The Philadelphia Flyers have won their last 19 games in the Spectrum, four of them over the New York Islanders. So there is every reason to expect the Flyers, who lead the Patrick Division final series by 3-1, to win Sunday night and knock the Islanders from the Stanley Cup chase.
The major question is not the Islanders' mystique, regardless of the way they rebounded to eliminate the Washington Capitals. Instead, it is whether Philadelphia goaltender Pelle Lindbergh has lost his magic touch.
Lindbergh led the NHL with 40 regular-season victories and he was superb in the first three games against the Islanders, stopping 25 of 27 shots in the second period of the Flyers' 5-3 victory in Game 3 on Long Island Tuesday.
However, he was struck on the back of the right hand by a shot during the pregame warmup Thursday and Coach Mike Keenan yanked him after he yielded four goals on 12 shots as the Islanders won Game 4, 6-2.
Since then, while Keenan and Lindbergh have insisted that the pregame incident had no long-term effect, the rest of the Flyers have been careful to absolve Lindbergh of any blame for the loss, just as they had made it a point to credit him for the earlier victories.
The laudatory postgame comments, night after night, may have been orchestrated by Keenan to nurture Lindbergh's fragile ego. Regardless, the players owe him one.
As a rookie in 1983, Lindbergh was selected to the Prince of Wales Conference All-Star team. Just before the game, his teammates shaved his head and he spent an embarrassing time at the festivities on Long Island.
He was further humiliated in the game itself, as he yielded six third-period goals, four to Wayne Gretzky. He played poorly the rest of the season and was no great shakes last year either, although he repeatedly denied he had been affected by the poorly timed scalping.
This season the 25-year-old Swede has been remarkable, and if the Flyers are to win the Stanley Cup, he must stay that way. So, when Lindbergh shrugged off his subpar effort, there were many voices heard in agreement.
"I played so-so, but I don't think I had a bad game," Lindbergh said. "I don't think I let in any bad goals. I guess they were finally going to score. You can't go on forever."
If the observers in the press box felt otherwise, they found no confirmation from the Flyers.
"You can't blame Pelle," said defenseman Brad McCrimmon. "We didn't play strong enough in front of him this time."
"Pelle always plays great," said winger Lindsay Carson. "We let him down. We gave them too many chances in front. Don't forget -- Pelle's the reason we're up 3-1 instead of even."
In the only comment that could be interpreted to indicate that Lindbergh was below his usual standard, team captain Brad Marsh said, "Pelle is the best goalie in the league. He's had bad nights before. You don't get this far in hockey without the ability to bounce back."
The Flyers need Lindbergh to bounce back Sunday, because one more defeat, as the Capitals can attest, would bring the spirits of Islander teams past swirling into mind, body and series.
The Chicago Black Hawks also go for the kill on home ice Sunday, as they try to put away the Minnesota North Stars. Chicago has won three in a row following Minnesota's 8-5 win in the series opener. The winner faces Edmonton, which swept Winnipeg, in the Campbell Conference final beginning Saturday in Edmonton.