The principal question for the Philadelphia Flyers each night is not whether they will win, but who will be the individual standout of the victory.
Although goaltender Pelle Lindbergh enjoyed another sensational game tonight with 26 saves, he yielded the hero's mantle to Brian Propp, the oldest Flyer in point of service.
Propp, lone veteran of the 1980 Stanley Cup final loss to the New York Islanders, scored a natural hat trick with three straight goals as the Flyers coasted past the Islanders, 5-2, and took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Patrick Division final.
It was the Flyers' 10th straight victory, their 21st in the last 22 games and their 18th in a row against Patrick Division opponents.
"It's hard to believe the way we're winning, but maybe the guys are believing in themselves," said Ed Hospodar, whose rebound goal put the Flyers ahead to stay after just 2 minutes 15 seconds. "Nobody expected this. Pelle came up large in the first period and then we just seemed to outplay them."
Taking a 4-1 lead into the third period, the Flyers outplayed the Islanders so thoroughly that New York managed only one shot before Tim Kerr's seventh goal of the playoffs wrapped it up at 12:45.
Kerr also assisted on all three first-period goals by Philadelphia, tying a Stanley Cup record, and Propp gave him full credit for his first playoff goals since 1983. Propp was blanked by Washington last season and had not scored in four games this year.
"Tim Kerr is so intimidating in front that it leaves room for the other players," Propp said. "With Timmy scoring the way he's been, they have to pay him a lot of attention.
"I wasn't upset by not scoring. Our team was winning and I was helping in other ways. I was getting good chances, but they weren't going in. I worked on my shot after practice and I guess it paid off.
"I've got to be happy after that. The crowd, after I scored the third goal, gave me the biggest ovation I ever had and it makes you want to do it more."
Victim of the Flyers' 36-shot barrage was Bill Smith, who has not won a game in 11 tries at the Spectrum since that 1980 final.
"It's nice to win against him, because he plays so well," Propp said. "We just keep shooting at him and we always have somebody going for the rebound. We had two or three rebound goals tonight and you can't blame the goaltender for that. You can't expect him to stop three or four on one shot."
That was precisely what Lindbergh was doing in the first 13 minutes of the game, when the Flyers took a 2-0 lead although they were outshot by 12-4.
Smith stopped Joe Paterson on the game's first shot off a three-on-two break, but Hospodar beat Islander Gord Dineen to the rebound and put a backhander between Smith's pads. It was the big defenseman's 16th goal in six NHL seasons, the fourth in Stanley Cup play.
"It's a rule of thumb on this team that whenever you have a two-on-one or a three-on-two, somebody's got to go to the net," Hospodar said. "I just happened to be in the right space at the right time. It's nice to get a goal on Smith so quick. It keeps him from getting any rhythm."
The Flyers' next shot, by Brad McCrimmon, came almost nine minutes later. Smith stopped it, but Kerr prevented him from clearing the rebound and Propp lifted the puck over the sprawling goalie.
It became 3-0 with 19 seconds left in the period. Todd Bergen's centering pass slid off Kerr's stick in the slot and the puck went right to Propp, who scored easily.
The Islanders tried to put pressure on Lindbergh early in the second period. However, he reached back to knock away Bryan Trottier's shot that was skidding toward the goal line, batted away Pat LaFontaine's tough screen shot and made a stretching glove save on Clark Gillies off a faceoff.
When Propp circled from the right wing corner and shot off the post at Smith's left into the net, the winner of this one was obvious.
Gillies ended Lindbergh's bid for a second straight shutout with 54 seconds remaining in the second period, hitting from the slot off LaFontaine's feed.
That stopped Lindbergh's scoreless streak in the playoffs at 115 minutes 17 seconds. It was the Islanders' first score against him in 168 minutes 16 seconds, since he had shut them out in the teams' final regular-season meeting, as well as the playoff opener.
"There were more people in front of me tonight, but the defense has helped keep them from scoring," Lindbergh said. "It's a great feeling in this room. There was more pressure to win the first series against the Rangers."
Kerr gave the sellout crowd of 17,191 a chance to laugh as well as cheer in the third period, when he completed the Flyers' scoring off Bergen's feed while avoiding a check by Islander Bob Nystrom, who wiped out Smith instead.
Nystrom scored a meaningless goal a couple of minutes before it was time for the Islanders to start packing for a return to Long Island, where they will play Game 3 Tuesday and hope for yet another miracle comeback.