Bill Torrey, the New York Islanders' general manager, is hoping the Flyers resort to the rough stuff when the Stanley Cup final opens tonight at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Off past and recent performance, he will get his wish.
The Flyers were the National Hockey League's most penalized team during the regular season and during 13 playoff games they have found themselves short-handed an amazing 77 times.
"If Philly gets physical, fine," Torrey said. "Boston got physical and it picked us up. Buffalo was the least physical and we had our toughest moments with them. Physically, we match up against Philadelphia without problems."
With these teams, the matchups that count most presage pugilistic pairings. The actual fight card will be determined by which chip-on-shoulder player rubs a pugacious apponent the wrong way.
The Islanders' chief combatants include part-time winger Garry Howatt, already assessed 63 minutes in playoff penalties: former Capital defenseman Gord Lane, 57; winger Clark Gillies, 50; winger Duane Sutter, 46, and winger Bob Nystrom, who picks his spots. Add to this group a man likely to cause a lot of turbulence, stick-swinging goalie Bill Smith.
The Flyers most anxious to indulge in a swinging time include winger Paul Holmgren, a 267-minute man in the regular season; defenseman Behn Wilson, the team's playoff leader with 38 despite a lot of bench time; defensemen Bob Dailey and Moose Dupont; center Mel Bridgman, and winger Bob Kelly.
Although both teams consistently attract the referee's frequent attention with conduct not condoned by the rule book, they are capable of turning the short-handed situations to their advantage. The Flyers, not at all reluctant to attack from a manpower disadvantage, led the NHL with 15 short-handed goals and have recorded six in the playoffs, while yielding only eight power-play scores.
The Islanders also have scored short-handed six times this postseason, tying the Rangers' 1979 playoff record, and have given up only six power-play goals in 57 disadvantages.
The principal penalty-killing pairs for Philadelphia, although multiple situations bring others to the rescue, are Bill Barber with Bridgman and Bobby Clarke with Reg Leach. Barber netted a Cup record three shorthanded goals in the semifinal rout of Minnesota.
The Islanders' box defense usually is manned by Nystrom and Lorne Henning, with Sutter and Butch Goring relieving them at the mid-penalty mark. Bob Bourne will see duty, too, as the fouls mount up. This is a good group, but not up to the caliber of Philly's quartet.
New York's power play will give the Flyers more of a challenge than past opponents, however, Gilles, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy are the usual men up and front, with Bourne and Denis Potvin on the points. Between them, Trottier and Bossy scored 31 extra-man goals this season.
The Flyers, who managed only 44 as a team and ranked 21st and last, accelerated their production in the playoffs and have matched the Islanders' 10 power-play goals. Philly starts off with Rick MacLeish, Ken Linseman and Leach up front, Barber and Dailey at the points.
These special-team alignments figure to decide the series, with the regular-line matchups of lesser importance. Naturally, however, both New York Coach Al Arbour and Philly bench boss Pat Quinn will try to utilize their home-ice prerogative, to get the matuchups they prefer. Quinn was in the press box at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders extinguished Buffalo Saturday and his companion, scout Joe Watson, departed carrying a comprehensive bundle of notes.
Quinn most likely will attempt to match his outstanding checking line of Brian Propp, Linesman and Holmgren against New York's high-scoring trio or Bourne, Trottier and Bossy. When he does, Howatt likely will skate some shifts in Bourne's place to try to neutralize the rugged Holmgren. s
Arbour probably will attempt to send his best checkers, the trio of John Tonelli, Wayne Merrick and Nystrom, out against Barber, Clarke and Leach.
The third lines, the ones that hold the balance in ther maneuvering, are by no means weak. But New York's No. 3 trio fo Gillies, Goring and Sutter is somewhat superior to the Flyers' third line of Al Hill, Bridgman and Tom Gorence.
Since each team skates with three pairs of defenders, each dressed two extra forwards that are used with double-shifting wingers on occasion. Howatt and Henning are the extra Islanders, Kelly and MacLeish the odd Flyers, although they frequently go out with Barber as a fourth line.
Bourne, only a 15-goal man as a regular-season center, leads the Islanders with 10 playoff goals, having maximized his shift to left wing alongside Trottier and Bossy, a move made possible by Torrey's late-season pick-pocketing of Goring from Los Angeles.
Barber has 11 Stanley Cup goals and Leach eight, while their middleman, the tireless Clarke, has earned nine assists.
Potvin and Bob Lorimer comprise the best of the defensive pairs, although Potvin has not reached past form after sitting out most of the season with torn ligaments in his right thumb. Lane, trusted in key situations as he never was in Washington, is teamed with Olympian Dave Morrow. The third pairing has Dave Langevin with Stefan Persson, also an experienced power-play point man.
Philly depends on partners Dupont and Dailey, Jim Watson and Mike Busniuk, to do most of the tough work. Norm Barnes and the mistakeprone Wilson have seen limited playoff duty. Quinn might dress Jack McIlhargey, if he desires extra intimidation.
New York has gone with Smith in goal most of the time and he has responded with an 11-2 playoff record and a 2.34 goal-against mark. Chico Resch, 0-2 and 4.20, is strictly the backup man this time around.
Philly's Phil Mrye is unbeaten in the playoffs, 5-0 with a 1.85 goals against, while rookie Pete Peeters' figures are an excellent 6-2, 2.09. It is the confidence the team has acquired in it s goaltenders that distinguishes this Flyer club from the flops of the past three seasons.
The Flyers own a clear-cut edge in experience. Seven members of the 1974-75 Stanley Cup champions are still around-Clarke, Leach, Barber, MacLeish, Watson, Dupont and Kelly. Not one Islander ever has played in a Cup final.
In the end, the winner will be the outfit that gets the greater effort from its special teams and the most consistency from its three lines, able to maintain tenacious forechecking of the opposition.
They're a hell of a hockey team," Islander Tonelli said of the Flyers. "They never stop working. The team that wins the Stanley Cup will be the team that works the hardest."
That is well put. Since nobody in hockey works harder than the Flyers, the pick here is Philadelphia, in six games.