Al Arbour the coach of the New York Islanders, likes to stick with a winning combination. A few weeks ago, defenseman Gord Lane was not overly fond of the idea; today he loves it.
Lane broke his left thumb in March and when he was ready to resume play, the Islanders were on a hot streak, losing only one of their last 17 regular-season games. Lane watched from the press box when his old team, the Washington Capitals, visited Nassau Coliseum the last week of the regular season and he was still watching through the Islanders' first six playoff games, until they finally lost in Edmonton.
Arbour inserted him the next night and Lane responded with an assist. He has played five Stanley Cup games in a row, of which the Islanders have won four, and he has recorded an assist in each.
In the first game of the current best-of-seven semifinal against the New York Rangers, Duane Sutter deflected a Lane drive into the net for the goal in the first minute of the second period that created a 1-1 tie and got the Islanders moving toward a 5-2 victory.
Thursday night Butch Goring rebounded Lane's shot from the left point for the game winner as the Islanders snapped a 3-3 tie and went on to win, 7-3.
Those results figure to keep Lane in Arbour's lineup, despite a bruised elbow, as the teams move to Madison Square Garden Saturday night for Game 3.
"Arbour has this thing, he's superstitious, and when things are going well, he hates to change them," Lane said. "I was still recuperating from the broken thumb when the team got hot late in the season and it wasn't until after the first game we lost in Edmonton that I got a chance to play."
Lane already owns one Stanley Cup ring, which is one more than anyone expected him to earn when Tom McVie found him toiling in Fort Wayne in the International League in 1974 and brought him to Dayton. Like McVie, Lane inhabited the rink all day, trying to improve almost nonexistent skills. He couldn't skate, he couldn't handle the puck -- but he had a big heart and when McVie went to Washington, Lane was not far behind.
After McVie was fired, Lane found himself a frequent press box observer, felt he was not wanted and finally walked out on the team. General Manager Max McNab then dealt him to the Islanders for center Mike Kaszycki.
During last year's Stanley Cup playoffs, the rugged Lane was a key figure on the Islanders' defense.
In the fall, though, newlywed Lane reported to camp in poor condition and could not get going. He described his play as "brutal" and the fans agreed. An anti-Lane fan club was formed and each appearance of the antihero brought out a banner reading "Oops, It's Gord Lane."
"Then, with the broken thumb, I got a chance to sit out and watch," Lane said. "I skated extra in practice and got in shape and everything just turned around."
Against the Rangers, Lane has moved the puck with confidence and he has used his body to advantage. Those key assists are a bonus. And, it was evidence of Arbour's renewed confidence that Thursday, with the Islanders ahead, 4-3, Lane was out there killing a penalty to Anders Kallur.
The Rangers cannot be counted out, although they face a difficult task trying to win four of five games from a team that has lost only three of its last 28. Assuming the Islanders win, they will play either Minnesota or Calgary, currently tied, 1-1, with Game 3 scheduled Sunday in Bloomington, Minn.
One of the key figures for the Flames is center Bill Clement, the former Washington captain. If the Capitals are jinxed where playoff action is concerned, at least it is nice to know it's nothing personal.