crashed into a wall near a school in Somerdale, New Jersey. Two other passengers were injured. A toxic screen showed the goalie’s blood-alcohol level to be 0.24, well above the legal limit of 0.10.

 With Darren Jansen in goal and no dry eyes in the house, the Flyers beat the Oilers 5-3 on November 14th as they played the rest of the season in tribute to Pelle Lindbergh. The Flyers would stretch the winning streak to 13 games before a loss to the Islanders on November 18th. The Flyers would win the Atlantic Division with a record of 53-23-4 but faltered in the playoffs when the New York Rangers beat them in a five-game series.

 

In the 35 years since the tragedy,  the Flyers have had trouble finding reliable goaltending, leading some to believe that there is a curse on the team.