EDMONTON, ALBERTA, MAY 30 -- It is a hockey fan's dream come true. For the first time in 16 years, the Stanley Cup will be decided in a seventh game when the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers meet here Sunday night.

Not since the Montreal Canadiens rallied to a 3-2 victory in the final game in Chicago in 1971 has the Cup final reached the stage where neither team has reason to hold anything back for the next game.

Not that the Flyers or Oilers have held much back in this series. It has been a relentless, highly physical battle in virtually every game between the two best teams in the National Hockey League.

If the Oilers returned here from Philadelphia somewhat shaken, that is understandable. They held a 3-1 lead in the series and built 2-0 advantages in both the fifth and sixth games, only to be overhauled by the tireless Flyers.

Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who dropped the first three games to Detroit then won four straight, ever have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a final series.

Sunday the Flyers will be participating in a record 26th playoff game, as well as their 116th game overall since exhibitions began in mid-September. Today's finale marks the latest finish ever for what once was considered a winter sport.

The lure of Lord Stanley's mug, which cost about $50 in 1892, transcends both the current value of the silver plate and the dollar payoff that accompanies its presentation.

The morning of the sixth game in Philadelphia, Coach Mike Keenan carried the Cup into the Flyers' locker room.

"They've been working toward this goal for three years and it's always nice to have that focus in front of you," Keenan said. "They have earned the right to at least visualize that goal."

Edmonton's Mark Messier, when he learned of the Flyers' morning cuppa, was more direct, saying, "I hope they took enough time to read all our names on it."

The Oilers captured the Cup in 1984 and 1985. The Flyers last won it in 1975.

Incredibly, and a direct result of the absence of network television, the Cup payoff is a mere $25,000 to each winning player, $18,000 to each loser, based on 21 shares.

For the Flyers, that means less than $1,000 per playoff game, even should they win, although the club no doubt would sweeten the pot.

The Oilers earned home ice by posting a league-high 106 points during the regular season, but the locale no longer represents a key factor, as it once did in Stanley Cup play. During the Flyers' Cup-winning years of 1974 and 1975, they were 17-1 at the Spectrum. This season they are 7-6.

When the Oilers captured the Cup in 1984 and 1985, they were 19-2 at Northlands Coliseum. This spring they are 8-3. The Flyers' victory Tuesday was their first here in nine games.

Over the entire playoffs, visiting teams have won 46 times, the home clubs only 40.

Nevertheless, Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky said, "We played 80 games to get the home-ice advantage. We've got it and we'd better put it to good use Sunday."

The pattern of the series, with the Oilers scoring first in each game and losing three of the last four after building at least 2-0 leads, has baffled players on both teams.

"We don't want to get in that kind of situation again," said Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall. "We've gotten some breaks and we've come back, but we don't want to dig ourselves another hole."

"We just have to go on, forget the other games and think about Game 7," said Edmonton's Dave Hunter. "We played well, but they took advantage of their opportunities and were able to put it away. This time we have to take advantage and put it away."

Both cities have parades tentatively planned for Monday. It will be the third try for Edmonton, whose celebration scheduled for Thursday helped give the Flyers a motivational lift in Tuesday's game here.

"It should be a great game Sunday; I just hope that this time the mayor has enough sense to keep his mouth shut," said Edmonton Coach Glen Sather.

Sather also had some comments about the officiating, which he feels has contributed to the Oilers' defeats in the last two games.

"I just hope the referee and linesmen don't decide the seventh game," Sather said. "I hope there isn't one crucial call that decides the hockey game. It will be an awful crime if it does."

Sunday's referee will be Andy Van Hellemond, generally regarded as the NHL's best. It cannot totally be ascribed to coincidence that the Oilers won the other two games that Van Hellemond officiated in this series. He is more likely to transform a foul into a penalty than his colleagues, who frequently have permitted the abrasive Flyers more leeway.

The Flyers actually have enjoyed more power-play opportunities (23) than the Oilers (21), who have been caught in some red-handed retaliation.

"We don't want to retaliate, but it's hard not to with some of the things that are going on out there," Gretzky said. "I don't blame any player for punching back when he gets a head butt {Flyer Brad McCrimmon got away with butting Glenn Anderson in Game 6}. There's no room for that in hockey."

Sunday the debate will end and the Stanley Cup champion will be crowned -- no ifs, ands or -- one would hope -- butts.