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Postseason Is Hot Topic for Those Left Out

Washington Post

The early demise of highly regarded Washington and Edmonton, while sub-.500 St. Louis and Chicago fight for a berth in the Stanley Cup’s final four, is likely to stir up the annual cries to change the playoff format.

Actually, Wayne Gretzky fired the first salvo last week, when he complained about the fact that either Edmonton or Los Angeles, two of the NHL’s top seven teams, was certain to be eliminated in the first round.

Washington General Manager David Poile had a ready response to that: “Where was Wayne five years ago when the Washington Capitals (No. 5) and Philadelphia Flyers (No. 6) had to play in the first round?”

When asked this week if he wanted the format changed, Washington Coach Bryan Murray said, “I think this is the best way, with the good rivalries at playoff time. It’s good for business and it should be good for the players. The level of play swings over a five or six-year period. Five years ago, Edmonton was the only solid team in the Smythe Division and now they have three of the top teams in the league.”

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If the NHL had followed Gretzky’s idea of matching teams within eah conference on a 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 basis, Washington’s first-round opponent this season would have been--surprise!--Philadelphia.

Mike Gartner’s five weeks in Minnesota could have been better--a lot better. On March 20, Gartner was checked into the boards from behind during a game against Pittsburgh, losing a front tooth and needing five stitches to sew up the cut in his lip. During the North Stars’ five-game playoff loss to St. Louis, Gartner failed to score a point and was minus-four. Friday, for a not-so-grand finale, he had arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage from his knee. . . .

Saturday’s loss to Calgary ended the 14-year NHL career of Vancouver center Mel Bridgman. He will pursue a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. . . . Calgary General Manager Cliff Fletcher couldn’t bear to view that remarkable overtime live Saturday. Instead, he watched the television in the Flames’ locker room, then embraced his players as they arrived afterward.

Various incidents during last week’s playoff games make a strong case for giving the supervisor of officials at each series the right to overrule a referee who obviously has missed the play. For example, with Los Angeles and Edmonton tied, 3-3, in Game 7, the Kings’ John Tonelli lined a shot off the center post in the back of the goal, a fact that was clear on the replay. Neither the referee nor the goal judge (from Vancouver) saw it, so a crucial goal went uncounted. In such a case, the supervisor could do no more than tell the referee he had blown a call.

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The NHL’s penchant for saving a few dollars almost resulted in considerable embarrassment Saturday, when a goal judge from Edmonton did not turn on the red light for a goal by Calgary’s Gary Roberts that gave the Flames a 2-1 lead. Fortunately, referee Bill McCreary was able to make the proper call. The NHL brings in off-ice officials from nearby cities for playoff games; to avoid any possibility of conflict of interest, it ought to at least obtain goal judges from cities outside the division involved. . . . The Edmonton Oilers have been traveling on the cheap in recent years and that habit may have caught up with them during their losing series against Los Angeles. While the Oilers were spending off days on commercial flights, the Kings were chartering after games and shaking out the cobwebs with brief practice sessions the next day.

Pittsburgh is a playoff entry for the first time in seven seasons, a situation underlined by the fact that until this year the Penguins had faced only one Patrick Division opponent in the postseason, the New York Islanders in 1975 and 1982. . . . If Los Angeles’ acquisition of Gretzky was the deal of the year, its move in obtaining goalie Kelly Hrudey was a reasonable nominee for No. 2. Of Hrudey, 14-6-2 as a King, former Islanders teammate Denis Potvin said the other night, “Kelly doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. He’ll play till he drops.”


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