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Before Game 3 on Tuesday night at the Garden, Resch was more concerned with the style of play the Islanders were using. "You have to change your style of play during the playoffs," Resch said. "It becomes more of a physical game, with less finesse. It's tighter checking. If we can't blow the Rangers out, and we haven't, we'll have to grind them out. We didn't think they were going to be as tough as they are in the corners."
Indeed, the Rangers, who over the years have been pushovers for the NHL's musclemen, not only were tough in the corners but they also initiated most of the collisions. "One thing we learned in our series against the Flyers," said Defenseman Dave Maloney, "was that if you're going to make a play, you've got to take your bump."
Esposito took about a dozen bumps, in fact, as he scored the winning goal in the Rangers' 3-1 victory in that third game. The Islanders had tied the score 1-1 on a goal by Bob Bourne, and they seemed to be taking command when the puck rolled harmlessly into the corner to the left of Goalie Resch. Potvin, thinking the whistle would blow because the puck was tied up in the skates of several players, relaxed momentarily, and suddenly the puck skittered loose.
Esposito immediately planted his immovable frame at Resch's doorstep. Two Islanders tried to blast Esposito away, but they couldn't budge him. Then Don Murdoch got the puck to Esposito, and the oldest Ranger poked it under Resch.
"I'll go on record right now as saying that the Rangers' crop of forwards is better at putting the puck in the net than Montreal's," said Resch. "The Rangers are a very explosive team."
What Resch left unsaid, though, was that the Islanders, unlike the Rangers, were permitting the opposition forwards to set up light housekeeping in front of the goal without any fear of physical reprisal. "Bossy gets creamed every time he gets near the net, but their guys don't even get touched," moaned one Islander. "It's really sickening to see."
The Islanders finally displayed some muscle in Game 4, but the Rangers didn't back down an inch. Don Maloney, Dave's 20-year-old brother, scored twice for the Rangers, but John Tonelli and Billy Harris countered for the Islanders, and the game went into overtime. In the fourth minute the Rangers were caught on a line change, and suddenly there were Nystrom and Davidson converging on the puck from opposite directions. Davidson dived for the puck about halfway between his goal and the blue line, reaching it just before Nystrom's stick. Nystrom and Davidson collided, and somehow Nystrom emerged upright 10 feet in front of the vacant goal. Meanwhile, the puck shot upward and fell flat at Nystrom's feet, and he slid it into the net.
"Waiting for it to come down was the longest moment of my life," said Nystrom. "I wanted to call fair catch." Refusing to second-guess himself for coming out of the net but not gaining control of the puck, Davidson said, "What bothered me was what the puck did, flying straight up like that. It didn't make any sense."
It made wonderful theater, though, as did the whole slam-bang series.