In Philadelphia, they scornfully called him "Wayne Who?" Wayne Gretzky got his revenge tonight, with a first-period hat trick that led the Edmonton Oilers to a 4-3 victory over the Flyers and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series.
Gretzky scored the first two goals of the game 15 seconds apart in registering the first three-goal game of the season by one player against the defensive-minded Flyers. Paul Coffey had four assists as he and Gretzky altered several Stanley Cup records.
Gretzky's 41 playoff points and 27 assists shattered two records he set in 1983. Coffey's 22 assists are a Stanley Cup mark for a defenseman, erasing Bobby Orr's 1972 record of 19.
The Flyers refused to sit back and admire the Oilers' feats, however. Down, 4-1, with 11 minutes remaining, they gave the sellout crowd of 17,498 a scare.
Mark Howe netted a rebound of a Rick Tocchet shot with 10:52 remaining. Then Brian Propp put a backhander off goalie Grant Fuhr's pad from a bad angle to the left of the goaltender with 5:34 left.
Philadelphia continued to press for the tying goal and with 14 seconds left Tocchet broke free down the slot and Murray Craven put the puck on his stick. Tocchet merely deflected it into Fuhr's pads, however, and when Gretzky controlled the faceoff, the Oilers had survived.
After 20 shots on goal in the first period, Edmonton was limited to six the rest of the way, just two in the final 20 minutes. The Oilers did have opportunities, although they often made one pass too many or shot wide.
"We started to retreat a little bit, which isn't in our game plan," said Edmonton Coach Glen Sather. "We overpassed the puck and got too cute around the net. You can't do that against Philly. They won't quit if they're behind 7-1."
Until the Flyers' gallant comeback, the night belonged to Gretzky. All of his goals came with both teams a man short, as he took advantage of the extra ice to break away from Philadelphia defenders.
"When it's five on five, they (the Flyers) play tremendous, disciplined hockey," Gretzky said. "They play really tight in their zone. But when it's four on four, we enjoy that open ice. I got a couple of open shots in front and I was fortunate that they went in."
Philadelphia Coach Mike Keenan was not happy with the repeated four on fours, as 15 minor penalties in the first period resulted in only 3 minutes 53 seconds of full-strength hockey.
Asked if he felt Edmonton was deliberately creating such situations by provoking penalties, Keenan said, "When a team has the four best players in the world and can get them out four on four, you can draw your own conclusion. It was very convenient for the number of calls tonight to set up four-on-four situations."
It was expected that play would open up here on the excellent ice surface of Northlands Coliseum, but nobody could have imagined the extent of the turnabout from the defensive struggles at the Spectrum.
Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh stopped a two-on-one break at the 10-second mark, at which time Philadelphia's Ron Sutter drew the game's first penalty. When Oiler Mark Napier joined him in the box 46 seconds later, it was time for offensive sparks.
Coffey missed a pass from Jari Kurri in the slot, but Gretzky raced in behind him and fired the puck past Lindbergh at 1:10.
Gretzky dumped the puck into the right wing corner off the faceoff and Coffey was first to get there. Gretzky broke for the net, took Coffey's pass and scored again at 1:25.
It was still four on four 16 seconds later when Coffey blocked a shot by Doug Crossman and Derrick Smith pounced on the puck to beat Fuhr and make it 2-1.
Gretzky went limping to the bench a few minutes later with a tightness in his thigh, but he was back to score at 13:32, cutting across in front to take Mark Messier's pass from the left point and beat the helpless Lindbergh. Late in the period, overlapping penalties to Ed Hospodar and Ron Sutter had Philadelphia facing a two-man shortage for 84 seconds. Keenan replaced Lindbergh with Bob Froese, who stopped all four Oiler shots.
Lindbergh was back in the nets at the start of the second period, but when Mike Krushelnyski deflected a Coffey drive past him at 6:58 to make it 4-1, Keenan again summoned Froese, who finished the game.
"I was trying to break up some of the momentum they had at those particular points in the game," Keenan said. "Bob Froese played extremely well. There's a possibility he could play Tuesday."
Lindbergh has started all 17 of the Flyers' playoff games.
The Flyers came up with another problem when right wing Tim Kerr reinjured his right knee and was removed by Keenan in the first period. His future is extremely doubtful.
Edmonton's Mark Napier saw limited duty after Hospodar rapped him in the mouth with his stick in the first period, breaking three of Napier's teeth. There was no penalty called by referee Bryan Lewis.
Of his minor injury, Gretzky said, "Ron Sutter took my body as I was spinning and caught my leg going the wrong way. It was a little tight at the top of my thigh, but I'm sure I'll be all right Tuesday (when the teams meet again in Game 4)."