A connoisseur of homonyms would consider it fitting that Steve Payne scored the goal that kept the New York Islanders' champagne corked and forced a fifth game in the Stanley Cup final here Thursday night.
A follower of the Minnesota North Stars would feel the same way, for less pedantic reasons. Payne is the guts of the Minnesota club, 6 feet 2 inches and 205 pounds that opponents find difficult to move away from the front of their net.
The Islanders' Bob Lorimer pushed and pulled for several seconds trying to evict Payne from the front porch Tuesay night at Bloomington, Minn., but Payne dug in and was able to deflect Brad Maxwell's drive for the game winner as the North Stars prevailed, 4-2.
It was Payne's 17th goal of this year's playoffs and 29th point, his seventh winning score over two seasons of Stanley Cup play. His hat rick, forged in overtime, provided that dramatic breakthrough in the first game of the preliminary round when the North Stars won for the first time in 36 visits to Boston. He decided another overtime thriller in the first game of the quarterfinals in Buffalo.
Payne's father bought him a set of weights when he was 10 and he has lifted ever since, acquiring the strength so important in the corner and slot warfare that determines victory in the NHL. He also performs speical exercises to strengthen his wrists and he has developed a quick, accurate wrist shot.
During his junior career, Payne played in the shadow of Bobby Smith, his linemate at Ottawa and his center during most of his three seasons at Minnesota. Smith was the first pick in the 1978 draft; Payne was still around for the North Stars to grab in the second round.
Last season, Payne collected 42 goals and, at age 21, was recognized as one of the best left wings in the NHL. This year, the scoring figures dropped, as they did for so many of the North Stars, and it was in the last game of the season that Payne became the only Minnesota player to achieve 30 goals.
It was not until Tim Young was moved between Payne and Al MacAdam, two weeks before the regular season ended, that the North Stars took off.
The Boston series, a shocking three game sweep for Minnesota, convinced the young North Stars they were a good hockey club, and made Payne feel he had arrived as an NHL player.
Now that Minnesota has won one, he is taking a more optimistic view and he said today, "It would have been embarrassing to lose four straight. Now that we've won a game we can get right back in the series by winning another one tomorrow. Until the Islanders win another game, we're still in the race."