As the Vancouver Canucks' flight landed at Seattle this afternoon, en route home to a tumultuous welcome from British Columbia hockey fans, the pilot wished the Canucks luck over the intercom and added, "While we're talking about hockey, a girl told me the other day that she went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."
Although the Canucks were groggy from five hours in the air, a collective groan escaped from the rear section of the DC-10. Not only is that gag moldy with age, the Canucks are tired of being considered the heavies in a Stanley Cup final that in the first two games has emphasized slugging and slashing to the detriment of skating.
The New York media has expressed outrage over the Canucks' clutch-and-grab tactics, while overlooking the fact the Islanders have served 29 penalties to the Canucks' 28 and have been responsible for three separate physical assaults on Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur.
The Islanders have won both games, benefiting from six power-play goals, and the Canucks are afraid the adverse publicity might influence Andy Van Hellemond, the referee designated for keeping the peace in Game 3 here Thursday night, to continue the penalty box parade.
"I think everybody is wrong to say we're the bad guys," said Vancouver center Thomas Gradin, displaying a five-stitch cut above his lip that was inflicted by the Islanders' Stefan Persson in the third period of New York's 6-4 victory Tuesday. "They're as much bad guys as we are.
"I suppose hockey is a physical game and our series against Los Angeles and Chicago were more physical than those two games in New York. The penalties weren't rough and tough like the previous series, but last night the referee called everything. It hurt us, because at even strength we're okay. We're a good defensive team. But a man down they have a big advantage.
"One good thing about fights: two guys who are really angry can make up with fists and not make up with sticks."
There were few fights in Game 2, because referee Ron Wicks warned that any combatants could expect 10-minute misconduct penalties, rather than five-minute majors. Wicks issued four misconducts while calling 28 two-minute minors.
The most irate of the Vancouver penalty box residents was Tiger Williams, who exchanged slashes with Bill Smith in the third period, then jumped on the Islanders' goalie and punched him a few times. Williams received two minors to Smith's one and was in the box when Bryan Trottier's goal ended a 4-4 tie.
"Wicks should have called it even," Williams said. "Smith initiated it. He tried to gouge my eyes out. We're going to be there (in front of the crease) all the time. If he's going to hit us, we're going to hit him.
"What I don't understand is people complaining about our style. Clutch and grab; Mr. (Islanders Coach Al) Arbour invented that. Everybody said hockey was too wide open this season, so Vancouver plays defensive hockey and people don't like that.
"The fans like physical hockey."
After Tuesday's game, NHL President John Ziegler was surrounded in his seat in section 307 at Nassau Coliseum by people wondering how Wicks could call so many penalties in Game 2, after Wally Harris permitted virtually everything to go in Game 1.
While Ziegler replied calmly, people in the balcony above cursed him, as they had chanted similar obscenities at Wicks, and a postgame fight even exploded among laggards upstairs. If the Canucks were happy to return home, the NHL folks also had to be relieved to be moving to more civilized surroundings.