It may not have been the most artistic week of hockey in NHL history, but it was a hellaciously competitive one. Three seven-game series went the limit during a Stanley Cup quarterfinal round that featured deathbed comebacks and quashed momentum, stakes through the heart, nonsluggin' cousins, backs to the wall and the Call. It was a week in which the New York Islanders nearly turned back the clock—yet again—and Le Petit Tigre, Quebec coach Michel Bergeron, nearly—yet again—turned blue.
There was even a bit of bathroom humor out of the sour old Norris Division, as Toronto coach John Brophy held a postgame press conference in a washroom following a loss. Meanwhile his archnemesis, Detroit coach Jacques Demers, interrupted one of his media sessions with this riveting inquiry: "Tell me, truthfully, do I look like Pee-wee Herman?"
It was a week when losers went away feeling like winners, and winners went away feeling, well, tired. The real winners? The Edmonton Oilers, who dispatched the Winnipeg Jets in four straight games almost a week before and thus could rest up and enjoy the exhausting proceedings from the sidelines. Nonetheless, it was a week to remember, as a single playoff round produced three seventh games.
In the Patrick Division, the Flyers had all they could handle in getting past the Islanders. "To kill this team, you have to put a stake through its heart," groaned Philadelphia forward Rick Tocchet. Added defenseman Mark Howe, "The Soviets are the best team in the world when they have the lead, and the Islanders are the best in the world when they are behind. The deeper they get into a hole, the better they play."
The hole seemed bottomless on Tuesday night before the Islanders, trailing three games to one for the second time in this year's playoffs, skated off with a 2-1 win at the Spectrum thanks to Kelly Hrudey's spectacular goaltending. Now it was back to the Nassau Coliseum. Home ice, to that point, had not been much of an advantage in any of the series—52% of this year's playoff games have been won by the visiting teams—and it had been particularly disadvantageous to the Islanders, who had won only one of their last nine home games. But other forces were at work—namely, New York's 21-8 record in postseason games in which the team has faced playoff elimination.
On Thursday night the Islanders responded to yet one more impending season-ender with a convincing 4-2 win that G.M. Bill Torrey called "our best game of the year." Mike Bossy, who had just returned from an injury to his left knee, had a goal and skated like a teenager; Bryan Trottier had two tallies; and Denis Potvin, who was coming off a back injury, was rock solid on defense and confident on point for Islander power plays. As the series wore on, the ageless Islanders seemed to be getting stronger.
The Flyers, meanwhile, were wearing down. Tim Kerr, who had scored five goals in the first five games, aggravated an injury to his left shoulder in the second period of Game 6 and was out for the remainder of the series. Brian Propp had scored only one goal in his last eight games. And captain and spark plug Dave Poulin had been out for two weeks with a broken rib.
But the Flyers still had their fists, and after sticking to hockey for most of the series, they used them in the final seconds of Game 6. Dave Brown—who is a cult hero on a par with Rocky Balboa in the City of Brotherly Shove—got the call and jumped the Islanders' pesky Alan Kerr after a face-off. Brown's assault touched off a round of mass ugliness. Tocchet called Brown's decidedly un-spontaneous outburst "a message," and said, "When we get these guys back in our building, we're going to play the kind of hockey that people are used to seeing from the Philadelphia Flyers."
Which shouldn't have bothered New York at all, because in these playoffs it seemed that the only time the Flyers lost the game was when they lost their tempers first. The Islanders had hurt Philly badly in games 2 and 6 with power plays reminiscent of their dynasty days. Trottier, Bossy, Potvin, Pat LaFontaine and Mikko Makela used ticktacktoe passes to score on 7 of 17 opportunities in the first six games.
But in the finale, the power play—and, wonder of wonders, Brown—undid New York. Brown opened the scoring six minutes into the game, tipping in a shot by Propp for his first goal of the playoffs. Then the Flyers added two shorthanded goals on the same power play to end the suspense before the game was 11 minutes old. The first, scored by Propp, was set up by the indomitable Poulin, whose return to the lineup gave his teammates a lift. "That was valiant; cracked ribs don't heal in two weeks," said Lindsay Carson, who smothered Bossy all night and who was the guy sitting in the penalty box—for hooking, at 9:30 in the first period—when Propp scored.