Toronto was in a sports frenzy when the Maple Leafs arrived back in town. Not only were the Leafs two games up on the Flyers, the baseball Blue Jays also were tied for first place in the American League East (page 24). Scalpers swooped down on Carlton Street, asking—and getting—$75 to $125 for a single ticket to the third game of the Maple Leafs-Flyers series. One local columnist wrote, "A good hockey series is what holds this country together." Disc jockeys cut short their rock patter to talk about the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays.
For their part, the Flyers had other things on their mind. On Wednesday morning they learned that Barry Ashbee, their assistant coach, whose playing career was terminated three years ago when he was struck in the eye by a puck, was in a Philadelphia hospital with leukemia. On Friday morning 16 Flyers skated at a game-day workout at Maple Leaf Gardens, but four others were in Ontario County Court to face trial on charges resulting from the brawls that highlighted the second annual Philadelphia- Toronto series in 1976.
To shake the Flyers up, Coach Fred Shero started Wayne Stephenson in place of Parent in the third game Friday night. But the Maple Leafs didn't seem to notice the difference, Sittler scoring early in the first period for a 1-0 lead, then combining with Salming to set up Ian Turnbull for a 2-0 advantage. However, as Sittler had feared, the Leafs tried to put on a show for their fans. "For some reason Toronto got a little fancier once it had that 2-0 lead," said Lonsberry.
Indeed, Toronto unaccountably abandoned the goal-line defense that had worked so effectively in Philadelphia and tried to free-skate with the Flyers. In quick order, Lonsberry and Orest Kindrachuk scored to tie the game at 2-2, and most of the action was at Palmateer's goal crease.
Late in the third period the message board flashed word that the Blue Jays were leading the White Sox at Chicago. The crowd erupted. Moments later it erupted again when Errol Thompson beat Stephenson through a screen to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead with 4:09 to play.
"The Toronto fans thought we were dead," Shero said, "but our guys were so determined that they were all standing up on the bench and screaming. I couldn't even see the bleeping game." Well, Fred, MacLeish scored the tying and winning goals.
Then on Sunday night Palmateer couldn't handle Leach's long overtime blast, giving the Flyers their 6-5 victory and leaving the exasperated McDonald to mumble, "Well, at least we've still got the away-ice advantage to look forward to in two of the next three games."