- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Smith was flawless, and the Oilers, increasingly frustrated, tried to force passes into lanes jammed with blue Islander jerseys. Edmonton couldn't buy a lucky bounce. With 12 seconds left Ken Morrow slid the puck down the ice into the open net—Moog having been pulled—to complete the scoring. It was the first time the Oilers had been shut out in 199 games. In a way, that final goal was unfortunate, because this was, in the very best sense, a 1-0 game and would have been the first by that score in the final round since Bernie Parent of the Flyers held Bobby Orr and the Bruins scoreless to win the 1974 Stanley Cup. Game 1, a gem, belonged in that sort of company.
Unfortunately, it ended up in the gutter. The next day at practice Sather began ranting about an incident that had occurred in the first period. Anderson had been carrying the puck behind the Islander net when Smith swung his stick back, striking Anderson above the knee. Referee Andy van Hellemond properly called Smith for a two-minute slashing penalty. The Oilers, who were 0 for 7 on the power play for the night, failed to convert, and the incident was forgotten.
Until Sather slept on it. Suddenly he thought of a way to incite his charges. He demanded, and got, a meeting with John McCauley, the league's assistant director of officiating. Sather thought Smith, who regularly flails at players coming around from behind the net, deserved an at-tempt-to-injure match penalty for slashing Anderson, whose knee had swollen to such an extent overnight that he was unable to skate in practice the next day. When he didn't get anywhere with McCauley, Sather took his case to the press. "Smith plays like a maniac," he said. "He swings that stick around like a hatchet, and if the referees don't stop it, hopefully we'll have someone on our club who will eliminate the problem."
When informed of Sather's remarks, Smith, who claimed to have hit Anderson in the arm, not the knee, and is never one to dampen a controversy, said, "Let's face it. If [Dave] Semenko runs at me and hurts me, anything could happen, and the victim could be Gretzky. If they want blood...."
Oh, dear. The NHL's model series was swiftly becoming "a lot of baloney," said Arbour. "This isn't the Ringling Brothers Circus. It's the Stanley Cup finals." Added Torrey, correctly identifying the culprit, "Sather was a yapping player, and now he's a yapping coach and a yapping general manager. Nothing's changed."
Edmonton may be the oil capital of Canada, but the black crude that began to gush before the second game was ink. PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1 was the front-page headline in the Journal. Underneath was a picture of Smith, screaming. The accompanying story, every line of which ran on page 1, referred to Smith as "Mr. Obnoxious," "Samaurai [sic] Billy," "Jack the Ripper" and "a creep."
Anderson was ready for Game 2, and he played at his usual thrilling pace. "I really felt bad," said an unrepentant Smith. "I thought the way they were carrying on they were going to bury him before the game."
The second game started in much the same way as the first had ended, with Edmonton dominating. Semenko finally solved the riddle of Smith by firing home a long wrist shot to give the Oilers their first and only lead of the opening three games. That 1-0 advantage lasted less than six minutes. Shortly after Gretzky hit the crossbar on a breakaway, the Islanders scored three unanswered goals, the second and third of which were flubbed by Moog. "I was brutal," he said later. The Oilers closed to 3-2 in the second period, but then the Sutter-Sutter-Bob Bourne line put the game away with two goals in 38 seconds. Both came after Oiler giveaways in the defensive zone.
The teams traded goals in the third period, and with two minutes to go New York led 6-3. Suddenly Samurai Billy struck again. This time the victim was Gretzky, who was circling behind the net with the puck exactly as Anderson had done in Game 1. Smith swung his stick backward, hitting Gretzky in the thigh pad with no special ferocity, and the Boy Wonder crumpled as if shot by a dumdum bullet. "Anybody else in the league wouldn't have gone down," Referee Wally Harris said later. On the advice of his linesmen, however, Harris gave Smith a five-minute major penalty for slashing. Goalies don't serve their own penalty time, of course, and during the ensuing power play Oiler Winger Dave Lumley wreaked revenge. With 36 seconds remaining, he speared Smith in the chest. Smith, who had seen him coming, fell like a doll whose arms, legs and head are all attached to springs, waiting only for the press of a button. Were it not for the time and place. Smith's collapse would almost have been funny.
Needless to say, analysis of the game was secondary to the vituperation afterward. The bottom line, however, was that the Islanders had won twice on Edmonton ice with patience, composure and an uncanny knack for not frittering away their opportunities. With Sather showing the way, the Oilers had come unglued under pressure. "How can you ask discipline of your players if you don't show it yourself?" said Eddie Westfall, a former Islander and now the team's television analyst. Said Torrey, "What gets me mad is that we had two great games, and because of Sather's blathering, the good that might have come from them is lost. When are we going to do something smart about our sport?"