Lightning coach Terry Crisp deemed it "a war," but Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke saw Thursday night's Game 5 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series as something else.
To Clarke, this particular NHL battle between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia disintegrated into a show of hooliganism no honorable leader would orchestrate.
Specifically, Clarke suggested the Lightning coach _ and his former teammate _ ordered noted Lightning enforcer Rudy Poeschek to carry out a hit on Flyers superstar Eric Lindros.
"They didn't try to win," a Philadelphia Daily News columnist quoted Clarke as saying after the Flyers beat the Lightning 4-1 in an ugly Game 5 at theCoreStates Spectrum in Philadelphia. "They tried to bleep people up. And your coach is in charge of that. Crispy is in charge of that. He cannot look Lindros in the eye and tell him he didn't try to get him hurt.
"When a bleeping player like Poeschek swings with two hands at a bare hand of Lindros, then he's trying to hurt him. He's trying to break his hand."
Friday _ about 24 hours before this increasingly intense series resumes with tonight's Game 6 at the ThunderDome _ Crisp vehemently refuted that anything of the sort happened:
"I know Bobby Clarke, and we're friends," said Crisp, who fought on Clarke's side during many a battle as the Broad Street Bullies won two Cups in the mid-1970s. "We'll be long friends when hockey's over. All I can say is this: I've never sent a player out to hurt or injure anyone, ever. If that's not enough, then I can't say anything else."
But Crisp did say more on the subject, offering respect for Lindros and even the suggestion that he can understand where Clarke was coming from.
"I'm not going to get in a spitting fight, a name-throwing fight," said Crisp, who coached Lindros as an assistant on Canada's silver-medal-winning 1992 Olympic team. "All I know is this: I've never sent anyone after anyone, and that includes (Thursday) night's game.
"I can see how that is a natural reaction from Bobby Clarke, because (Lindros) is his man, his bread and butter. But I respect the game of hockey too much to ever do that. I have to live with myself after hockey and I respect Eric Lindros way too much to ever want anybody to ever hurt him or put him out of the game."
Poeschek admitted taking his shots at Lindros late in the game, but Crisp said he did not call for it: "When the game's out of reach, I don't condone that you go out and be stupid. If we lost the game, we lost, but let's do it with some class and effort. We have more games to go out and play."
At least one: Should Philadelphia win tonight, the series would be done; otherwise, it goes back to Philly for Game 7 on Monday. Still, when Saturday's game starts, Crisp does not want to see it deteriorate the way it did Thursday.
"It can be done," said Crisp, who met with his team Friday. "We've got to keep our cool, keep our composure and keep our discipline. We got where we are now by keeping our discipline for two months, and we can't afford to lose it now. We can still beat the Flyers _ but we're not doing it by losing our discipline and by going to war. That's the bottom line. That was our meeting."
Meanwhile, Lindros does not plan to back down. Tonight, he said Thursday, "we have to follow up (Game 5)."
Thursday's game was loaded with non-stop brutality, much ironically prompted by Lindros himself.
A condensed review: Lindros crunched Lightning defenseman Igor Ulanov, who has hit Lindros hard since Game 2 of the series, with a clean check on the boards. Lindros charged into the boards with the other Lightning defenseman giving him fits, Michel Petit, and broke and bloodied Petit's nose with the shaft of his stick. Poeschek clipped Dan Quinn with his stick, drawing bridge-of-the-nose blood. Lindros pounded Shawn Burr, who had knocked Lindros over the Flyers' bench in Game 4. Brian Bellows supposedly slashed Flyers defenseman Kevin Haller, breaking his right thumb. Bob Corkum bloodied the eyebrow of Bellows, using his stick. Aaron Gavey got his stick in the face of Lindros, bloodying his nose. Tampa Bay's Jason Wiemer popped Petr Svoboda with a punch, and Chris Gratton duked it out with Joel Otto. Shawn Antoski tried to jab Petit, who was in no condition to offer his already busted nose as a punching bag after returning, then turned to Ulanov and instead delivered a kick that cost him a game misconduct. and, finally, Poeschek introduced Lindros to the ice, then delivered a slash for good measure.
In all, 139 minutes were assessed (79 to Tampa Bay, 60 to Philadelphia) in a game where respected referee Bill McCreary clearly lost control after missing what apparently should have been a penalty of some sort on Lindros for clobbering Petit. The Flyers claim the hit was clean; the Lightning insists Lindros deliberately lifted his stick into Petit's face.
"When the hits present themselves, you have to take them," Lindros said, hinting of some what-goes-around-comes-around justice for Petit and Ulanov.
Flyers coach Terry Murray, for his part, said Game 5 was not pretty and the Flyers should share in the responsibility: "It wasn't just them. We had out share of things going on after the whistles were over, too."
"You know what all this tells me?" Crisp said. "It's a helluva series. We're fighting to be respectable, and obviously we're making a series out of it. If it was 4-0 (in games), nobody would care. But we're probably the most physical series of the playoffs.
"That's fine, but we can't get caught up in it and lose perspective on what we have to do to win."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Philadelphia Tampa Bay
161 Shots 122
20 Total goals 12
9 1st per. goals 1
6 2nd per. goals 5
5 3rd per. goals 4
0 OT goals 2
141 Penalty minutes 165
45 Number of penalties 59
9/40 PP goals / attempts 3/31
0 Short-handed goals 2
Hawerchuk Top scorer Cullen
2.32 Goals against av. 3.86