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"I don't understand it," said Gretzky. "I thought we were ready. The whole city was ready. Then right away we're down two-nothing."
The Oilers closed it to 2-1 on Defenseman Paul Coffey's second-period, power-play goal, a 45-foot slapper from the right point off a Gretzky feed. But that score and Defenseman Lee Fogolin's game-tying 55-foot floater, which Melanson could have bare-handed if teammate Dave Langevin hadn't screened him, served to illustrate Edmonton's dilemma. Both came from defensemen shooting at long range. They weren't cheap goals, but they were low-percentage shots.
Where were all those breakaway goals and slick passing combinations that had produced one runaway Oiler victory after another the first two months of the season? Where was the Great One? He was goalless in the '83 Cup finals, and now the Islanders once again weren't letting him play his private game of keepaway with the puck. Where was Kurri, who only the night before had set an NHL record by recording an assist in his 15th straight game?
"We give any kind of shot from the points or from a bad angle," says Islander Defenseman Ken Morrow, offering a good analysis of the Dense Pack's tactics. "We try to take away their passing lanes into the middle. If they do get a guy in good position, we're all over him."
And it's not as if Edmonton doesn't know what to do about it. "We could force them out of it if we could get a lead," says Muckler, accurately, because even Arbour says, "The game dictates the strategy, and we probably would have to open up a bit if we fell behind." But the Islanders don't fall behind. The Oilers led only once, for 5:42, in last spring's final and never held a lead at an intermission—and they could not get ahead last week.
New York Wing John Tonelli broke Sunday's tie and scored the game-winner at 7:15 of the second period, stick-handling around Huddy and shoveling the puck between Fuhr's pads as he fell to the ice. Islander Defenseman Tomas Jonsson bolted the door at 7:45 of the third period, intercepting a bad clearing pass by Coffey and slapping a 45-foot shot past Fuhr.
Edmonton was given a hint of life two minutes later when Trottier was penalized for tripping. However, the Oilers lost the power-play advantage a mere 17 seconds later when Huddy was called for holding Goring. It was a most untimely penalty, and another indication that maturity is not the Oilers' middle name.
In addition to the parallels with last season's playoffs, Sunday's game provided a tactical contrasting of New York's up-and-down style vs. Edmonton's round-and-round—and yet another example of the Islanders' ability to rise to an occasion when they must. After New York skated to a 5-5 tie in St. Louis on Nov. 29 and performed so poorly in Calgary, a visibly annoyed Arbour complained about the Islanders' lackadaisical style. "We initiate nothing and retaliate on everything.... I don't know why we get like this," he said.
Bourne does. "I think there's something in this club that requires adversity to get it going," he says. "Sometimes I think we create adversity."
The Isles didn't have to create much of anything on Sunday, because their tenacious forechecking took command of the offensive corners for all but the first half of the second period, and their constant back-checking provided the extra defensive manpower necessary for the Dense Pack. "It was our best game of the year," said Arbour. It was also a game won not by the Islander stars—Trottier, Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin—but by the foot soldiers—the Sutters, Brent and Duane, and Tonelli. That prompted Right Wing Bob Nystrom to say, "One thing we have that they may not have is the right blend of grinders and scorers."