With the Stanley Cup out there for the taking, Philadelphia Flyer Coach Mike Keenan has been spending more time talking about his players who are injured than about the ones who aren't.
The Flyers have been hit hard by injuries this season, and the playoffs have provided no relief.
Team captain Dave Poulin, who wears a flak jacket to protect broken ribs, returned to play in the finals series opener Sunday night, for only his second game in the Flyers' last 13, as Edmonton beat Philadelphia, 4-2.
With Game 2 coming up tonight, the Flyers' leading scorer, Tim Kerr, is out with a shoulder injury; left winger Murray Craven broke a bone in his left foot and has missed the last 13 games, and defenseman J.J. Daigneault has missed 14 games with a sprained left ankle.
While Keenan was busy updating reporters on those injuries, his star defenseman, Mark Howe, was nursing a swollen left knee and a bruised leg. Howe said that he injured his leg skating the first shift of Game 1, and that as he left the ice, it began cramping.
Howe did not skate in practice Monday or Tuesday. He said he was '90%,' however, and Keenan said Tuesday that the defenseman would play tonight.
Sunday night's opener was also the first sellout in the Northlands Coliseum in nine postseason games.
For all the passion that hockey generates in Canada, there is little sense of excitement here. Oiler fans are famed for their indifference and silence during games. Even so, more excitement was expected from them when Edmonton made the final series.
The fans' casual acceptance of the start of the Stanley Cup series Sunday night prompted some observers to refer to the arena as the Northlands Mausoleum.
"They are spoiled, that's the problem," Terry Jones, a columnist for the Edmonton Sun said of the city's sports fans. "They are used to winners here--with the Eskimos (six times the champions of the Canadian Football League) and the Oilers."
Even promotional gimmicks have failed to catch on. The team handed out plastic hands that make a clapping sound when they are waved. "They all used them the first game (of the playoffs) and it sounded like hail falling on a tin roof," Jones said. "The second game, fewer people brought them; then, after that, everyone threw them away."
Sunday night, the fans entering the Coliseum were given orange scarfs to wear in support of the Oilers. When Edmonton could manage only a 1-1 tie at the start of the third period, the fans soon turned the scarfs into missiles. After the game, the floor of the arena was strewn with orange scarfs.
"Do you know what it is? These fans are so critical, so demanding," Jones said. "What we have here is 17,000 sportswriters."
A sobering thought.
Game 7 was scheduled for May 30 in Edmonton. Then someone noticed that the Shrine Circus was going to be in town that day, at the same facility.
The National Hockey League moved the game to May 31, barring any other conflicts.
Neither team has been impressive on the power play. The Oilers have had 13 power-play goals in 69 opportunities, and the Flyers are nearly as bad with 13 of 68.
The lack of production on the power play concerns Oiler Coach Glen Sather.
"It's pretty anemic," Sather said. "If we can get it rolling, if we can score 50, 40, 30% in this one, well, we're going to get five or six power-play opportunities in a game."
Stanley Cup Notes Oiler goaltender Grant Fuhr, who has been relaxing between games by playing golf, was kept from his second-favorite sport by a blizzard that blanketed Edmonton Tuesday. Teammate Wayne Gretzky said he thought Fuhr was "probably playing miniature golf at the mall." . . . Doug Jarvis of the Hartford Whalers has been awarded the Masterton Trophy, given for sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Jarvis has played in 962 consecutive NHL games. . . . Game 1, for all the buildup about physical hockey, was a tame affair. There were only 20 minutes in penalties, with the Flyers assessed four penalties and the Oilers three. The average number of penalty minutes a game in the playoffs this season is 55.
Gretzky has his lighter moments. At the end of warmups before Sunday night's game, Gretzky playfully skated to the center line and fired a puck at the Philadelphia goal. There were no Flyers on the ice at the time, but since last week's pregame brawl in Montreal, such innocent fun may be interpreted as grounds for a pounding. Gretzky missed the net. . . . Because of a Canadian national holiday, Victoria Day, neither Edmonton paper published on Monday. Readers wanting information on the Stanley Cup had to read the Toronto papers.