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True. The combined record of Vancouver's three postseason victims was a shimmering 83-113-44. Had Neilson known that a few weeks ago, he might have said no to a friend who offered to drive Neilson's car back to eastern Canada for the summer. Instead, Neilson has been forced to pedal his bike back and forth between his house and the Pacific Coliseum during much of the playoffs, toting his groceries on his handlebars. Which, he allowed, was better than not being there at all.
To get past Chicago in the semis, Neilson knew the Canucks had to stop Denis Savard. The lightning-quick center had 119 points in the regular season, 37 more than any other Black Hawk forward. Neilson chose to have Gerry Minor, a center who had played only 13 games all year after suffering both a skull fracture and a broken ankle, cover Savard with the help of linemates Lars Molin and Dave (Tiger) Williams, the tough left wing who has been described as having a "face so flat he could bite a wall." The strategy worked. In Game 1, which Vancouver won 2-1 in double overtime, Savard was held scoreless, as time after time Pulford, who had the option to change lines last, sent Savard out against Minor. "Pulford was outcoached," said one NHL official. And Brodeur was sensational, making 46 stops.
Chicago won the second game 4-1. In the brawl-filled third period, in which 150 minutes of penalties were called, Neilson may have become the first NHL coach to win a series by waving a flag of surrender. The Black Hawks had just scored their fourth goal when Neilson, to protest the officiating, put a white towel on the end of a stick and waved it at Referee Bob Myers. Williams and Minor followed suit. When Myers didn't notice their antics, Neilson sent Defenseman Lars Lindgren out to tap him on the shoulder. Myers responded by ejecting Neilson and giving Williams and Minor 10-minute misconducts.
In the aftermath Pulford, great humorist that he is, called Neilson's gesture "classless." The NHL issued a statement that "actions that demean our game and officials will not be tolerated" and fined Neilson and the Canucks a total of $11,000. For waving a towel. This from a league that suspended Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren for only five games for hitting a referee. The NHL's punishment played right into Neilson's hands.
"There comes a time in baseball when the manager goes out and argues just to support his players," says Neilson. "That's what this was." Neilson, who is known around the league as an amateur psychologist, then told the Canucks that no one wanted a West Coast team in Halloween costumes in the Stanley Cup finals; that the NHL brass wanted to sell a Chicago-New York final to CBS; and that, by gum, it's us against the world, 'cause nobody's going to give us an inch. An enterprising T-shirt company got into the action by inscribing several thousand white towels with CANUCKS TAKE NO SURVIVORS—STANLEY CUP, '82 and selling them outside the Coliseum for $5 apiece. As a result, the usually soporific Pacific Coliseum was aflutter with towels and enthusiasm before the third game. "It looked great from where we were," said Boldirev. "I couldn't help skating around with a smile on my face."
The Canucks won 4-3 when Stan Smyl, who is tied for the team lead in playoff goals with eight, picked up a loose puck as he stepped out of the penalty box and beat Hawk Goalie Murray Banner-man on a breakaway. Savard, who had scored two goals in Game 2, was held to one shot on goal. "We covered Savard like a bad smell," said Williams.
Savard reacted by spitting at referee Andy van Hellemond, the NHL's best, as van Hellemond was leaving the ice. That resulted in Savard's getting his second gross-misconduct penalty of the playoffs. Savard was also the gentleman who expectorated at Minnesota Coach Glen Sonmor in Game 3 of the Black Hawk-North Star series last month. Pulford, sounding very much the way Arbour would a week later, said, "If they're going to be allowed to play football, let's have scrimmages. We had to skate around their end carrying them on our backs. Maybe the white flags worked."
A pious Neilson later said, "One referee told me he'd rather have a towel waved at him than be spat at."
It was more of the same in Game 4, as Vancouver jumped to a 3-0 lead and, bolstered by Brodeur's acrobatics in goal, held on for a 5-3 win. Afterward, Pulford got into a shouting match with the NHL's Morrison, who compared the referee-baiting in this series to some of the great Scotty Bowman-Don Cherry debates in 1977 and '78. But it was injured Black Hawk Winger Darryl Sutter who best described what was happening on the ice: "We don't have enough boys in the hunt."
And a hunt it was back at the Chicago Stadium last Thursday night. "Chicago tried every way to beat us, and tonight was their last gasp so they tried to intimidate us," said Campbell after the 6-2 Vancouver victory that put the Canucks in the finals. "If they thought they could beat us in the alleys, they should have looked at our lineup first. We have at least eight guys who'll answer the bell. They have three or four."