The Chicago Black Hawks upset Minnesota and St. Louis largely through physical intimidation. That tactic had no effect on the Vancouver Canucks, who battled their way into the first coast-to-coast Stanley Cup final with a fight-filled 6-2 victory tonight.
The Canucks, losers only twice in their last 22 games, open the best-of-seven series against the New York Islanders Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. They finished off the Hawks by a 4-1 margin, following a similar rout of Los Angeles and a three-game sweep of Calgary.
Vancouver led all the way tonight, after Jim Nill deflected Neil Belland's shot for a power play goal after 2 minutes 40 seconds. The 19,758 fans tried in vain to rally their heroes, but the Canucks' goalie, Richard Brodeur, had the answers despite Chicago's 38-28 edge in shots.
Brodeur probably made the biggest save of the game even before Nill scored. Chicago's Denis Savard, the playoffs' leading goal scorer with 11, took the puck away from Lars Lindgren and skated in on a breakaway. Brodeur held his ice and got his left pad on Savard's shot.
"Our goaltending was the difference for us," said Vancouver Coach Roger Neilson. "Brodeur was just great, he made so many key saves. The one on Savard, that was really a key play."
The fans had no sooner reconciled themselves to Nill's goal than Stan Smyl, a two-goal scorer tonight, made it 2-0 at 3:48. Chicago's Al Secord was signaled for a delayed penalty and the Hawks seemed to relax, permitting Smyl an unimpeded path over the Hawks' blueline. Defenseman Dave Feamster blocked Smyl's shot, but Smyl scored with the rebound.
Tom Lysiak's rebound of a Savard shot cut the margin in half, but Lars Molin came in and poked the puck between goalie Murray Bannerman's legs to make it 3-1 before the first period ended.
It took a long time for the first period to end. Lindgren was hooking and holding Savard along the boards, without a penalty call, and when play stopped, Grant Mulvey came off the Chicago bench and cross-checked Lindgren in the head. While the Swede lay on the ice, seven separate fights broke out and the endless nature of trying to effect separations prompted referee Ron Wicks to halt play and send the teams to their dressing rooms with 1:34 left in the period.
"Trying to get a guy out of the game like that--that's bush," Smyl said. "We were determined to come right back at them."
When the clubs returned to complete the first period, Tony Esposito replaced Bannerman in goal and gave the Hawks a lift with some big saves. Then, early in the third period, Mulvey sent a shot from the right wing boards that struck the far post and caromed behind Brodeur to make it 3-2.
That goal came on a power play, Wicks having bounced Anders Eldebrink for tripping. It was a debatable call, considering all Wicks had passed up previously, but Neilson said, "I guess he did bring him down. It wasn't worth raising a towel over."
Less than three minutes later, Darcy Rota, a discarded Black Hawk, cut around defenseman Keith Brown and flipped the puck over the flopping Esposito to provide some breathing space. Later, with the Hawks gambling, Smyl and Ivan Boldirev padded the score.
After Boldirev scored, a towel floated from the stands onto the ice. It was more than a symbolic surrender, since it was here a week ago that Neilson and two players wrapped towels on their stick blades and waved them at referee Bob Myers, earning ejection and $11,000 in fines.
"When it became 3-2, they were right back in it, and their fans really got going," Neilson said. "I was glad to get the fourth one. This is a tough place to win a game, here in Chicago. I think right now Vancouver and Chicago have the most vocal fans in the league."
The two teams fought each other from the first faceoff of Game 1; in the first period tonight the Hawks were assessed 83 minutes in penalties, the Canucks 81.
"It's been a hard-hitting series and it was bound to break out once in a while," Neilson said. "They came out hitting as hard as they could and we weren't taking it easy."
Taking it easily might be more appropriate.