When the Stanley Cup finals resume in Boston Thursday night, the Edmonton Oilers will be trying to celebrate their first Cup triumph on the road. The possibility of a change in the usual setting, after four clinchers on home ice in the '80s, has not made a big impact on the Oilers.
They insist all they want to do is win -- period.
"We'll take it wherever we can," said steady defenseman Kevin Lowe, a Masterton Trophy finalist. "It would be a huge bonus if we could win in Game 5 and not have to come back. But winning on the road, just because we have not done it before, is not a priority."
Edmonton owns a 3-1 lead over the Bruins in the best-of-seven final series and if it can wrap up its fifth Cup in seven years Thursday it would set a few other noteworthy precedents.
If Edmonton wins, John Muckler will become the second rookie coach in 20 years to guide a Stanley Cup champion, Montreal's Jean Perron having taken the honor in 1986. But Muckler was behind the bench with Sather as co-coach in the other four and a lot of people felt he was making most of the on-ice decisions anyway.
The Oilers insist they have nothing to prove in the case of Gretzky, whom they claim to have forgotten since they swept his Los Angeles team in the Smythe Division final.
"Wayne Gretzky is no longer part of the Edmonton Oilers' image," Muckler said. "When we saw joy in Wayne's face last year, after the Kings beat us, that started the separation. We realized this was a business, not a friendship. We wanted to be the ones smiling after it was over.
"But there's never been any talk of winning to show we could do it without Wayne. There are a lot of great hockey players on this club and they just want to win -- period."
With a torn shoulder turning Fuhr into a spectator, Bill Ranford has stepped in to become the Oilers' big man in the net. If Ranford earns a victory Thursday, he will match Fuhr's 1988 Stanley Cup record of 16 in one playoff year. He is also the likely winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
"Billy has been just fabulous the entire playoffs," said defenseman Steve Smith. "Game in and game out, he's shown incredible confidence and been a real leader for us."
Ranford had another solid game Tuesday, as the Oilers put themselves in position for the clincher by breezing to a 5-1 victory here. In the four games thus far, Ranford has allowed only seven goals, while posting a .944 save percentage and a goals-against mark of 1.42.
But this has been a team effort for the Oilers and any of four other players would be just as good a Conn Smythe choice as Ranford.
Craig Simpson has the most playoff goals, 15, and Mark Messier has the most points, 30. Jari Kurri has eight points in the final series, one more than Boston has goals, and his plus-13 rating is a playoff high. Esa Tikkanen, besides hounding opposing stars to distraction, has recorded 13 playoff goals and has anchored a penalty-killing unit that has achieved 90.5 percent efficiency.
Kurri, Tikkanen, Simpson and Glenn Anderson have three goals each in the final series. So does Boston captain Ray Bourque, but the rest of the Bruins have totaled only four.
Cam Neely, who scored 55 in the regular season, has none, but at least he has four assists. Craig Janney, Bob Carpenter, Dave Christian and Brian Propp do not have a point.
"Our key players were outplayed by their key players," said Boston Coach Mike Milbury. That pretty much told the story of a one-sided fourth game that was no contest after Anderson scored on a power play at 2:13 of the first period.
Now the Bruins, owners of the best regular-season record, have their backs to the wall. Once again, those 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs come into prominence, because they are the only team to rebound from a 3-1 deficit in the final series to win the Cup, and all teams in Boston's position hope to become the second.
"During the year when we were desperate, we played some of our best hockey," said John Carter, who scored Boston's only goal Tuesday. "I'm very confident we'll come back here for Game 6."
The team that has scored first has won each game of this series and if Boston can get a repeat of John Byce's 10-second blockbuster in Game 3, it has a chance to keep the series going. Realistically, though, the Oilers have too much speed and skill for a Boston team whose stars seem worn down.
Bourque was minus-three Tuesday, making costly mistakes that led to two Edmonton goals. Neely seemed more interested in sparring with Messier than anything else. Janney did not put a shot on goal and wound up on the bench early in the third period, after he was set up by Greg Hawgood, missed on an open shot and fell.
"They've got so many guns over there it's ridiculous," Janney said. "They could score 10 goals in a period if you let them."
The Bruins seem unlikely to total 10 goals in this series.