They were similar though unique scenes, separated by two days, yet typifying this spring’s Stanley Cup finals. The Philadelphia Flyers are a gregarious team, open to visitors and questions, win or lose. But after game one of the National Hockey League series, the morgue-like dressing-room scene was different. The Flyers had just lost to the New York Islanders 4-3. Off in a corner shared with weight-lifting equipment was the old guard, separate, isolated. Staring at the floor, they fiddled with their cans of beer and twiddled their cigarettes—Bill Barber, Bob Dailey, Reg Leach, Moose Dupont, Captain Mel Bridgman and player/assistant-
coach Bobby Clarke, chewing his Garrett tobacco. A consensus was reached. The next game would be different.
A different scene. Islander coach AÍ Arbour is accessible, if stoic and implacable. Yet, following game two, he and his assistants, and a couple of players, met behind closed doors. A doctor was called in to do “a quick suture” and the door closed again. Another decision was finally reached. Arbour emerged. “If they want to play like that ... if they want to be spear-carriers and won’t drop ’em . . . they’re gonna get it right back the same way. We’ll fight fire with fire.”
After game one Arbour had said: “Everybody predicted that tonight would be the Golden Gloves, but it
didn’t work out that way.” It did in game two. Penalty minutes more than tripled, to 84. The Flyers won 8-3 behind Paul Holmgren’s three goals and Bobby Clarke’s 100th playoff point. The fans in the Spectrum loved it, roaring for the blood of Islander stylists Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. As Islander Gord Lane and Flyer Bill Barber squared off with their sticks, one spectator hoarsely screamed, “Just like the good old days.” It was the return of the vintage “hockey” that had carried the Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, yet personified now by sophomore Ken (the Rat) Linseman. During one shift in the second period he lost the face-off, lifted his stick between Islander Butch Goring’s legs, elbowed Bob Nystrom, held Bob Lorimer’s stick until he was out of the play, then chased Nystrom down the ice, repeatedly hoisting then yanking his stick between Nystrom’s legs. No penalties were called. Asked about his collision with Duane Sutter, which, in the Flyers’ style, led to a fight between Sutter and Bridgman, Linseman replied, “Don’t know what you’re talking about.” The subject certainly wasn’t hockey.
Before the series began in Philadelphia it received a media buildup worthy of Hollywood. For the ffpst time, none of the six original National Hockey League teams was represented, an event so historic that an American television network, CBS, became involved— to televise the sixth game, if the series lasted. But the media’s central message was that the Bullies were back on Broad Street ready to engage the New York Islanders in an epic revival of “Goon Hockey Strikes Back.” Flyer muscleman Jack Mcllhargery, who had contributed one shot on net in his three previous playoff appearances this season, received a cheer that matched the volume of the jeer that greeted Islander goalie Billy Smith in the game one introductions. The beer-soaked Spectrum hometown fans were ready for Expansion Wars.
But the tape didn’t roll. Despite overtime, the play offered all the excitement of a rerun of The Waltons. (“The press gave it too much of a buildup,” said Linseman, a note of regret in his voice. “The referee was prepared, so it will probably happen later.”) New York Captain Denis Potvin scored three times that night (he poked his first into his own net), in the Islanders’ victory.
Given that the NHL season had begun eight months earlier and the playoffs six weeks ago, hockey fans could be excused symptoms of terminal boredom and digressions to warm-weather activities. But not on Long Island. Islander fans thronged to the Coliseum, inflamed against the Flyer “spear-carriers,” for the first-ever Cup final series home game in their team’s eight-year history.
The bloodhounds, however, were disappointed. The first fight didn’t start until halfway through the second period, and by that time the game was over, finished in the first 15 minutes when the Islanders took a 4-0 lead. But the pre-series hype prevailed. Five minutes later, Islander Gary Howatt and Flyer Tom Gorence picked up 12 penalty minutes each for fighting, followed by New York’s Lane and Philadelphia’s Mcllhargery, who picked up 15 minutes each. Just 35 seconds later, Barber highsticked Islander Bob Bourne and Potvin scored his second on the power play. And, as the final seconds of the second period ticked away, Linseman and Nystrom roughed each other up as fans poured from their seats to bang the glass. It ended with another scuffle, the score 6-2 for the Islanders.
In all, five of the six Islander goals were scored with a Flyer in the penalty box. Flyer General Managerl Keith Allen had said during the season (Maclean's Dec. 17, 1979) that the Montreal Canadiens’ four consecutive Stanley Cups and the play of the Soviet Union teams had demonstrated that the old Flyer style was passé. But now Coach Pat Quinn was saying, “I tried to get them out of it for a few weeks, but they kept winning anyways,” setting an NHL season record of 35 games without a loss. After giving up 10 goals during 18 penalties, Quinn said before game four: “We’re not going to change our style.”
To the chagrin of the bloodhounds, a hockey game broke out on Long Island
in game four. It was no contest. Without the services of Holmgren (knee injury) and defenceman Jim Watson (reinjured fractured collarbone) the Flyers allowed the Islanders to skate and playmake. It ended 5-2 for New York, giving them a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven final, one scuffle passing for the only fight. And, like a long-lost network seeking a friend, the Island of Manhattan embraced Long Island in the hope that a Cup would wash ashore after an absence of 40 years. “Sure I enjoyed playing tonight, without all the high sticks,” said Mike Bossy, after scoring his third goal and seventh point of the series. “But that doesn’t mean the Flyers will play that way in game five back at the Spectrum.” If they did, the Waltons wouldn’t be watching; but perhaps CBS would, if necessary.
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