PHILADELPHIA — Wayne Gretzky has been criticized from the moment he skated in his first National Hockey League game. He doesn't like it, but he's used to it.
The current line of fire is to attack his toughness, or what is perceived as his lack of it. Gretzky's stance as an outspoken opponent of fighting in hockey has naturally made him a target for cheapshots, both physical and verbal.
Philadelphia Coach Mike Keenan used part of his postgame press conference Wednesday night to chastise Gretzky. The topic: using dramatics to draw a penalty.
"I had a verbal exchange with Gretzky," Keenan said after the Flyers' 3-2 overtime loss to the Oilers.
"I thought the best player in the world should earn his advantages, instead of taking a dive and looking for a penalty. He embarrassed Andy (VanHellemond, the referee) on that one. He took a dive, he's done it before.
"You would expect more from the best player in the world than to look for the referee for chances like that. The best player in the game can't demonstrate poor sportsmanship by taking dives like that. Obviously, he carries the highest status in the game. He doesn't need the help."
Keenan said he wasn't sure if Gretzky had heard any of his lecture, delivered from behind the Flyer bench during the game.
Meanwhile, in the Oiler dressing room, Gretzky was puzzled by Keenan's accusations.
"I don't know what he's talking about," Gretzky said. "I don't remember anything like that. I'll have to look at the films."
But Thursday morning, while waiting for the team's flight here, Gretzky was irked that Keenan would say he took dives.
"What does he expect a 160-pound guy to do when he's pulled down?" he said.
After dismissing the home ice as not a factor in the finals, both coaches now say the Flyers should gain an advantage as the series shifts to the Spectrum tonight for the first of two games.
"We're going to have to be homers now," Keenan said. "A couple of days of rest may help the injuries we have. The home-ice advantage will give us the matchups we are looking for."
Keenan refused to discuss matchups in Edmonton. At one press conference, where both teams were present, Keenan was asked to describe the Flyer lines he would put on the ice against certain Oiler lines.
Keenan glanced down the table at Edmonton Coach Glen Sather, and then reached into his jacket pocket. "Yes, luckily, I just happen to have my plays diagrammed right here. Don't tell them, I'll just leave it here on the table."
The Flyers accomplished most of what they set out to do in Game 2, forecheck and clog the Oilers' skating lanes.
They took a 2-1 lead into the third period but changed their style to protect the lead.
"You have to continue to play the same way you have," Brian Propp of Philadelphia said. "We played two periods of good, strong hockey. In the third period, we did lay back a little bit and let them come at us a little bit more. You can't afford to do this against team like this. Hopefully, we will learn from that."
ea Stanley Cup Notes Only three teams in history have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the Stanley Cup. . . . The Oilers have won their last five overtime games, and Glenn Anderson has scored the winning goal in three of them. Anderson's tying goal in the third period of Wednesday's game was typical of his goals. Anderson skated through three defensemen, faked one way, went the other, and while off balance on one skate, beat Flyer goaltender Ron Hextall. Said Wayne Gretzky: "He's just one of those guys who is an underrated superstar, a great athlete, a super team player."