The Philadelphia Flyers, having survived one do-or-die game in the world's most inhospitable rink, return to the friendly Spectrum tonight primed to eradicate the pesky New York Rangers (ESPN; WTOP-1500; 7:35 p.m.).
While the two teams settle the identity of Washington's opponent in the Patrick Division final opening Thursday, the St. Louis Blues visit Minnesota to determine the Norris Division finalist that will meet Toronto on Friday. The other six first-round series were decided in the minimum three games.
The Flyers' 7-1 victory Sunday in Madison Square Garden not only was a most convincing way to even the series at 2-2, but it destroyed Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck's aura of indestructibility. Until he allowed five goals in 25 minutes Sunday, Vanbiesbrouck had been sensational, stopping 103 of 109 Flyers shots.
"Vanbiesbrouck wasn't showing he was human for a long time," said the Flyers' Dave Poulin. "We've got to get some breaks to win a hockey game, and we finally got some bounces Sunday. That should help our confidence, and it might hurt his."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia goalie Bob Froese was restoring his image as the NHL's best goaltender statistically, making some big saves early and finishing with 31.
Asked whether he would start Vanbiesbrouck tonight, New York Coach Ted Sator said: "Absolutely. Without his play this year, we wouldn't even be in the playoffs. It's a one-game series now, and hopefully, since we're heading south, the next stop on the southern route would be Washington."
"We still have life, fortunately, and we're looking to go to Philly and put on a show," Vanbiesbrouck said. "It's going to be a battle."
Flyers Coach Mike Keenan gave Froese a pat on the ego, saying, "For the first 10 minutes in New York, Bob Froese was outstanding for us. He had to hold the fort in a tough game where they had a lot of momentum carrying over from Saturday [a 5-2 Rangers victory]. We think we can carry this into the next game. We've played very well in the Spectrum 33-6-1, the NHL's best regular-season home mark ."
This has not been a pleasant series. The Rangers have submitted to the NHL a videotape of what they say is the Flyers' Dave Brown knocking Vanbiesbrouck into the crossbar in Game 1. The Flyers have sent in a tape of what they say is the Rangers' Tomas Sandstrom kicking Brad Marsh in Game 3.
After Sunday's game was out of reach, there were numerous cheap shots designed, no doubt, for memory refreshment tonight. Since many of the jabs were directed at Sandstrom, Keenan speculated that "maybe it was retribution some of our players felt for what happened Saturday."
The Flyers' Rick Tocchet displayed a six-stitch cut along his left eyelid, inflicted Saturday by the Rangers' George McPhee, and said, "That's not the kind of thing you forget about, especially when the guy just stands there and laughs after he does it.
"The big thing is to win the series, though. We've gone through a lot in the last two years, a lot of good things and a lot of tragedy. We don't want to stop now. We didn't get 110 points for nothing. Now we're back home to do what we have to do."
If the Rangers were jolted by the one-sided loss Sunday, when they had a chance to close out the series on home ice, they were conceding nothing to the Flyers, despite the 32-point regular season differential.
"The pressure's still on them," said Don Maloney, one of many Rangers involved in incidents with Brown on Sunday. "If you asked me at the beginning of the series if we'd be playing in the fifth game, I'd have been a little skeptical. Now I'm happy that we're still playing and playing well."
Defenseman James Patrick said, "We didn't want to go back to Philly, but it's a one-game shot and anything can happen. We just have to look at the positive things. We've won in Philly and we have a hot goaltender."
Well, he was hot, anyway. While the Patrick series comes to a boil, the first sellout of the Blues-North Stars competition is expected in Bloomington, Minn.
The North Stars have come this far largely through the efforts of former Washington center Dennis Maruk. The two-time winner of the North Stars' community service award is doing the job on the ice as well and leads all playoff scorers with 11 points.
That is four points ahead of runners-up John Anderson of Hartford and Steve Thomas of Toronto, and five more than the perennial winner, Wayne Gretzky.
Maruk has four goals, good for a share of the lead in that department, and a plus-six rating, eclipsed only by the plus-eight of Toronto's Borje Salming.
Maruk has played most of the time with Brian Bellows, who also has four goals, and a bit with Kent Nilsson. He has been an integral part of the North Stars' power play, scoring once and assisting on the team's other three extra-man goals.