Sunday night, when the Minnesota North Stars tried so hard to win a game in the Stanley Cup final and failed, Steve Payne twice gained a share of the goal-scoring lead for the playoffs. Payne's 15th gave Minnesota a 2-0 advantage; his 16th created a 4-4 tie.
Each time it took the islanders' Mike Bossy less than a minute to regain goal honors. Bossy's 17th, just 54 seconds after Payne scored the second time, sent the Islanders ahead to stay as they won, 7-5, for a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven competition.
The seventh Islander goal was scored by Bryan Trottier into an empty net, as Bossy passed up a potential hat trick and a good shot to give Trottier a better one. It brought back memories of a night in January, when Quebec visited Nassau Coliseum and Bossy had his last chance to match a record he coveted, Rocket Richard's 50 goals in 50 games.
With two goals in the last five minutes, Bossy overcame the pressures to reach his target. Then Quebec pulled its goalie and here was Bossy, with the puck and a chance for 51. Instead, he slid a pass to Trottier for the coup de grace.
This is not to say Bossy is timid about shooting the puck. He may have the quickest release and the most accurate shot in the history of the sport, and he has utilized those talents to amass 85 goals this year, 68 in the regular season, to break the combined mark of 80 set by Philadelphia's Reg Leach in 1976.
But Bossy is a multifaceted young man. Often accused of selfish tendencies, he actually is the ultimate team player, and he richly deserves that playoff scoring record of 33 points he set Sunday night.
A goal-scoring machine as a junior, Bossy was passed up by 14 teams who thought he was unable or unwilling to play defense. As an Islander, however, he has blossomed into an all-around player of such ability that in the semifinal against the Rangers he did not hesitate to throw his 185 pounds at Barry Beck and dump the belligerent Ranger captain with a solid check.
Sunday night, as the Islanders lagged, 3-1, after the first period, Bossy spoke to his teammates, and they listened with respect, then jumped into the ice and swarmed all over the North Stars.
"I made a point of speaking to the guys, after the first period, about how we got here by hard work and confidence," Bossy said. "I felt we didn't look as confident as usual in the first period. We were letting them bring the play to us. We knew the North Stars were going to come out storming, but I haven't seen anything that has shaken our confidence to a point where we can't do anything about it."
Bossy's confidence has never been shaken since he entered the NHL in 1977 and proceeded to score 241 goals in four regular seasons. He knows his remarkable shot is murder on a goaltender.
"The hardest thing for a goalie to stop is something he can't see coming," Bossy said. "If I take away the time a goalie needs to react, then I've taken away a lot. I never pick a spot to shoot at.I know where the net is, I can take a shot without looking at the net."
Bossy is expert not only at shooting, but at working into position for a shot. So many hockey players do not move without the puck.
"Everything before a goal is scored is just as important as the goal itself," Bossy said. "The moving around, the positioning, the anticipation. A lot of bruises must be absorbed."
Bossy takes the punishment necessary to make the play. It is misconception that he shies away from the rough stuff, an idea reinforced last year when he spoke out against the dirty tactics that were taking away so much of the sparkle of hockey.
"I object to somebody starting a fight with somebody who doesn't want to fight," Bossy said. "I didn't want to go on a crusade last year, but I wanted to point out some facts. Something was terribly wrong in the game and I had to tell people how I felt.
"We have guys who fight. That's part of their game and they might have been a little peeved. I'd rather be honest about it. And I'm glad to see that everything calmed down a bit this year. I'd like to think maybe I had a little to do with it."
Tuesday night the Islanders will try to wrap up a second straight Stanley Cup. There is no question Bossy has had a great deal to do with that.