"We can't play better games; what more can be expected?" Anders Hedberg asked Saturday night after his goal with 2 minutes 13 seconds remaining gave the upstart New York Rangers a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders.
Those who have watched this great Stanley Cup semifinal series, unless they are rabid Islander fans, can only imagine how it could get any better-and wonder whether the Rangers can once again, on Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, reach the emotional level necessary to achieve the one more victory that will put them in the final.
Ranger Coach Fred Shero, asked how he had managed to inspire an ordinance regular-season team to such displays of brilliance and resilience, said, "The inspiration certainly doesn't come from me. I hardly talk to them. And as for their refusal to quit, if I could teach that I'd want more money and I'm getting plenty as it is."
Shero earned a good chunk of his $200,000 annual salary Saturday night by persuading Hedberg, who make a million plus, to take one more shift in steamy Nassau Coliseum: "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."
So Hedberg complied, found one more burst of energy and lifted his own rebound over prone goaltender Billy Smith from a difficult angle to move the Rangers into a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
In the subdued Ranger dressing room, it was hard to tell which was more welcome, the triumph or the two-day break before Game 6 on Tuesday day.
"This is the first time I've been tired this year," said Ranger goalie John Davidson. "And everybody else has got to be tired, too. The skating up and down, the hitting, it's exhausted everybody. I'm just glad to get two days rest before the next one."
Hedberg's goal marked the Rangers' fourth lead of the contest Don Maloney. Lucien Deblois and Ron Greschner had sent the Rangers a goal in front earlier, but Loren Henning (shorthanded), Mike Kaszycki and Bob Nystrom pulled the Islanders even.
Kaszycki's goal was bitterly disputed by the Rangers, who claimed the puck never entered the net. However, they gained a bit of compensation less than two minutes later when a quick whistle by referee Dave Newell washed out what would have been Mike Bossy's first goal of the series.
Davidson, who had screamed in vain that Kaszychihs deflected drive struck the goal post, covered a Denis Potvin shot with his glove a fraction of a second before Bossy knocked the puck loose.
Smith was playing his second straight game in the Islanders' net after he and Chico Resch had alternated previously. It was Smith's first loss in five playoff games this year and only his fourth defeat in the last 15 postseason contests.