Before the game, though, the Islanders professed no doubts about winning the Cup on their home ice. "People can say what they want about us," said Center Bryan Trottier. "Sure, we've lost in the playoffs before when we were supposed to win, but you don't necessarily choke when you lose." At Friday's brief skate, Smith was flipping pucks out of the rink so practice would end sooner, and Arbour declared firmly, "This is our last practice this year." Right Wing Mike Bossy seemed more annoyed than disturbed by Quinn's comments about the old bugaboo. "At this point, we've heard it all before," Bossy said, "and you don't have time to care about who thinks what."
On Saturday, TV cameramen were all over the Coliseum, shooting what the local folks, anyway, hoped would be the finish of hockey's interminable season. The Islanders and Flyers had met in the opening exhibition of the preseason last September 22, and they had played 111 and 109 games, respectively, since then. For the first time in six years an NHL game was being telecast nationwide—CBS had managed to bump a bicycle demolition derby in Des Moines—and both teams intended to provide dramatics for whatever audience tuned in.
Early on, there was a glimpse of just how tightly strung both clubs were. With the game just one minute old, Flyer Paul Holmgren and Islander Gord Lane staged a high-sticking duel, and 12 more penalties were assessed by Referee Bob Myers before the first period ended.
But the most controversial call was one that Linesman Leon Stickle didn't make. With the score tied at 1-1 following goals by Philadelphia's Reggie Leach and the Islanders' Denis Potvin, New York Wing Clark Gillies skated down the left boards, crossed the Flyers' blue line and dropped the puck back to trailing Center Butch Goring, who was busting for the blue line. The puck clearly passed back across the blue line and into the center-ice zone before Goring collected it and moved it over the blue line himself.
Stickle should have whistled an offsides—and called for a face-off in neutral ice. But he gave a safe sign and play continued. Goring shot a pass over to Right Wing Duane Sutter, and Sutter lifted the puck over Peeters for a 2-1 Islander lead.
"I guess I blew it," Stickle said after seeing a replay. "The puck came back across the line. Maybe there was black tape on Goring's stick and it confused me. Or maybe I was too close to the play. I just missed it."
The Flyers argued long and loud about the missed offsides, but got nowhere. "We're not going to make excuses," said Philadelphia Captain Mel Bridgman, "but that goal had to change the momentum to their side."
Whatever momentum the Flyers lost because of the non-call, though, they seemed to regain 4:50 later when Brian Propp took a Holmgren pass in front of the net, spun around and slammed the puck past Smith to tie the score at 2-2.
Still haunted by the ghost of playoffs past, the Islanders settled down to play solid hockey in the middle period, Bossy scoring early on the power play after Trottier worked the puck from behind the cage and then Nystrom giving New York its 4-2 lead at 19:46. But the Islanders also missed several other good scoring opportunities. Once Nystrom skated in alone on the Flyer net but was knocked down from behind by Defenseman Behn Wilson and went tumbling into Peeters. The goalie's head cracked against the post, and he was knocked cold. Once revived, Peeters stayed in the game.
As the third period began, Islander history began repeating itself. Rather than resume the attacking style that had produced four goals and had limited the Flyers to a mere 12 shots at Smith over two periods, New York inexplicably went into a defensive shell. But such strategy—"Why they do it I'll never know, but they always do," Arbour said—has never worked for the Islanders, and it didn't work against the Flyers. After several Flyer near misses and a season's supply of New York defensive blunders, Dailey blasted a slap shot past Smith from the blue line, cutting New York's lead to 4-3. A few minutes later, with the Islanders still looking lost, the Flyers tied it up when John Paddock deflected Dupont's blue-line shot into the net.