After goalie Billy Smith shut out the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night, the losers were unstinting in their praise of Smith's work. This afternoon, in the cool light of day, Edmonton Coach Glen Sather labeled Smith a "maniac."
Sather's reference was to a first-period incident in which Smith swung his stick at Glenn Anderson, who was skating behind the Islander net. Smith struck Anderson in the left knee and was assessed a minor penalty by referee Andy Van Hellemond.
Anderson finished the game and might have been Edmonton's best player, as he managed six shots on goal. Later, however, ice was applied to the knee, which became swollen, and Anderson is considered "doubtful" for Thursday's second game of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final.
Anderson was unable to practice today. So was Islanders winger Mike Bossy, who missed Tuesday's opener with tonsillitis. Bossy said he felt weak and his throat was sore, but "I feel 30 to 40 percent better than I did yesterday and if I get 30 to 40 percent better from today until tomorrow, I'll probably suit up."
Whether Sather was genuinely angry or merely seeking to stir up his club or hoping to distract the almost unflappable Smith, he did not pull any verbal punches during an interview in his office at Northlands Coliseum.
"If Anderson hadn't tripped going around behind the net, Smith might have hit him in the head and killed him. Glenn was viciously attacked. Billy Smith clubbed him deliberately. Smith has done this on several occasions before--once to Wayne Gretzky--and he doesn't swing to go after the puck, he swings to hit the guy. How can they says that's not deliberate attempt to injure? He's going to kill somebody some day and the league will face a heck of a lawsuit," Sather said.
"If anybody else did that, he'd be in (NHL Executive Vice President) Brian O'Neill's office. But for some reason the league condones it when a goalkeeper does it. And he's not swinging an ordinary stick, but a five-pound goalie stick. People say he's cleaned up his act, but to me he plays like a maniac."
Informed of Sather's remarks when he returned to the Coliseum after a late afternoon practice at Londonderry Arena, Smith said, "This is complete nonsense. He's just trying to stir something up through the press.
"I deserved the penalty, but it's the first time I've ever hit somebody in the arm and he got hurt in the knee. I don't think the arm is attached to the kneecap and if his is, I feel sorry for him. I was leaning back, he came around and I hit him in the arm. There was no speed on my stick. If I'd meant it to be intentional, he'd have been hurt a lot more. I always swing my stick when somebody has the puck in their skates, even one of my players."
Smith has been involved in flaps like this before, as Washington fans will recall, but he never has been persuaded to alter his methods for disrupting the concentration of opponents who loiter near his crease.
On March 12, in the last minute of a one-sided Islanders' victory televised in Washington, Smith repeatedly swung his stick at Capital Bengt Gustafsson, who was standing several feet outside the crease. Smith received a meaningless double minor.
John McCauley, the supervisor of officials for the Stanley Cup final, backed up Van Hellemond's ruling of Tuesday during a lengthy discussion with Sather today. The Edmonton coach admitted that he expected nothing else.
"I don't think the referee wants to throw out a goalie in a 1-0 game," Sather said. "If you think you have controversy now, then you'd really have controversy. But the league ought to do something about the guy, with his history of that stuff. Heck, they had to change their rules once and make the goalies tape their sticks, because of the way he was butt-ending people. But if they won't do anything, then, hopefully, somebody on our club will take care of the problem."
Before the Oilers try any rough stuff, they must find a way to put a puck past Smith. Besides the 35 shots he stopped Tuesday, at least 15 more were wide or high. The Oilers' failure to finish their chances may have been due to a week layoff after sweeping Chicago. "There is only so much you can do in practice," said Paul Coffey, Edmonton's offensive-minded defenseman. "You're never as quick in practice as you are in a game. We had a lot of going-to-the-net drills today, breaking hard for the net. We should be a lot sharper tomorrow. We'd better be. This is a must game, because we already have to win one on the road."