A continuing source of concern was Parent, who has been burdened in the past two seasons by financial problems and neck surgery. Because of his world-weary air and middle-age paunch, it is slightly startling to realize that Parent is still only 32. Playing just 39 of the Flyers' first 66 games, he leads the NHL in shutouts (six), and his goals-against average is second only to Montreal's Ken Dryden (2.27 to 2.18). Still, Parent, as well as the 33-year-old Stephenson, has shown a disturbing tendency to allow easy goals at inopportune moments, prompting Shero to wonder whether his goalies are in what he calls "the downward spirals" of their careers. Last month the Flyers summoned 23-year-old Rick St. Croix from the Maine Mariners and put him in the nets for seven games. But there were some rough edges on the rookie's game, and last week he was shipped back to Maine. Shero said he would let Parent and Stephenson fight it out for the right to handle the goaltending chores in the playoffs.
Searching for the solution to his problems, whatever they are, Parent has been spending many afternoons engaged in what seems a melancholy activity: he sits alone for hours at the Spectrum watching films of his play during "the great years," as he revealingly calls them. But Parent also says, "You have to be careful when you compare yourself to what you were before, because it can play tricks on your mind. I've made watching the films part of my job. I've picked up some bad habits, and the films help me get rid of them."
With Parent struggling, Clarke remains, more than ever, the heart and soul of the Philadelphia club. He is a Pete Rose on blades, yelling encouragement to the boys, winning face-offs, getting the puck to open linemates and flinging his body at anybody who does not have the good sense to be wearing Philadelphia colors. In view of his hell-bent style, it is remarkable that until Vancouver's Pit Martin inadvertently slashed him on the thumb in a 5-2 Flyer win at the Spectrum on Feb. 9, Clarke had missed no more than four games in any season. The injured thumb made it impossible for Clarke to hold a stick but he continued to skate at practice. Still, he complains of his nine-game layoff, "I just didn't feel like I was part of the team. It was especially rough because we weren't going so well."
When Clarke returned 10 days ago, the Flyers lost to the Canadiens 7-1 in Montreal—their 12th straight non-winning effort against the Canadiens. That was the last stop on a tough six-game Flyer road trip (two wins, three losses, one tie) and the last appearance in goal for St. Croix. Back in the Spectrum for a four-game stand, Philadelphia whipped St. Louis 7-1 behind Parent; then Stephenson, getting his first start in five weeks, let in a couple of soft goals before the Flyers outlasted Atlanta 5-3 Tuesday night. On Saturday they blitzed the injury-riddled Bruins 6-2, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals in the process, and on Sunday night they beat the Colorado Rockies 6-2 for their fourth win in a row.
As Shero plots a late-season surge, he likes the fact that rivals might be taking his club a little more lightly these days. "If they tend to count us out, that's good," he says. "That's how we won our two Stanley Cups."