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•referee Andy Van Hellemond, who awarded the Flyers seven power-play opportunities—including a two-man advantage that led to their first goal—while giving the Oilers only three: "I don't want to start criticizing the referee, but he was about as good as the ice."
Vintage Sather nonsense? Well, Gretzky wasn't skating the way he normally does. The pucks, which Sather later accused the Flyers of purposely not freezing as home teams are supposed to do, were bouncing around the ice like Super Balls. And the ice was rough. This is what can happen when the Stanley Cup—supposedly the NHL's showcase event—is played in a sweltering arena in the dog days of May.
Sather's contention that the pucks in Philly weren't frozen may have merit. "The puck hit the boards on one play and bounced straight up over," said Scotty Morrison, head of officials for the league. "No way that could happen with a frozen puck." But Gordon Smith, the off-ice official in charge of pucks, maintained they all were properly iced, even the one that glanced off the back of his head. "It sure felt frozen," he said.
Sather was clearly wrong, however, about the refereeing. The difference in the number of power-play opportunities reflected on the disciplined play of the Flyers, who through Saturday had 94 power-play chances in the playoffs to their opponents' 69. Keenan's team is a far cry from the Broad Street Bullies of yore. This season's Flyers seldom take dumb penalties and, with the glaring exception of defenseman Ed Hospodar, who extracted two of Mark Napier's teeth with a cross-check in Game 3, usually keep their sticks down when administering checks. Hospodar's dentistry prompted the always restrained Sather to warn that the Flyers would need two boxes in which to return Hospodar to Philadelphia—one for his head and one for his body.
The day after Game 1, the Edmonton dressing room was "like a morgue," said Sather. "I've never seen our guys so flat and depressed." They should have been. In their nine-year history, the Oilers have never won a playoff series in which they have trailed. To get the players' minds off the loss—and to infuse them with some much-needed spark—Sather added Esa Tikkanen, a 19-year-old Finnish player, to the lineup for Game 2, placing him on the left side of Gretzky and Kurri. It was a gutsy move. Tikkanen, the MVP of this year's world junior championships, had never played an NHL game. "I've skated 20 minutes with him," Gretzky told reporters the morning before game day. "As far as hockey goes, you guys probably know more about him than I do."
Sather also told his team to abandon the fancy passing and to throw the puck in and chase it, much as the Flyers had done in Game 1. "When the ice is like this," said Edmonton defenseman Kevin Lowe, "if you make more than two passes, you're going to stop yourself."
The Oilers looked more like the Flyers in Game 2 than the Flyers did. Clogging the middle of the ice, closing off the Flyers' passing lanes and winning most of the face-offs, Edmonton held Philadelphia to 18 shots on goal. The Flyers got only four in the third period, when they were battling to overcome a 2-1 deficit. Gretzky, responding to Sather's criticism, put the Oilers on top 1-0 when he wheeled around the Philly net in yet another four-on-four situation to stuff his own rebound past Lindbergh and a sprawling Mark Howe. Kerr, limping because of strained ligaments in his right knee, tied the game in the second period, but then Edmonton veteran Willy Lindstrom scored the game-winner off a feed from Mike Krushelnyski, who had been booted off Gretzky's line to make room for Tikkanen. Though he didn't figure in the scoring, Tikkanen looked far better on the ice than off it, where he wandered around like a giant Finnish titmouse after having received a ritual hair-shearing from his Oiler teammates by way of welcome.
For the remainder of the game, the high-powered Oilers played impeccable defense. Edmonton first showed it could play well in its own end in its 1-0 defeat of the Islanders in the opening game of last year's finals. When the highest-scoring team in NHL history shows that it can also play pluperfect defense, it makes a fairly attractive package.
The mood in the Edmonton dressing room following the win was more of relief than jubilation. "Being Stanley Cup champions and playing like that in Game 1 was just a joke," said Coffey, who filled the pauses by muttering about how much weight he had lost playing in the heat of the Spectrum. "We were just being lazy, that's all there was to it."
The victory was the Oilers' first over the Flyers in 10 meetings dating back to November 1982. More important, it put the Oilers in position to win their second straight Cup by sweeping the next three games at home, where they had won 13 straight in the playoffs. "They'll loosen up on their pond," predicted Flyer assistant coach E.J. McGuire. "But we like a fast sheet. We play well on it."