PHILADELPHIA — Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers finally got going against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night in the second game of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup championship series.
Gretzky, who didn't even have a shot or an assist during a 4-1 loss in the opening game of the series Tuesday night, scored the first goal of the game this time, and the Oilers went on to win, 3-1, before a sellout crowd of 17,191 at the Spectrum.
"I was really bothered by some things that were written about us in the papers here after the first game," Gretzky said. "I don't mind constructive criticism, but people were writing things they know nothing about. Someone wrote that we don't have any heart."
Edmonton Coach Glen Sather said: "Wayne looked like he was prepared to play. I think he felt he let the team down the other night when he didn't play well. But I've never seen him play two games back-to-back poorly."
So the series, tied at 1-1, moves to Edmonton this weekend, with the third game Saturday night at the Northlands Coliseum.
Thursday night marked the first time that the Oilers, the defending Stanley Cup champions, had beaten Philadelphia since Nov. 13, 1982, having gone 0-8-1 in that span.
The Oilers, who were outhit by the more physical Flyers in the first game of the series, beat the Flyers at their own game this time. The Oilers checked hard and often from the opening face-off.
They also took a big gamble, inserting rookie left wing Esa Tikkanen onto Gretzky's line in place of Mike Krushelnyski.
It was the first game that Tikkanen has played in the NHL. The 19-year-old forward from Finland was signed to a contract Monday after he was named the Most Valuable Player of the World Junior hockey championships at Helsinki last month.
"I had never seen him play except in practice," Sather said. "But I pay our scouts a lot of money, and they told me he could play. We needed a lift. I've never seen us so flat. They looked like they were in a morgue on Wednesday morning. I was very pleased with the way he played."
Gretzky said: "It's hard to adjust to playing with Esa. But he played a good game. It's tough to be a 19-year-old playing your first game in the Stanley Cup finals."
Tikkanen speaks English, but Edmonton officials wouldn't let him speak to the media.
Asked why the newcomer was off-limits, Oiler publicist Bill Tuelle said: "He's spinning like a top."
The Flyers had done a near-perfect job of stopping Gretzky in the first game, using center Ron Sutter to check him.
But this time, Gretzky scored on his first shot of the game, at 10:29 of the opening period, after defenseman Paul Coffey tried to feed him a pass. The Flyer goalie, Pelle Lindbergh, knocked Coffey's centering pass away, but the puck came out to the left side of the net. Gretzky skated over and tapped in the loose puck off the skate of Flyer defenseman Mark Howe.
"It was a strange goal," said Lindbergh, who faced a total of 30 shots to only 18 for the Oilers' Grant Fuhr. "I made the first save, but the puck hit my skate and then Mark's (Howe) and went right off Gretzky's stick.
"We weren't the same. We didn't play with the same aggressiveness."
While Gretzky was the focus of attention in breaking out of his semi-slump, the decisive goal was scored by one of the Oiler role players, Willy Lindstrom.
The score was tied at 1-1 after Flyer right wing Tim Kerr scored off a feed from center Dave Poulin at 10:22 of the second period. But left wing Lindstrom, at 34 one of the oldest players in hockey, broke the tie on a goal with 3:52 left in the period. It was his fourth goal of the playoffs and second of the series.
"I don't feel like a playoff hero," Lindstrom said. "Everyone worked hard. I play on the checking line, and they don't expect me to score many big goals."
Center Kevin McClelland set up the play on his first shift back in the game after being knocked cold earlier in the period. McClelland had taken an elbow to the head on a vicious but legal check by Flyer defenseman Ed Hospodar.
Once back, McClelland, on the play that turned the game around, stole the puck from Flyer defenseman Brad Marsh and passed to Krushelnyski, the left wing. Krushelnyski fed Lindstrom in the slot, and Lindstrom beat Lindbergh.