Some loyal fans of the Philadelphia Flyers laid it on the line to their struggling heroes tonight with a large banner that read, "Hey Flyers We Want the Cup! Do You?"
Paul Holmgren wants the cup. Ten minutes before game time, he insisted that his damaged left knee would support him sufficiently to play. It did, as he whacked Islander John Tonelli into the boards on his first shift and later scored his 10th goal of the playoffs.
With Holmgren setting that guilty kind of example, the Flyers dug deep to overpower New York, 6-3, and force a sixth game of the Stanley Cup final Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.
"When a guy goes out and plays when he's hurt, the healthy guys have to look at themselves and say, I'd better get my butt in gear and start playing," said Flyer captain Mel Bridgman.
The Flyers fired three shots at Islander goalie Bill Smith in the first 90 seconds, then went 16 minutes without a shot on goal. Meanwhile, the Islanders tested Pete Peeters 10 times and grabbed a 1-0 lead on a powerplay score by Stefan Persson, his first of two.
"We had a lot of emotion at the start," said Flyer Coach Pat Quinn. "It's not necessarily what you want. It's frustrating seeing guys out there playing their hearts out and not using their heads."
Peeters was using his head, however, and once again he made some remarkable saves while his teammates were struggling. The Islanders outshot the Flyers in each period, for an overall margin of 38-31.
"Pete is playing tremendous," Bridgman said. "That's the key to winning. He plays so cool, you wouldn't know he's a rookie."
When the rest of the Flyers cooled off, the goals started coming. Bob Clarke converted a fine Behn Wilson pass into the slot and Rick MacLeish intercepted a Denis Potvin pass and raced in to drill a shot just under the crossbar.
After a deflection by Bryan Trottier tied it for New York, the Flyers struck back 48 seconds later. The goal that put them ahead to stay was scored by defenseman Mike Busniuk, coming around from behind the New York net to shove the puck between Smith's legs.
"A pass went off Paul's (Holmgren's) skate and the puck wend behind the net," Busniuk said. "I went after it and I wanted to pass out to Paul, but he yelled to take it myself. He took (Gord) Lane instead and I had nothing else to do. I don't even know where the puck went, but I'm glad it got in, because if I'd been caught up there I'd have had a lot of explaining to do."
Midway through the third period, Peeters made a fine kick save to stop a potential tying goal by Persson. The puck quickly was fired up ice by Bridgeman to MacLeish, who unloaded from the outer edge of the leftwing circle and drilled his second goal of the game over Smith's right shoulder.
Brian Propp made it 5-2 while Ken Morrow was serving a double minor, for allegedly slashing Peeters and sassing referee Wally Harris. Persson closed the gap on another Islander power play, then Holmgren concluded the scoring, to the delight of fans and teammates.
"We took a close check on Paul and the doctor was certain that there was no fear of future damage," Quinn said. "Because he gives us so much, and is one of our real leaders, we wanted him out there."
While Holmgren was managing on his glimpy knee, and Jim Watson was playing capably despite a bruised shoulder, the Flyer injury list was growing. Winger Tom Gorence sprained his right knee in the second period when he was checked into the boards by Islanders Dave Langevin and it is doubtful Gorence will play again in this series.
Although the Islanders need to win only one more game to take the cup, while the Flyers need two, Philadelphia was busily trying to make the Islanders think about that "choke" label they have borne so long.
"They have that bugaboo in their past that I'm sure they'll give a lot of thought to," Quinn said.
"They've got to be thinking they have to win on the Island," Bridgeman said. "If they don't, they'll be in trouble coming back here (Tuesday). They know it and we know it."
The Flyers have won both games with Harris officiating, however, and they are in trouble when the stricter Bob Myers and Andy Van Hollemond are blowing the whistle. The Islanders power play clicked two more times tonight, settling a playoff record of 23 extra-man goals and a series mark of 13. With his goal, Trottier tied the playoff scoring record of 27 points, shared by Phil Esposito and Frank Mahovlich.
Despite numerous incentives, the two teams restrained themselves from fisticuffs until only eight seconds remained in the game. Then Bridgman elbowed Howatt, and the two fought. Bridgman, instead of going to the penalty box, skated across the crease and faked an elbow to the head of Smith, who responded by breaking his stick across Bridgman's chest.
"He (Smith) said something to me and I skated into him and he slashed me," Bridgman said. "It was nothing -- just frustration."