Anders Hedberg of the New York Rangers was almost too tired to drag himself out onto the Nassau Coliseum ice in the closing minutes tonight. Since he earns more than $1 million a year, Hedberg hardly could refuse a request from his coach, Fred Shero.
So Hedberg skated out and scored the goal that beat the New York Islanders, 4-3, and moved the upstart Rangers to within one victory of a berth in the Stanley Cup final. The Rangers own a 3-2 edge in this best-of-seven semifinal, with the sixth game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Hedberg's winner, with 2:13 remaining, was the third of a series of shots fired at Islanders goalie Bill Smith, who suffered his first defeat in five playoff games. Ron Greschner, set up by Steve Vickers, took the first shot, then Hedberg shoved the puck into Smith, who was down. Regaining possession, Hedberg lifted a backhander over Smith from a sharp angle at the left of the net.
"I was so tired, I didn't think I could go out there, but I managed one more shift and look what happened," Hedberg said. "With two minutes left, I had to believe that would be the winning goal."
The Islanders, however, had pulled even three times earlier, matching the previous Ranger goal in only 29 seconds, and they poured on the pressure, pulling Smith for a sixth skater in the final minute. So it was not until goalie John Davidson blocked a close-in drive by Bob Nystrom with 15 seconds left that the Rangers could celebrate.
One of the celebrants, in his usual subdued style, was Shero. Asked if he smelled victory, Shero said, "I'm not smelling anything until it's over."
of Hedberg's role, Shero was more candid: "I told him I wanted him to go out there and he said, 'I can't, I'm too tired.' I said, 'please, for 30 seconds.' Even when he's tired, he's better than most."
This was a crazy game in a crazy series and one wonders whether it logically could end in any manner other than overtime in the seventh game. Tonight, for example, the Islanders scored one goal that never appeared to enter the net and were denied another that was clearly in the twines. Both disputed plays occurred early in the third period, which began with the Rangers ahead, 2-1.
Mike Kaszycki of the Islanders took a long shot that was deflected fairly far out by Ranger defenseman Carol Vadnais. Davidson, reacting to the change of direction, had his stick and much of his body behind the goal line but claimed he did not touch the puck until it had struck the post and caromed off to the fron of the net. Nevertheless, the goal judge turned on the light and referee Dave Newell, after conferring with him, alllowed the goal.
"The puck never went in," insisted Davidson, who jumped up and down, screaming, when he saw the red light. "I followed it all the way and it hit the post. The referee didn't see it and the linesmen didn't see it, but the goal judge thought it was in. I think what he saw was the knob of my stick."
Less than two minutes later, Davidson stopped a Denis Potvin shot with his glove on the ice and Mike Bossy batted the puck into the net. This time Newell ruled that the puck had heen frozen and play stopped, so Bossy remained pointless in the series.
Greschnev then gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 9:04 with a drive from the slot after Phil Esposito had set him up. The entire Ranger team raced out to applaud the score and their noise had barely subsided before the score was even again.
Bob Nystrom, the hero of the Islanders' overtime victory Thursday, was left free in front and converted a Bob Bourne pass at 9:33.
"That big Nystrom played the best hockey I've ever seen him play," Davidson said, "But we played so well, I think we deserved to win. I'm just glad to get two days rest before the next one. I won't be at practice tomorrow."