About the only visible sign that Philadelphia is hosting the Prince of Wales Conference championship series this weekend is the Quebec Nordiques' hospitality suite at a nearby hotel, where Coach Michel Bergeron is available via telephone conference call each afternoon.
The Nordiques flew home immediately after Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and will not return until noon Sunday for the fourth game of the series Sunday night at 7.
"Many of the players have small children and it's good that they can spend time with them," said Bergeron. "The players seem to like the way we do things. We have good communication and we try to stay happy."
While the Nordiques went home, the Flyers practiced across the Delaware River in Voorhees, N.J. That is, most of them did. Right wing Tim Kerr went farthest afield of all the participants, flying to Los Angeles to be fitted for a special brace on his twice-damaged right knee.
The Nordiques have been complaining, with some justification, that the officials have not been calling enough penalties against the clutch-and-grab Flyers. But with one Philadelphia short-handed goal balancing out the lone Quebec power play score (in 12 attempts), it is apparent that the Nordiques cannot take advantage of their extra-man opportunities anyway. That has been a major factor in the Flyers' 2-1 lead.
"The difference has been the power play," said Quebec defenseman Pat Price. "They crowd the net on defense and make it tough for us to get good shots. That's where the power play has to come in. When we've got the extra man, we have to move the puck around and get good shots."
There are several factors in the Flyers' penalty-killing success. Their quick forwards have been able to pressure the Nordiques' point men, Mario Marois and Bruce Bell. Also, goaltender Pelle Lindbergh has been superb, allowing only six goals in 96 shots.
"Lindbergh is probably the most technically perfect goaltender I've seen in a long time," said Price, who is playing his 10th NHL season. "He just doesn't make mistakes. We're at least a four-goal-a-game team and he's keeping us to two. We have to keep firing and the law of averages says they have to go in sometime. The Islanders got six against him one game. Maybe we'll get six on Sunday."
A major reason for the Nordiques' negligible power play effort has been the nonproduction of wingers Michel Goulet and Anton Stastny, who accounted for 26 extra-man goals during the regular season. Goulet, whose 17 power play scores ranked second in the NHL to Kerr's 21, has managed only two assists, both in the opening game. Stastny has one assist.
Their failures are related to injuries. Goulet suffered a bruised lower back when he was checked by Montreal's Ric Nattress April 25 and he has required shots before each game to be able to play. Stastny's cheekbone was fractured by Buffalo's Mike Ramsey April 13 and he has made it plain that he is unhappy with the ultraphysical aspects of the current series.
As a result of their failures, most of the offensive load for Quebec has fallen on the shoulders of Peter Stastny. Predictably, the Flyers have bumped him at every opportunity, with or without the puck.
It is one of hockey's more remarkable statistics that of 70 penalties called thus far in the series, not one has been for interference, which refers to checking a player who is not carrying the puck. For years, the New York Islanders prospered by the NHL's reluctance to enforce the interference rule in playoff action and Flyers Coach Mike Keenan obviously is well aware of that tendency. "We've checked well and that's what we have to do to beat this team," Keenan said. "We can't give them skating room."
Nobody can really tell whether the ineffectiveness and seeming lack of intensity of the Quebec forwards is a result of lingering injuries, the Flyers' checking or the long-term psychological effects of that emotional seven-game series against Montreal.
After the Nordiques beat the Flyers in overtime in the series opener, Keenan said, "If this series is prolonged, the effects of a long, tough previous series may begin to show."
Certainly, Quebec needs a victory Sunday if it is to have much chance of winning the series. It is a difficult task, since the Flyers have won 21 straight games at the Spectrum and the Nordiques' only success here came more than four years ago. "We're not panicking; we're not the type of team to panic," Price said. "We actually play better on the road. We seem to think we have to put on a show at home and sometimes we get away from our game. I think we'll play well Sunday, but we do need to score a few goals."
"Some day we're going to be able to score more than two goals and we'll win," said rookie goaltender Mario Gosselin. "I guess it better be Sunday, or it might be too late."