Heart, as the Islanders proved, can be a formidable weapon, particularly when combined with the sort of goaltending that Healy—he of the 103-116-24 lifetime NHL record—threw at the Penguins. "Everyone played as if it were the last shift of the season every shift of the series," said defenseman Rich Pilon. "We didn't get great goals. We just scored no-fear goals. Heart goals. I'd go to war with these guys."
And the Penguins? It wouldn't be fair to say they played without heart. Center Ron Francis almost made the Islanders choke on his aorta in the final four minutes of Game 7, when Pittsburgh, down 3-1, seemed beyond saving. He scored with 3:47 remaining, and then, with Barrasso pulled from the net, Francis set up the goal that sent the game into overtime.
In the 23 games going into the Islander series, Pittsburgh had gone 21-1-1. Still, the Penguins who showed up against New York seemed better prepared for a coronation than a street fight. They harbored no healthy fear of their opponent. And after Barrasso's goaltending went sour in midseries, after power forward Kevin Stevens went down in Game 7 with an injury, after the magic went out of Mario Lemieux's stick, the banner headline of Saturday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pretty much summed up the Penguins' fate: THREE-PEATERED OUT.
It was crazy for Pittsburgh to enter the series overconfident. New York was the only team to defeat the Penguins three times during the season, and two of those wins had been in Pittsburgh. Whatever regard the Penguins might have had for New York was gone after Game 5, an easy 6-3 victory that gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 series lead and pushed the Islanders to the brink of elimination. Afterward, Stevens said in effect that Pittsburgh would wrap up the series back on Long Island so they could take a couple of days off before playing Montreal (which on Sunday beat the Islanders 4-1 in the first game of the Wales Conference finals). How about a little respect?
Enter 20-year-old Lithuanian defenseman Darius Kasparaitis, a fearless hip-checker and certified off-ice, ain't-life-grand whacko, who operates with the attitude that if a player on the other team has the puck, it's O.K. to cream him, even if that fella happens to wear number 66. Nobody else in the league gets under Lemieux's skin the way Kasparaitis does. In November he goaded Lemieux into taking a double-minor cross-checking penalty in the game in which New York snapped super Mario's 12-game goal-scoring streak. After that Kasparaitis became Penguin Enemy No. 1. "Big guys are easier to hit," Kasparaitis said last week. "You see a big body, you can't miss."
The 5'11", 187-pound Kasparaitis had been fairly quiet in the series until Game 6, that is, if you don't count his backing his BMW over a light stanchion in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot after practice on May 11. A tow truck was needed to disimpale the car from the pole. No one on the Islanders was terribly surprised. Earlier this season Kasparaitis, whom his teammates refer to as "a goof," had had his car towed twice in one day for separate parking violations. "We're waiting for the day," said Islander tough guy Mick Vukota, "when he takes off with the team bus and drives it through a wall."
Arbour was more interested in Kasparaitis's driving some Penguins through a wall. After all, Kasparaitis once punched his own goalie in the face for not giving a full effort in the 1991 World Junior Championships. "Before Game 6," said New York forward Benoit Hogue, "all of us were saying, 'Hey Darius, it's about time you hit somebody. We need you.' "
Ask and you shall receive. From the opening face-off, before a boisterous Coliseum crowd that recalled the Islanders' glory years, when they won four consecutive Cups, from 1980 to '83, Kasparaitis was a menacing force. He assisted on New York's first goal and then began bouncing Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr around like tenpins. In the second period, retaliating for an unpenalized Lemieux crosscheck, Kasparaitis whacked the league's best player four times in the face with his glove—bam-bam-bam-bam—as if Lemieux were some street urchin stealing a wallet. Kasparaitis got two minutes for roughing, but his teammates got the message: Every black uniform was fair game. And with the help of Barrasso, who began giving away more softies than a Dairy Queen, New York won 7-5.
In Game 7 at the Civic Center, Pittsburgh came out flying. But there were early signs that it was not to be the Penguins' night, the most dramatic being the collision between Stevens, a 55-goal scorer this season, and Pilon. Stevens's head hit Pilon's face shield, and he bounced face-first off the ice, knocked cold. Stevens was taken off on a stretcher with a fractured nose, a cut over his eye and a concussion. Tactically and psychologically, the Penguins were never the same.
Still, they carried the play, peppering Healy with 19 first-period shots, seven more in the second period and 16 in the third. He stopped all but one until, with Pittsburgh trailing by two goals and a frustrated Lemieux in the penalty box for slashing—superstars are supposed to come up big in big games, and Lemieux had failed to do so—Francis, surely the most underrated player in the league, led the improbable comeback. The seventh game, to the delirious delight of the 16.164 fans, headed into overtime.