After watching one
goalie try to dive for five and then go ghost-chasing, peering in vain for a
glimpse of the Boss of old and marveling at Grant Fuhr's goaltending and Wayne
Gretzky's uncharacteristic forays into the corners, one might have lost sight
of the real meaning of the 1984 Stanley Cup finals. Which is: In wresting the
Cup from the four-time-champion New York Islanders four games to one with a 5-2
victory at Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum last Saturday, the Oilers proved that
a creative and high-scoring offense can win big over an orthodox bump-and-grind
The Oilers may
well have launched a new era in the pro game. Take heart ye Ranger, Nordique,
North Star and Euro-hockey fans, the sleek may yet inherit the ice. Besides
being the highest-scoring team ever to win the Cup, the Oilers are also the
first NHL team to take the Cup west of Chicago and the youngest modern-era
expansion team—they entered the NHL five years ago—to win the title.
"I hope we're
an influence on the game," said Gretzky moments after emerging from the
champagne mist, flying corks and rollicking chaos of the Edmonton dressing
room. "We proved that an offensive team can win the Cup. That can't do
anything but help hockey. We showed you can win by skating and by being
physical without having to fight all the time."
And you can also
win, as the Oilers did, by learning from those who have been there before
"We had a
great teacher in the Islanders," said Edmonton general manager and coach
Glen Sather. Patterned fore-checking and disciplined play in front of its own
goal were crucial to Edmonton's success. Without that defense, it lost in four
straight last year.
"Glen told us,
'In their end you can play your way, but in our end you play my way,' "
said Kevin Lowe, the Oilers' best defenseman throughout the series.
times they looked like us," said the Islanders' Mike Bossy after Edmonton
shocked New York 1-0 on Kevin McClelland's goal and Grant Fuhr's goaltending in
Game 1 on Long Island on May 10. Fuhr, who will now become the first black to
have his name engraved on the Cup, made 34 saves while handing the Islanders
their first shutout in a final series. One of those stops—a left-pad split save
of a Bryan Trottier 15-footer from dead in front, followed by a stacked-pad
smothering of Trottier's rebound—was easily the best and most important of the
series. The key to the Islanders' previous mastery of the Oilers (10 straight
wins before this year's finals) had been New York's ability to take a lead and
then close the door. Fuhr prevented them from taking that lead.
At the other end
of the rink, Islander goalie Billy Smith, whose slashing of Oiler forwards and
whose faked dives in last year's finals precipitated the sideshow of animosity
that marred that series, was up to some too-old tricks. When Oiler forward
Glenn Anderson collided with Smith in the second period, Smitty made like Chevy
Chase, spinning to the ice in an arms-out, belly-down crash. He lay motionless,
waiting for a penalty call that never came. Give Smith a perfect 6 for artistic
impression but zip for technical merit, at least in the eyes of referee Andy
Van Hellemond. Van Hellemond was the referee in Game 4 of last year's finals,
when Smith took a dive that resulted in a five-minute major penalty to
Anderson. The goalie later admitted he was faking, thus, as Van Hellemond
correctly deduced, "making a bit of a fool of me." This time the Dive
for Five wouldn't wash.
Though no one knew
it at the time, Game 2 on Long Island on May 12 was the last brilliant
exhibition of a dying dynasty. Trottier, who scored twice in a 6-1 rout of the
Oilers, had what Edmonton center Mark Messier called "the greatest game
I've ever seen him play." Arch grinder Clark Gillies helped atone for his
terrible regular season (12 goals, 16 assists) with his first playoff hat
trick. Smith drew repeated chants of "BILL-EE, BILL-EE" for his work in
the nets. And once again, for the ninth playoff game in a row, the Islanders
kept Gretzky from scoring a goal, a feat the crowd acknowledged by singing the
Mickey Mouse-Club song—Gretzky had called the New Jersey Devils "a Mickey
Mouse organization" in November—and more than one revival of the joke: What
do Mickey Mouse and Wayne Gretzky have in common? Neither has scored against
the Islanders in a Stanley Cup final.
But Gretzky was
not alone. As the series moved to Edmonton for Games 3, 4 and 5, the Oilers, a
team still dedicated to the premise that the best defense is an overpowering
offense, hadn't any goals from its big guns, including Paul Coffey, Jarri
Kurri, Messier and Anderson. Smith still seemed to be invincible. "That's
because a lot of our shots are up at his waist or glove," said Sather.
"The history on Smith is that he gives up goals low. We have to shoot low
and go for rebounds."