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The eloquent Shanahan said he was rendered speechless when he was handed the Cup. The Red Wings' play had much the same effect on the Flyers, who summed up their series in one word: "Aye-yie-yie-yie-yie."
It isn't much of a word, but then Philadelphia didn't play much of a series. Defenseman Eric Desjardins uttered that description, give or take a yie, last Friday, some 14 hours after Detroit had waxed Philly 6-1 in Game 3 and 10 minutes after Terry Murray, the other coach in this series, had stunned a gathering of reporters by saying, "It is basically a choking situation...for our team right now."
In the first three games, seven of the Red Wings' 14 goals had come off blatant defensive errors or odd-man rushes, and the Flyers had scored only one goal at even strength. What's more, Philadelphia goalies Ron Hextall and Garth Snow had each allowed a 55-plus-foot, kick-your-team-in-the-groin goal; Detroit enforcer Joe Kocur, a beer league refugee who has the shooting touch of a stevedore, had one more goal than Philly star Eric Lindros; and only two Flyers, Rod Brind' Amour and John LeClair, had even scored. All in all, Murray might have stumbled upon the mot juste.
Expressions like salary cap and commercial flight are sure to raise the hackles of a pro athlete, but none guarantees a more visceral response than the word choke. Murray, a fair-minded man, was hoping his remarks would be kept in their proper context, but headline writers and leftwingers are notoriously bad with nuance. "What do I call it—freezing up?" Murray said later on Friday afternoon in the lobby of the team hotel. "It happens in sports all the time. You see it in the NBA Finals with Karl Malone of the Jazz. He's the MVP, been in the league 12 years. You see how he played [in Games I and 2]." Now not only can't Murray walk into his dressing room without getting glares, but ski vacations at Park City, Utah, are also out. "Choke is not a nasty word," he added. "Not for me. It's real. If there's a white elephant in the room, you have to address the situation."
Yes, but not in public. "It's probably easier coming from the media." Desjardins said. "But I don't think any pro athlete likes to hear that, especially from his coach."
Indeed, Murray, whose contract also expires at the end of this month, might as well have flung himself into the Detroit River wearing concrete swim trunks. His was an act of professional suicide, an unfortunate choice of words that could make it difficult for general manager Bob Clarke to bring back his friend and former teammate as coach in '97-98. "The word he used was wrong," says Clarke, who before the finals had said that Murray would be back if he wanted to, though he wouldn't discuss the issue after Game 3. "But what he was saying was probably right. I don't think coaching has had any negative effect on our team. Detroit has outplayed us."
Maybe Murray should have used the word quit, because that's what the Flyers did in Game 3. In the first period they took their only lead of the series, frittered it away two minutes later and then, trailing 2-1, played a five-on-three-man advantage for 80 seconds like rank amateurs. Desjardins, their best defenseman, made an egregious error by shooting the puck into the Red Wings' zone instead of carrying it, and Lindros tried an ill-advised, sharply angled shot that went wide and skidded into center ice. Murray, whose team was down by two goals after the first period, stormed into the dressing room and, in his words, "lost it." He screamed. He challenged. Thus inspired, Philadelphia went out and slept through the second period, giving up goals to Sergei Fedorov early and Shanahan late. The Flyers of the 1970s might have started a riot, but this team sagged in the realization that Detroit was quicker, tougher, deeper and more resourceful than Philly had anticipated.
Lindros, who scored his only goal of the series with 14.8 seconds remaining in Game 4, is hockey's dominant player, but when things don't go his way, he looks as if he wants to stamp his feet and sulk. Sure, the Philadelphia goalies lived down to modest expectations and the Flyers' defense was careless, but as the franchise player, Lindros is expected to carry the team. "A great player has to earn the right to be great," Murray said.
On Friday, as Murray was talking himself into trouble, Lindros, the Philadelphia captain, was heading for safety. After an emotional team meeting, he slipped out of the rink, leaving his teammates to face the media firestorm over the "choking situation." After five seasons in the NHL, the 24-year-old Lindros still has trouble with accountability. He could have scribbled a little happy face on the bleakness, talked about his own play and maybe even bailed out Murray, although given Lindros's cool relationship with the coach, that would have been a stretch. Instead he took the easy way out.
Murray and Lindros spoke animatedly at practice the day after Detroit's 4-2 victory in Game 1—a match decided by Yzerman's 59-foot slap shot past Hextall in the first minute of the third period, which kneecapped a Flyers comeback. In that game Lindros played just 23 minutes. His Legion of Doom line was on the ice for barely more than a minute of the final 6½ in the first period as Murray seemed unduly concerned trying to match lines with Bowman, the master of the matchups.