PHILADELPHIA — When the Edmonton Oilers took a 3-1 lead early in the second period of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night at Edmonton, the Philadelphia Flyers could have figured it was all over.
The Flyers, after all, had seen the cases of champagne being wheeled into the Oiler locker room before the game. They had read about the parades and celebrations planned for when the Oilers won Tuesday night's game and, with it, the Cup.
Oiler management had distributed 1,500 rolls of crepe paper to fans at the Northlands Coliseum, saying the streamers were to be used for the end-of-game celebrations.
But the Flyers didn't figure anything was over, and all the elaborate preparations backfired for Edmonton when Philadelphia bounced back for a 4-3 victory. Philadelphia doesn't appreciate being counted out, which is why the teams will be playing Game 6 here tonight. Flyer Coach Mike Keenan said, though, that he had not used the Oilers' confidence as a motivational tool.
"I didn't speak about it," he said. "I don't need any sideshows to motivate my team. There was a lot of talk about the parade and the other extracurricular activities. I'm sure the players didn't verbalize it, but they probably felt it and were happy with the results tonight."
Keenan did, however, bring the Stanley Cup, which has been traveling with the teams in this series, into the Flyer dressing room before the game.
Each player had a chance to examine the Cup. Perhaps the thought that the Oilers were already seeing their names on the trophy was enough motivation for the Flyers.
The line of Brian Propp, Pelle Eklund, and Rick Tocchet had 10 of the Flyers' 11 points in Game 5. That one line should dominate the game is unusual, and that this particular line should dominate is highly unusual.
Propp, Eklund and Tocchet were together as a line in training camp, then played with other lines during the regular season. They were reunited for Philadelphia's series against Montreal, then separated again.
They were together again in the first two games of this series but weren't producing.
Keenan said he had decided shortly before the game Tuesday night to put the players back together.
"We had to generate a little bit more offense than we have," he said. "When you look at our lineup and the number of injuries that we had to offensive players, it's a bit of a juggling act. I didn't start the game with them, but I moved them in together when we went down a couple of goals."
Eklund, Tocchet and Propp are an unlikely combination that produces a surprisingly harmonious meshing of personalities and styles. Eklund, a Swede, is the cool playmaker. Tocchet is more of an enforcer than a scorer. Propp, a fine shooter, has been labeled a choker in the playoffs.
Tocchet, who has twice led the Flyers in penalty minutes, said he was told by the Philadelphia coaching staff to avoid fighting.
Propp's four assists Tuesday night gave him 27 points in the Flyers' 24 playoff games. They also gave his reputation a boost.
"Brian Propp sort of got rapped for not doing well in the playoffs, and I've always thought that was a bad rap," Mark Howe, Philadelphia defenseman, said.
Added Keenan: "I think (Propp) has really developed himself into a fine athlete in terms of playoff-pressure performance and he's demonstrating that in this year particularly. It's a credit to his ability to overcome a lot of outside pressure and criticism about his play."
Stanley Cup Notes When asked how it felt to have as many goals in the playoffs, 11, as Edmonton's Mark Messier, Rick Tocchet shot back: "I wish I made his money." . . . Oiler defenseman Paul Coffey played Tuesday night's game suffering the effects of the flu. He went to the rink for practice Tuesday morning but left before it began.