Al Arbour, the New York Islanders' coach, commented today that some of the Quebec Nordiques were "handling the puck like a hand grenade" during the Islanders' 4-1 victory here Tuesday night.
"It's mysterious," Arbour said. "We've had games like that, too, and I can't figure out why. But as long as we're on the winning side of it, I'm not going to worry about it."
Butch Goring, at 32 the Islanders' oldest player, had a dreadful regular season, scoring only 15 goals. Arbour stuck an occasional needle into Goring, but he did not worry about that, either. For Goring, hockey season begins with the first faceoff of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Goring scored the game-winning goal Tuesday, after an exchange of passes with Duane Sutter. He has four goals in his last four games, seven points in the last seven. More important, he has been a disruptive penalty killer and a tireless forechecker, a key reason for the Nordiques' hand-grenade stick handling. Tuesday, he repeatedly broke up Quebec's plays in center ice as the Islanders dominated the neutral zone.
"Early in the year I wasn't doing anything right," Goring said. "I guess playing well now is good timing on my part. It's been a tough year for me and I didn't help the team much all year. This is a chance to redeem myself and I think I showed the guys I can still help them.
"You have to get right on Quebec and stay on them. We think they've got great goal scorers and we don't want to give them two-on-ones or three-on-twos. That would be suicidal. We think we've got gunners, too, but why do that when we're a better defensive team.
"We just want to play solid hockey. We had only one or two solid games in the Ranger series. The rest was funny hockey. But Quebec is an explosive hockey team. You can't relax or they'll fill the net on you. We'd like to end it in four straight. We don't get paid for anything extra."
Goring got some extra pay last year, the $1,500 that accompanies the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He finished with 10 goals and 10 assists in 18 games, including two short-handed scores and two game winners. The year before, he had seven goals and 12 assists as the Islanders won the Cup.
"The playoffs are the time you either make your name or break it," said goalie Bill Smith, the Islanders' other principal hero Tuesday with his 27-save effort. "Look at Montreal, Minnesota, Edmonton. They were good all year and people are crucifying them. If we'd lost to the Rangers or Pittsburgh, we'd be crucified."
While the Islanders and Nordiques play the second game of their best-of-seven series here Thursday, the Vancouver Canucks will try to take another step closer to the final when they play the Black Hawks in Chicago.
The Canucks, a sub-.500 team in the regular season, also have come up big when the prize is biggest. Jim Nill's goal at 28:58 of overtime on Tuesday gave Vancouver a 1-0 series lead. Starting with a 6-6 tie in Washington March 17, the Canucks have lost only one of 18 games.