Perhaps to make
amends, referee Andy Van Hellemond—who has been called Van Solomon for his
creative adjudications—gave Edmonton's Craig Muni a holding penalty mere
seconds after the nongoal. On the ensuing five-on-three, Gretzky easily fed
Nicholls for the game-winner.
The Oilers, not
surprisingly, did not go gentle into that good off-season. Late in the final
period, to stop play and get a breather, Lowe gambled and knocked his own net
off its moorings. He was called for delay of game, and the Kings' Dale DeGray
pumped in an insurance goal while Lowe looked helplessly on. For what seemed
like a long time after that goal, Lowe sat on the bench, staring blankly ahead.
Fuhr, meanwhile, flung his stick at the sideboards, furious that Van Hellemond
had not called Taylor for interfering with him.
After he had
showered, Messier's route to the bus took him past the Kings' dressing room. He
did not poke his head in to say hello.
"I saw those
guys every day, and yet we didn't speak," said Gretzky. "That's not
what life is supposed to be about. You're supposed to be able to talk to your
best friends. Those two, Kevin and Mark, are the ones I feel most sorry for.
They are champions."
champions. The Great One helped see to that.
opponent in the Smythe Division final is that other Alberta team, the Calgary
Flames, who advanced after winning a seventh-game overtime heartstopper 4-3
over the plucky Vancouver Canucks. One waggish Vancouver columnist had
predicted that the Canucks would be ousted from the best-of-seven series in
three games, but it took heroic goaltending by Calgary's Mike Vernon to keep
the supposedly mighty Flames from being snuffed out.
Calgary went into
the series with the NHL's best regular-season record, 54-17-9—43 points and 103
goals better than Vancouver. The Canucks hadn't made the playoffs the two
previous seasons, and they had won only three playoff series in their history,
all in 1981-82, when they lost to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup
finals. But they kept coming at the Flames, winning at home on Thursday night
6-3 to force a seventh game.
And they would
have won that one but for Vernon, who turned away 11 shots in OT before center
Joel Otto scored the series-winner at 19:21. Three of those shots not only
could have made losers of Calgary, they should have. In order, Vernon kicked
out his left skate to just get a toe on a shot by Petri Skriko at 5:15, stopped
a breakaway at 14:30 when he gloved Stan Smyl's slap shot to the lower right
corner, and snared Tony Tanti's blast from 35 feet with a flick of his glove at
goal wasn't a very comely one. "Who'd have believed that one would go
in?" he said. He had stormed the net to create a little havoc when a
centering pass from Jim Peplinski grazed off his skate past Canuck goalie Kirk
McLean. Of fellow hero Vernon he said, "Vernie, he saves us. He was pulling
pucks out of his ear all night."
The game was
redemption of sorts for Vernon, who could have used a flak jacket to handle the
strafing he received from Calgary fans and hockey writers when the Flames were
chased from the divisional playoffs by provincial rival Edmonton last season
and by Winnipeg the year before. "I worked hard all season, and it comes
down to one period like that," said Vernon. "I thought to myself, I
just can't let it end here. I just seemed to dig down and go to the well once