Most hockey teams forced to play without both their leading scorer and team captain would be in a state of panic. In the case of the Philadelphia Flyers, the enforced absence of Tim Kerr and Dave Poulin is merely another obstacle to be overcome.
The Flyers stepped up the intensity of their forechecking Tuesday night when Poulin suffered bruised ribs and joined Kerr, who has a strained knee, on the injury list. The result was a workmanlike 4-2 decision over the Quebec Nordiques that evened the Prince of Wales Conference championship at a game apiece.
The best-of-seven series -- evidently for a shot at defending champion Edmonton, a 7-3 Tuesday night winner over Chicago for a 2-0 Campbell Conference lead -- resumes Thursday in Philadelphia. Kerr and Poulin are expected to be absent. That means the workload will be distributed among 12 forwards of lesser renown and, in most cases, tender age. Seven of the 12 are 20 or 21; the oldest, Ilkka Sinisalo, is 26.
The Flyers were stripped of experienced forwards last fall. First, knee surgery ended Bill Barber's career. Then Bob Clarke left the ice to become general manager. Finally, Clarke made the widely unpopular decision to trade Darryl Sittler to Detroit for a couple of nonentities named Murray Craven and Joe Paterson.
The deal was greeted with skepticism among Clarke's fellow general managers and anger from sentimentalists, because Sittler was traded on the day he was to be named the team's captain.
"I didn't want to do it that way but the deal didn't fall into place until that day," said Clarke, who always has placed winning first.
Today that scorned swap of October is a principal reason Clarke is expected to be named hockey's executive of the year. Sittler, 34, had assorted injuries and scored only 11 goals in 61 games. Craven, 20, became a 26-goal scorer with a remarkable plus-45 rating.
More important than the figures, Craven has been a key performer because of his ability to play any of the three forward positions. In the second-round playoff against the New York Islanders with Poulin missing, Craven filled in at center. Tuesday, with Kerr gone, he skated at right wing.
It was the first time he played an entire game on the right side, but Craven displayed no timidity. He set up the Flyers' first goal and scored the second.
Paterson also produced a goal Tuesday.
"At first it was tough to adjust to, and sometimes I found myself on the wrong side of the ice," said Craven, a natural left wing. "But I played different positions all season, so I was able to adapt.
"It can be a bit of a problem, because I never seem to be on a set line. But on this team we never seem to have set lines anyway . . . I prefer center, because with my long legs it takes me a while to stop and then start up again. And as a center, you do a little more floating. But I'm just glad to be playing. It's nice that (Coach) Mike (Keenan) has the confidence to play me and shift me around."
Craven's confidence was at a lifetime low in September, when the Red Wings assigned him to Adirondack. It was another in a series of disappointments after Detroit made him a first-round draft pick in 1982. Last season, following 15 games without a goal in the NHL, Detroit returned him to his junior team in Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he incurred a shoulder separation that affected him well into the summer.
"I was taking a nap in Glens Falls, N.Y., and our coach came in and told me I'd been traded to Philly," Craven recalled. "Then he told me I'd been traded for Darryl Sittler and I was sure there was a mistake. I was very discouraged at the time, because I didn't get much of a chance at an NHL job, and I was trying to get my attitude adjusted to the minors. When I came here, they gave me a chance to play, which is all any player wants . . . "
Craven was one of only two Flyers, along with defenseman Doug Crossman, to participate in every regular-season game. He has played an important role in Philadelphia's surprising season since opening day, when he joined the club and screened goalie Pat Riggin to help Kerr score the tying goal against Washington.
"I have no ill feelings about Detroit," Craven said. "I didn't play very well there. It may have been my fault as much as theirs . . . I weighed only 170 (he's now up to 185) and I was easy for a 200-pound defenseman to handle.
"The coach, Nick Polano, yelled a lot and when we sat and watched game tapes, I'd cringe because I knew where I'd screwed up . . . and I'd hear about it in from of everybody."