In case anyone thought their stunning playoff upset of the perennial Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens a fluke, the Minnesota North Stars sent a very clear communication tonight. The Philadelphia Flyers got the message.
"They are," said Philadelphia's Paul Holmgren, "the best skating team in hockey."
Ignoring the screams and catcalls from 17,077 crazies in the Spectrum, the North Stars giled to a 6-5 triumph over the Flyers to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinal series. Game 2 will be played here Thursday night.
"This is no Cinderella team," said Minnesota's Al MacAdam, who set up its last two goals. "This is a good, confident hockey team."
Confident enough were the Stars not to blink after seeing a 3-1 first-period lead turn into a 4-3 deficit during a span of 1 minute 46 seconds. fConfident enough was their coach Glen Sonner, to lift star goalie Giles Meloche after that shaky first period. Confident enough was this team to hand onto a 6-5 lead the last 10:33 as pint-sized backup goalie Gay Edwards stopped 16 of 17 third-period shots.
"It didn't think it was that many shots," Edwards said, sipping a beer.
"I kept waiting for us to get another goal and end it."
Edwards had good reason to believe there would be more scoring. During the first period the teams played more like the 76ers and Celtics than Stanley Cup semifinalists. During one stretch the clubs combined for five goals in 3:20, breaking the playoff record for five goals by 59 seconds.
"We came out right away and let them know we were going to play our kind of hockey," Sonmor said. "We were going to skate but if they wanted to play rough, we were going to stand up to them."
The north Stars stood up to the Flyers. And Minnesota jumped to a quick lead 4:19 into the game. Steve Christoff, the U.S. Olympian, glided across the blueline and slammed a 65-foot slap shot past goalie Pete Peeters, who waved his left arm futilety as the rocket shot past.
"We kept hearing how hot Peeters was against the Rangers," said Christoff. "We wanted to test him early and find out."
The Flyers had the same thoughts about Meloche, hero of the Montreal series. Quickly Philadelphia evened the game, Al Hill knocking in the rebound of a Bob Dailey slap shot for a power play goal at 5:23.
Then the North Stars went to work, getting goals from Paul Shmyr just as a penalty on Ken Linseman of the Flyers was ending at 13:20, and Christ-off again -- his eighth of the playoffs -- a backhand flip off a neat pass from Kent-erik Anderson at 13:59.
"We had it going there," said Steve Payne, scorer of the last two Minnesota goals to bring his playoff total to seven. "But then we started running around, we panicked. We lost our composure."
While the Stars were panicking, the Flyers were steaming. Linseman, Tom Gorence and Linseman again beat Meloche between 14:54 and 16:40, the last goal a picture play feed from Brian Propp to Linseman in the slot. Suddenly it was 4-3, Flyers, and Cinderella was playing like a bunch of pumpkins.
Now Sonmor made his crucial decision.
"Gilly (Meloche) had to be drained after doing such a superb job in the Montreal series," Sonmor said. "I knew Gary (Edwards) was ready. As soon as the period ended, I told him he was it in the second period."
"The thought (of going in) had never crossed my mind," Edwards said. "But I realized right away what Glen was up to. He thought it might give the guys a lift, make them more alert."
The tactic worked.
The North Stars dominated the second period, outshooting Philadelphia, 15-5. They also outscored the home side, 2-0, getting even at 4-4 on a wrist shot from the right wing circle by Mike Eaves at 14:04. That score came less than three minutes after Eaves had been viciously slashed in the stomach by Flyer defenseman Andre (Moose) Dupont.
Dupont looked even worse moments later. He was sitting in the penalty box for a hook on Tom McCarthy when Payne popped in the go-ahead goal at 16:46 on a made-to-order feed from behind the net by MacAdam.
The North Stars made it 6-4 at 7:40 of the third period under almost identical circumstances. This time it was Holmgren in the penalty box. Again, MacAdam fed Bayne in front and again he beat Peeters.
"We've been together two years now, we know where the other guy is," MacAdam said. "I don't even look, "I just pass."
The Flyers weren't finished by any means. Holmgren made amends with a wrist shot from the slot off another Propp pass at 9:27 to make it 6-5.
That turned the Spectrum to bedlam and the final 10 minutes were one frantic moment after another in front of the Minnesota net. Bill Barber hit the post with 5:10 left but the puck never got over the red line.