The Philadelphia Flyers have a way of making people mad.
Tuesday night, it was the Edmonton Oilers. In 13 previous games, the Oilers' top line of Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mike Krushelnyski accounted for 31 goals and 70 points.
On Tuesday, that trio wound up pointless, with only four shots on goal. Gretzky, whose statistics over 93 previous games included 244 points and 400 shots on goal, finished with only two minuses to indicate that he had played as the Flyers took a 1-0 lead in the Stanley Cup final series.
Today, while the Oilers were working out at the Spectrum in the glare of the Stanley Cup spotlight, the Flyers were conducting a team meeting and optional skate at their usual practice home, the nondescript Coliseum in this nondescript New Jersey community.
If it was akin to the Baltimore Orioles holding a World Series workout in Glen Burnie, there was a logical explanation. Most of the players are New Jersey residents and the fewer times they step onto the Spectrum ice, the smaller the portion of their paychecks that goes to the City of Philadelphia in the form of a payroll tax.
In addition, there have been hints that the Flyers don't really care for the media spotlight that shines on hockey's last hurrah. For example, when center Dave Poulin disappeared for 13 minutes during the second period of the Flyers' 4-1 victory Tuesday, and twice the public address announcer summoned the team's orthopedic surgeon to the dressing room, the official explanation from Coach Mike Keenan was that Poulin had broken a skate.
When Poulin could not be found today, it was believed that he "must have left." Presumably, he had to buy new skates.
Following Tuesday's game, Keenan set an 11:15 deadline on locker room interviews, so that he could whisk his players away to a team meeting and dinner. He said today that such a practice was important to get "the players to eat properly, because there are so many unmarried men on our hockey club. When you're 21 years old, it's easier to go to a fast-food place than to cook something."
Obviously, this is not the way Pete Rozelle or Peter Ueberroth would permit matters to be handled during Super Bowl week or the World Series. No one can really blame NHL President John Ziegler, because he isn't here and the Flyers are left to do as they please.
No one is more aware of that than the Oilers. Although the principal credit for stopping Gretzky and his mates went to center Ron Sutter -- the No. 1 star -- enough spilled over to enhance the reputations of wingers Derrick Smith and Rick Tocchet, and defensemen Mark Howe and Brad Marsh.
"Everyone was working together to shut down their lanes and keep the gap close between their forwards and defensemen," Sutter said. "You have to disrupt them as much as possible . . .
"No one player can stop Gretzky. Whoever is closest to him has to pick him up. Sometimes I do it, but if I get caught deep, the wingers or the defense have to be there. One breakdown, even a small one, and they're on the board."
Although Keenan has declined to discuss tactics, Smith indicated that the game plan was to direct Gretzky and the rest of the Oilers wide, forcing them to take low-percentage shots.
It is important for the Flyers -- 40-5-4 at the Spectrum this season -- to win Thursday's second game of the best-of-seven series and maintain the home-ice advantage. Obviously, it will be difficult for them in Edmonton, where the Oilers have won 13 straight playoff games and where the right of last change of lines will enable Coach Glen Sather to keep Gretzky and friends away from Sutter, Tocchet and Smith.
"I'm sure they'll play better tomorrow," Howe said. "We'll have to be better, too. But we did play awfully well last night. We're a mucking, grinding team and we throw the puck in and try to hound you to death. We counterattacked very well, forcing mistakes and turning the play around very quickly.
"We've had a good year to get this far. Now, we're thinking of getting farther."