All else having failed, the Boston Bruins had hoped a change of rinks could save them from being blown out by the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup finals. That notion evanesced in Game 3 Sunday night as a surreal, Murders in the Rue Morgue mist, caused by 80� temperatures in Boston Garden, swirled around the players' ankles, sometimes floating up to their waists. The Oilers dominated every aspect of play, winning 6-3 for an all-but-insurmountable 3-0 lead in the series.
"We have to play our hearts out," said Bruins coach Terry O'Reilly, anticipating Game 4 at the Garden Tuesday night. "But you have to be realistic. The Oilers haven't even been tested yet."
Edmonton had outskated the Bruins when they tried to skate, outmuscled them when they tried to grind out goals. The only remaining suspense for Wayne Gretzky and Friends was whether they would sweep the Bruins and end it all in Boston. Of the three Cups Edmonton has won in the last four seasons, none was clinched on the road.
Gretzky had helped break the monotony by showing up for practice one day in Edmonton with a Billy Idol-Brian Bosworth brush cut that left his not-so-small ears uncovered and conspicuous and his legion of followers asking, why?
"I heard it's hot in Boston Garden," answered the Great One, running a hand over the stubble on the back of his neck. "Hey, it's just a haircut." For most of 1987, Gretzky had worn a style—short bangs, long in the back—favored by indoor soccer players and early '80s garage bands.
Their captain's coiffure was only part of the new look the Oilers sported against the outmanned, outgunned and outclassed Bruins. General manager and coach Glen Sather's charges were acting less like their run-and-gun selves and more like the 1975-76-1978-79 Montreal Canadiens, who won four straight Stanley Cups by making defense an art. In Games 1 and 2, which the Oilers won 2-1 and 4-2, they allowed a mere 14 and 12 shots, respectively—on average, not quite one every five minutes.
"I'm not sure if we were playing that well on defense, or if they were playing that cautiously on offense." said Sather. He was just being polite. And indeed, by attacking the Oilers with all the subtlety and imagination of bull elephants in mating season, and by taking a host of dumb penalties, the Bruins did help make Edmonton look even better. The result was that the Oilers out-Bruined the Bruins. We've beaten you our way, they seemed to be saying, now we'll beat you your way.
In 1983-84 and '84-85, the young and reckless Oilers had ridden their wideopen style to two Stanley Cups. Recalling the wild old days of five-man rushes, razzle-dazzle passing and scores right out of slo-pitch softball. Oiler co-coach John Muckler said, "They'd win 7-6 and never worry about the six."
Then in '86 the Calgary Flames ousted Edmonton in seven games in the Smythe Division finals—chiefly by catching Oiler defensemen up ice and cashing in. After recovering the Stanley Cup last season, the Oilers lost, via trades or defections to Europe, defensemen Paul Coffey, Reijo Ruotsalainen and Kent Nilsson, flashy players all—and said goodbye to the brand of hockey that had won them those three Cups. Instead of grieving, Sather went out and signed some big bodies. The current Oilers, as Gretzky says, "are adaptable. We've learned to compensate for different styles and different buildings." Indeed, their '88 playoff record stood at 15-2 (10-0 at home, 5-2 on the road).
And the nucleus remains. Gretzky, goalie Grant Fuhr, center Mark Messier, left wing Glenn Anderson, right wing Jari Kurri and defenseman Kevin Lowe have now reached a ripe NHL maturity; all are in their mid-to late-20's, and have a total of 50 years in the league. It has taken time, but they have discovered how much fun it is to beat an opponent at both ends of the ice. "If you're going to play a defensive game, you're going to give up a little offense." says Gretzky.