When Mike Bossy played junior hockey for the Laval Nationals, a Washington scout evaluated him as "the best player in Canada from the blueline in." Since the Capitals wanted an all-round performer, they selected Robert Picard instead, and Bossy went to the Islanders, to become a 50-goal scorer in each of his first five NHL seasons.
Bossy affirmed that scout's rating yet one more time early this morning, when his third goal of the game at 19:58 of sudden-death overtime lifted the Islanders to a 6-5 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in the opener of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final.
It was a typical Bossy goal. While everyone else awaited the buzzer and a 15-minute intermission, Bossy pounced on an ill-advised Harold Snepsts pass and in one motion drilled the puck past Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur.
That score gave Bossy 13 goals, tops in the playoffs, and it ended a game that was both surprising, in respect to the Canucks' competitive effort, and dismaying, with regard to the tactics of the teams and the absence of official restraint.
At the finish, it was the winning Islanders who berated referee Wally Harris, while the Canucks preferred to overlook some transgressions and instead focus on how close they came to victory. As exciting as the scoreboard figures made the contest, the action on the ice frequently turned it into a travesty, with nearly 4 1/2 hours required to produce a winner.
"I can't let Vancouver's style upset me," said Bossy, whose goal with 4:46 left in regulation forced the extra period. "You have to know the rest of the series (Game 2 here Tuesday) will be the same. Their style upset our concentration quite a bit. We have to hold our concentration better than we did tonight."
The Islanders, taking a long-pass route, iced the puck six times in the first 10 minutes of the game. The Canucks, in the overtime, more than matched that, striving to hold off the Islanders' pressing attackers.
But the major delays came from innumerable shoving and shouting matches, as players sought retaliation for foul play that was infrequently noticed by Harris.
The Islanders were three for three on the power play, the Canucks two for three, but neither team had an extra-man opportunity after the 4:07 mark of the second period, when Islander Gord Lane tripped Thomas Gradin after yielding possession of the puck.
Harris simply turned the other eye while elbows were thrown, players were tackled and anyone with a good shooting opportunity was wise to review his life insurance plan before trying to release the puck.
While the underdog Canucks were responsible for a majority of the unpenalized hooking and holding fouls, a couple of the uglier incidents could be laid to the Islanders.
Late in the first period, Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur caught a shot by Denis Potvin and was speared in the chest by Duane Sutter, who was attempting to dislodge the puck.
When Potvin scored the first of his two goals moments later, Sutter skated past the goalie and made a remark. Then, early in the second period, Sutter intruded on the crease to knock Brodeur down. Although the goalie lay on the ice and play was halted, there was no penalty.
The Canucks then went after Sutter, with first Colin Campbell and then Darcy Rota pinning him to the ice after preliminary fisticuffs. Islander Bob Bourne took on Campbell as a corollary.
Still later in the almost interminable second period, Islander Bob Nystrom whacked Brodeur in the head with his stick, once again leaving the goalie on the ice and with no penalty imposed.
Stan Smyl was the designated enforcer to pursue Nystrom and, after he landed an elbow, there was much milling around with words exchanged, but no penalty call. As play was about to resume, Smyl and Nystrom slugged it out.
"I think it was just an accident when Nystrom hit me," Brodeur said. "Those things can happen in a close-checking game."
"My players thought those incidents were accidental," said Vancouver Coach Roger Neilson. "If we thought it was deliberate, we would certainly retaliate against (Islander goalie Bill) Smith."
Just before the buzzer ended regulation time, Vancouver's Tiger Williams cross-checked Smith in the head and flattened him. There were no penalties in the third period.
"I am very annoyed by their clutch-and-grab tactics," Islander Coach Al Arbour said afterward. "It was like Irish football out there for a while. I am not pleased with the fact that some calls were made and several were not made. This grabbing the sweater is ridiculous. You've got to enforce this."
Maybe. But Harris, reflecting the official NHL attitude of letting them play in tense situations, was in no mood to enforce rules tightly, particularly with the score so close and both teams so successful on the power play. The overtime antics could be compared to a football game in which a defensive back repeatedly jumped on a wide receiver before a pass arrived, but no call was made because of the importance of the play.