- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The ensuing overtime was history as soon as Gretzky crossed the Flyer blue line, pulled up and began stickhandling, daring the Flyers to converge. Holding the puck, holding it longer—Gretzky possesses what has been described as the highest "panic point" in the game—rattling the Flyers with his calm, the Great One found Coffey open on the point. Coffey faked a slap shot and, with bodies hurtling toward him, tapped the puck to the uncovered Kurri, who one-timed it past Hextall on the short side. Ticktacktoe, three men in a row, 3-2.
The Flyers had turned in two strong performances but trailed in the series two games to none. "We're running out of adjustments," said forward Rick Tocchet. And even though the Flyers were traveling home to the raucous confines of the Spectrum, their demise was taking on a not-if-but-when inevitability.
The Spectrum lends literal meaning to the expression "home-ice advantage," with an ice surface reputed to be the NHL's worst, more easily gouged and more quickly rutted than any other in the league. "Put on my skates and see for yourself," says Philly defenseman Brad Marsh. Rough ice, of course, is better suited for a grind-it-out bunch than for a team of fancy-footed artistes.
Adding to the home advantage for Game 3 Friday night was a macabre pregame rite concocted by Flyer officials. The Spectrum was plunged into complete darkness, save for cones of hard white light that focused on players while they were introduced. Then the vision of Kate Smith appeared on the giant video screen. As the late songstress belted out God Bless America, all good Flyer fans sang along: "...to dee oceans, white wit' foam...." The Flyers had a 56-9-2 record in games that followed Ms. Smith's rendition, and did they ever need her now.
Twenty-two minutes into Game 3, the drama appeared to be over. Though the Flyers had played valiantly, they trailed 3-0. Worse, Anderson had just scored his 13th goal of the playoffs without taking a shot. "He came in, tried to go to his left and missed the puck," said Hextall, shaking his head. "It fooled both of us." Anderson's non-shot crawled between Hextall's pads, and Flyer fans, deafening from the opening face-off, went mute. You could hear the vendors across the rink hawking their soft pretzels.
Then, as Sather observed, "The water started to tip out of the bucket." Sitting comfortably on their fat lead, the Oilers let the Flyers back into the game. Center Murray Craven, making only his second appearance since breaking his left foot in April, swept an off-speed backhander past goaltender Grant Fuhr: 3-1. Peter Zezel's pass across the crease caromed off Craig Muni and skidded over the line: 3-2. Scott Mellanby's blast grazed Fuhr's pads and found the back of the net: 3-3. Brad McCrimmon deflected Mellanby's pass for a score: 4-3. Brian Propp drove home a 90-footer into an empty net: 5-3. It was a Flyer comeback for the ages.
The startling turn of events was not well received by Sather. "That first goal was created by a very borderline penalty call," he said. Craven had scored on a power play after linesman Kevin Collins called the Oilers for too many men on the ice. "I guess Collins just wanted to have his name in the paper," said Sather, who perhaps had forgotten that a holding call with no time left in the first period of Game 2 had provided Edmonton a two-man advantage—and a goal.
On Sunday night, tensions boiled over in the pregame warmups—sound familiar?—when Edmonton's Kevin Lowe shot a puck in Hextall's direction. "To tell the truth, I thought it was [backup goalie] Chico Resch," said Lowe. "I guess Ron thought I was trying to disrupt him." Both teams massed troops at the red line. Skirmishes broke out, but nothing serious erupted.
And then it was the Great Gretzky show. First he set up Kurri in the slot: 1-0. Next he lured two Flyers away from Hextall and fed a goalmouth pass to Lowe for an easy score: 2-0. After the Flyers cut the Oilers' lead to 2-1 on a goal by McCrimmon, Gretzky found Gregg in the slot and Hextall was beat again: 3-1. Mike Krushelnyski put the Flyers to rest with a third-period breakaway goal for the final 4-1 margin. Unfortunately Hextall then tried to take out his frustrations on perhaps the most timid player on the ice, Oiler forward Kent Nilsson. As Nilsson skated past the Flyer net, Hextall grabbed his stick in both hands and gave the Swede a vicious chop behind the right knee that left him crumpled on the ice in pain.