Leafs, Flyers were fit to be tied; Pair of 3rd-period goals gives Toronto a 2-2 draw
Rick Matsumoto Toronto Star. Toronto Star. Toronto, Ont.: Nov 20, 1986.
John Brophy looked up and growled at his interrogator.
"We're not the same hockey club. Will you please write that down."
The Toronto Maple Leafs' coach was replying to a question about whether the team that wore the same blue-and-white jerseys last year would have come back from a 2-0 third-period deficit to tie the powerful Philadelphia Flyers.
Leafs 2, Flyers 2
That's just what the Leafs did last night, much to the delight of a capacity crowd of 16,382 at Maple Leaf Gardens.
And Brophy seemed to be getting a trifle annoyed with questions about the legitimacy of his first-place club.
Actually, despite gaining a well-earned point with the tie, Leafs lost ground in the Norris Division standings to the second-place St. Louis Blues, who beat Minnesota North Stars, 7-5. Leafs' lead over the Blues has been cut to two points.
For two periods it appeared as if the test against the Flyers, the over-all leaders of the National Hockey League race, had proven too tough for the Leafs. Despite their obvious improvement this season, they still seemed to be some distance from seriously threatening one of the league's top clubs.
They trailed 2-0 after managing just five shots on the Flyer goalie Ron Hextall in the second period and appeared ready for the slaughter.
Since Mike Keenan took over as coach two years ago, Flyers had won 94 of 101 games in which they had led going into the final 20 minutes of play. They seemed ready to make it 95 out of 102.
But, a Brophy tongue lashing between periods had the desired effect. Leafs came out skating, bumping and hitting and took the game away from the Flyers.
In a complete turnaround, Leafs outshot the Flyers 16-2 in the final period. And, had it not been for the splendid work of Hextall, Leafs might easily have come away with a victory.
Last goal: 18:35
"We weren't bumping. We weren't playing the physical type of game we need to play to be effective," said right winger Steve Thomas. "If you bump a team like that you get respect from them. In the second period we were lackadasical. When we gave up their second goal we started to bow our heads."
Flyers went ahead 1-0 just four minutes into the game when defenceman Al Iafrate lost the puck behind the Leaf net. Lindsay Carson slid the loose puck into the slot to Ron Sutter, who drove it past Leaf goalie Ken Wregget's left pad and the post.
Flyers took a 2-0 lead when Dave Brown scored just past the midway point of the second period. Iafrate had just returned from serving a minor penalty, but was unable to get into the play and prevent Brown from skating into the slot where he accepted a pass out from Murray Craven and quickly ripped a shot past Wregget.
It took Leafs only 58 seconds into the third period to respond to Brophy's scolding.
Tom Fergus clearly beat Peter Zezel in a faceoff to the left of Hextall. He slid the puck back to Thomas, who stepped into the circle and drove a hard slapshot under the goalie's catching glove.
Led by the inspirational play of Brad Smith, Leafs applied tremendous pressure after that and kept the play in the Philadelphia end of the rink.
Smith replaced Rick Vaive on the line with Fergus and Thomas and his helter-skelter play aroused both the Leafs and their fans.
"He's a whirling dervish out there," said Brophy of Smith. "He gets things mixed up. The other team's got to wonder where he's going to come from."
Vaive's only appearance in the third period was on a power play.
Later, neither Brophy or Vaive would discuss the benching.
"I had to go out and create opportunities for Steve and Fergie," said Smith. "We had to chip away at them. They're the best team in the league right now and that was a great point go get."
While the Leafs controlled the play it looked as if the Flyers would persevere behind Hextall's stalwart play.
However, with only a minute and 15 seconds remaining in regulation time, Leafs' got the tying goal.
Russ Courtnall gained control of the puck just inside the Flyers' blue line. Then, Courtnall spun around quickly and fired a shot along the ice towards the Flyer goal. Wendel Clark arrived in front of Hextall at the same moment as the puck and redirected it past the startled goaltender.
"That was a good one," said Brophy. "The big thing was we had the character and guts to come back. We had a super third period and we had the better chances, I thought, in the overtime."
Leafs wound up with a man advantage in the overtime session when Clark drew Flyers Rick Tocchet into a fight. Clark had flattened Mark Howe with a thundering bodycheck. That brought Tocchet roaring in to play the role of the Philly policeman. He and Clark battled away for several minutes with both heavyweights landing solid punches. In the end, however, Clark won the battle as he drew only a fighting major, while Tocchet received a two-minute instigator penalty as well as a major and a game misconduct.
"He's a good fighter," said Clark, praising Tocchet. "When it was over we asked each other if the other guy was cut. That was it."
Clark added that if need be the two would go at it again Saturday night when the two teams stage a rematch at the Spectrum.