The most potent offensive machine in National Hockey League history and the most relentless checking team of recent years open an intriguing Stanley Cup final Tuesday night at the Spectrum.
The Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers reached the best-of-seven grand finale to hockey's longest season through conference victories that emphasized their contrasting styles.
In disposing of Chicago in six games, the defending champion Oilers scored 44 goals, most in any series of any length in Stanley Cup history. Not surprisingly, the Oilers held the old mark of 35, set in a five-game blitz of Calgary in 1983.
The Flyers scored only 17 goals in their six-game conquest of Quebec, one fewer than the Oilers amassed in the first two games against Chicago. But Philadelphia yielded only 12 goals -- two per game -- to the Nordiques, who had averaged twice that many during the regular season.
"I'm looking forward to playing Edmonton; it should be an interesting challenge for us," said Philadelphia's rookie coach, Mike Keenan. "It's an interesting matchup, a good skating club that's defensive-minded against a good skating club with great offensive power."
The Flyers also will once again have the services of 54-goal scorer Tim Kerr, who missed virtually all of Philadelphia's series against Quebec after straining ligaments in his right knee in the opener. Kerr began skating before the final contest of that series, fitted with a special brace.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," said Kerr, who led the NHL with 21 power play goals this season. "I have been 100 percent for a week. I don't know what he (Keenan) wants me to do, it's up to him. The last time I was hurt, after the Washington game (March 8), I was back in 10 days. I've had two weeks now."
The Flyers hope to frustrate the Oilers by restricting their skating room, by taking away the neutral zone and by bumping superstar Wayne Gretzky any time they get the opportunity. It is a formula that worked consistently during the regular season. The Flyers won all three meetings with the Oilers, by scores of 7-5, 5-2 (in Edmonton) and 5-4. In fact, Philadelphia is unbeaten in its last eight meetings with the Oilers going back to 1982, winning seven and tying the other.
"We fear their entire team plus the building," said Oilers Coach-General Manager Glen Sather. "We're very respectful of their team. We have to be very careful on how we play them."
Sather also voiced worries about the officiating in the finals. "One of the problems everybody has had in the playoffs is the clutch-and-grab that hasn't been called," he said. "The transition in the game is quicker the way it is set up today. One of the problems with the officiating is sometimes they call it old-fashioned and let this stuff go on."
Asked about his team's phenomenal success against the champions, Flyers captain Dave Poulin said, "There's no particular reason. It's just been a case of that game, that night. We've just had more players going than Edmonton has. But I'm sure everybody on both teams will be going this week."
"Our record over the last three years against Edmonton has nothing to do with the finals," said goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, whose overall mark this season is a remarkable 51-20-7.
"I've played in the Olympics and the Canada Cup, but they are nothing compared to this as far as I'm concerned. They are a couple of steps behind this."
The Flyers not only swept the season series against Edmonton, they also led the NHL with 113 points to the Oilers' 109. But they need only check the history book to learn that regular-season success is no guarantee of a Stanley Cup.
The last time the Flyers were in the Cup final, in 1980, their 116 regular-season points topped the NHL. They wound up losing to the New York Islanders, who had earned only 91.
Then there is the lesson of the Islanders' collapse in Edmonton a year ago. New York went into the final buoyed by the knowledge that it had won 10 straight games from the Oilers. Edmonton managed to take a 1-0 opener on Long Island, however, thanks to Grant Fuhr's spectacular goaltending. Although the Islanders recouped in game two, 6-1, it was no contest in the next three at Edmonton, with the Oilers romping by 7-2, 7-2 and 5-2.
The same 2-3-2 format has been continued this season, which makes it imperative for the Flyers to win the first two games and ensure a return to Philadelphia. Somehow that long week in Edmonton left the Islanders drained, and the Flyers do not want to risk a similar flop.
Home ice has been kind to the Flyers this season. Their 32-4-4 regular-season mark was the NHL's best and they have followed it up with a 7-1 playoff record at the Spectrum, dropping Game 4 to Quebec when Lindbergh suffered a rare off night.
The Oilers have been solid at home in the playoffs, too, having won 13 in a row since they were beaten by Calgary in the fifth game of the 1984 Smythe Division final.
In at least one respect, this year's final is certain to set a record. Even should it come to an unlikely end in the minimum of four games, it will have run later than ever before. Game 4 is scheduled May 28 and the latest finish in history occurred May 27, 1975 in Buffalo, when the Flyers captured their second straight Cup.
If this series goes the limit, not at all an unlikely scenario, Game 7 is scheduled for June 4. What is so rare as hockey, on a day in June.