Hockey fans generated tremendous excitement here tonight in anticipation of the first Stanley Cup final game played on the West Coast since 1925. As it turned out, they created more of a stir than their beloved Canucks.
Despite the entreaties of a screaming, towel-waving throng of 16,413, the Canucks were controlled throughout by the champion New York Islanders, whose winning margin was limited to 3-0 only because of the standout goaltending of Richard Brodeur.
The victory gave the Islanders a 3-0 edge in this best-of-seven series, with the strong possibility that they will drink from the Cup for a third straight year after Game 4 here Sunday night.
Bill Smith, the Islanders' veteran goalie, blocked 23 shots to earn his third career playoff shutout and improved his remarkable postseason record to 59-21. Oddly, this was the first shutout in 14 months for both Smith and the Islanders.
Two goals were provided in the second period by Clark Gillies and Mike Bossy, then Bob Nystrom wrapped it up with a goal into an empty net with 1:20 remaining as the Canucks rarely threatened to get back into contention.
In truth, the greatest suspense was provided by the fans, who stretched a giant towel completely around the building during the first period and were rewarded by seeing the two ends meet. By game's end, some disgusted viewers were throwing in their towels.
"The Islanders played almost a perfect game," said Vancouver Coach Roger Neilson. "I don't know if anybody could have beaten them tonight. The last two periods, after they got a goal, they really shut us down. The first two games they played a little loosely--not tonight."
The Canucks had a couple of chances in the first period, pressuring Smith during a one-minute stretch when they enjoyed a two-man advantage. At one point, Smith lost his stick and defenseman Ken Morrow passed over his, Smith using it to block a shot.
Another time, Islander defenseman Mike McEwen lost the puck to Ivan Hlinka, but Smith stopped Hlinka's shot as well as Stan Smyl's rebound.
"It was the toughest save, the one in the first period when Smyl got the rebound," Smith said. "But my team played super in front of me. They deserve the shutout.
"I think those towels got us going. When you come into a dead building, it's no fun. You don't expect away crowds to treat you nice. You don't want them to."
"Smitty made key saves at a time when a goal could have put us in trouble," said Islander Coach Al Arbour. "We forced them into a lot of mistakes. Our forechecking was the best it's been in a long time. We had some great opportunities and if it hadn't been for Brodeur, we could have had quite a few goals in the second period."
The Islanders had an 18-8 margin in shots during that second period, when they dominated play.