The struggle for the Stanley Cup is reaching the climactic stage that elicits maximum exertion and production from the great players. It is the time when Bobby Clarke excels.
The Philadelphia Flyers enter Saturday night's third game of the best-of-seven final series at Nassau Coliseum tied at one apiece with the New York Islanders. In Thursday's crucial 8-3 victory for the Flyers at the Spectrum, Clarke collected a goal and three assists to run his career playoff scoring total to 101 points.
Predictably, Clarke was not accepting congratulations.
"All 100 points means is that I'm getting old," said the 30-year-old center. "Some nights, everything you touch works out. We were very fortunate, because they got the first goal and could have had the second. If they score the second goal, you never know what could have happened. They can really protect a lead."
The Flyers took away the Islanders' early momentum, however, and Clarke's forechecking played a key role in the turnabout. Once again, he was showing the critics that he really wasn't that old or burned out from all those extra shifts in past seasons.
Clarke, the NHL's only playing assistant coach, concedes that his reduced ice time during the past campaign is proving helpful now, when strength counts most. He never complained about skating 40 minutes a night, and even wondered if he were being insulted when Coach Pat Quinn cut his workload, but he knows it is proving a most intelligent decision.
"When you paly a lot, as I did in the past, it breaks you down," Clarke said. "You don't have the energy to lift weights. This year, I wasn't playing as much, so I took part in our weightlifting program.
"In the past, I'd start the season at 185 pounds and go into the playoffs around 170. This year, I've held around 180 all year. I do feel better.
"I never questioned what Pat was doing when he gave me less playing time. You have a right to ask, but I don't think it's right to question. We've got other people who are young and they've got to play to learn.
"I've got to work hard to succeed, because I'm not too big and I can't overpower anybody. But you don't really get tired in the playoffs -- at least not until after the game. Guys on other teams say I never get tired. I'd like to give them my body to take home nights."
"He's the hardest-working player I've ever seen," Quinn said. "I've played with some hard-working guys before, but he has that other capacity of using his talents to the fullest."
One item Quinn marks in the negative column, however, is Clarke's reluctance to shoot the puck. He has tried to persuade Clarke to shoot more and the figures indicate he finally may be succeeding. After scoring only 12 goals during the regular season, Clarke has already recorded six in the playoffs, including two game-winners.
Quinn said, "He constantly is trying to set up others. Bobby often will pass up a good shot to make the additional play. If he has a fault, that's probably it. But you have to search hard to find a fault with him."
"We all want to score goals," Clarke counters. "I can't say I don't want to score goals, because I'd like to score goals. But I'm not concerned as long as the team keeps winning and my wingers are scoring.