It is a series which should have been staged in the Roman Colosseum rather than the Nassau Coliseum, a brutal, punishing ordeal in which the game of hockey has taken a back seat to cheap shots, accusations and injuries.

The New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs will square off for the seventh and deciding game of their quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series tonight, a series in which the referees appear to have lost control and the players have run wild.

"when you play this rough, you can't play fair," said New York goalie Glenn (Chico) Resch, who was replaced by Billy Smith after surrendering four goals in the first 13 minutes of Thursday night's 5-2 loss at Toronto which evened the series at 3-3.

"I think I can honestly say that ve initiated most of it but I can't say they're initiated most of it but I can't say that we haven't had our share of cheap shots. It's become more than just a game of skill."

"We haven't exactly been angels," said Mike Bossy, who sustained a frightening neck injury in the second period and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. "But it's really too bad things have gotten out of control."

On both sides.

Through the first six games, 332 penalty minutes have been assessed including 86 in Thursday night's game. The Maple Leafs have made good on their threat to defeat New York by intimidation; the Islanders have responded in kind, thus altering their deliberate, grind-it-out style. And when the Islanders stray from their game, they do not play well.

On Thursday the Islanders were simply awful. The charged-up Leafs scored their first goal at 2:49 of the first period and roared to a 4-0 lead before the 13-minute mark. The Leafs made it 5-0 in the second period before the Islanders came back with two goals in the third.

But it was the injury sustained by top rookie Bossy early in the second which touched off the rash of penalties throughout the game. Bossy took a hard check from Jerry Butler - a player with a penchant for going into the corners and cleanly taking his opponent out of the play - and crashed into the boards and onto the ice. He was carried out but the injury was diagnosed as a simple sprain and he should be playing tonight.

"I was just doing my job," said Butler. "I glided into him and it seems that when I hit him, his head twisted around."

One of the worst collisions was between Islander teammates in the opening moments. New York center Bryan Trottier and right wing Billy Harris slammed into each near center ice moments after the game began.

Harris remained in the contest, but Trottier missed the rest of the game with a bruised jaw, X-rays yesterday were negative andTrottier will play with a mask tonight.