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The Archive: A bogus offsides call, a lost Cup

However red were the eyes Chico Resch stared into as the procession of Flyers offered their hands, they did not belong to losers.

Maybe the league lost for having its 1980 championship decided on an offsides goal during its title game, or by having an owner demean it and himself with accusations of officials favoritism in his anger at the outcome.

Leon Stickle , a good linesman who missed an obvious call, lost too, because he has to live with his mistake. But the Flyers didn't lose.

When two good teams exhaust themselves reaching for the ultimate of their profession, the event transcends winners and losers. More than a score, and a championship remains when a season ends.

"I hated those guys," said Chico, "and at a time like that you almost feel badly for wanting to beat them so much. I looked at them and you almost forget it was us or them. And I felt terrible. They wanted this so much.

"I looked at Pete Peeters and he was ready to cry. I could have told him I knew how he felt, I went through it when Toronto beat us in seventh-game overtime (in 1978) but I don't think he would have heard me. The poor kid will second-guess himself: 'should I have had the third goal? of 'if I just would have . . . on the fourth one.' And it's wrong because you look at the quality of shots, throughout the series, it really wasn't that close.

"And Clarke, the class that guy has. He probably deserved this one more than the two he has, at least that's the way I feel. He's cut out all that dirty stuff from his game and the skill level is still as great as it ever was. I can't hate him any more.

"It's just a shame, that missed offsides call. It seems like it always goes against the team that needs the break, too. One year in the semifinals against Montreal, Murray Wilson scored a goal which should have been disallowed against us and we were angry, too. It takes nothing away from us winning, but it does diminish the event itself. Know what I mean?

"HEY, WE DESERVED it because we were better. There are very few years when the best team doesn't win, and I think we were this year. But they showed just as much, if not more, character than we did. I can't see them as losers."

Those few Flyers who appeared to talk to reporters after Bob Nystrom's overtime goal gave the Islanders the Stanley Cup last Saturday seemed to understand that. "I'm proud of each and every guy on this team," said Bill Barber. "We didn't win today, but we're still winners."

They came within one goal, and maybe one official's error, of writing one of the great chapters of Stanley Cup history, but although they never got to the seventh game at the Spectrum they felt would have been theirs, the Flyers still increased the value of the hunk of metal the Islanders were slobbering over. It will be that much more worth winning for them next year, and for everyone in the years beyond, because of the Flyers' fight for it this time.

IT IS NEVER EASY to come this close and be outscored, but the Flyers' ashes are combustible. One of the many ironies of the 1980 Stanley Cup finals was that it took the Flyers' ultimate defeat to convince the last doubters just how good they really are.

"Until the finals I'd only seen the Flyers play six times this year," said Gary Dornhoefer, now a color commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, "They won only one of them. It's not that I doubted, it's just that I hadn't seen it. But I have now. The way they fought back made me proud I was once a part of that outfit."

The best perspective of all, however, might have belonged to Resch, who was seated right on the Islanders' bench, yet divorced from his partisanship by his non-playing role.

The second goal was cheap, but the Islanders' victory, produced by 14 power-play goals and an edge in depth that became more apparent as the series went along, was not.

"WHAT DROVE US ON," said Mike Bossy, "was the fear of losing. We didn't have that last year. We just couldn't let that happen again."

In winning, the Islanders had to live down their soiled reputations, too, but character is a term too often loosely defined by who gets the overtime break.

"When you win you have the same reason why as you did for when you were losing," said Chico. "I'm going to say right now the reason why we finally won was because we never had more talent, never had more experience.

"All the other crap is just something to talk about. We couldn't have been more afraid this year - going out for the overtime we knew we had to win today - than we were going out for the third period of the last game against the Rangers last year.

"We just had that much more talent to back it up. Last year we didn't. The best teams win, unless maybe the mix isn't quite right, but we were just deeper and better balanced.

"There was the same pressure, the same fear of choking, the same anxiety. We were better because we were more talented, with guys like Butch Goring and Ken Morrow, and more experienced.

"I CRIED THE SAME way they did the years we lost, including in 1975 when we lost to the Flyers in the semifinals. We thought we could win, but they were better. We were dreaming.

"Pete Peeters is so young he doesn't know what he was up against. They could have won it, but look at the quality of shots. Eventually, the cream rises and they were just up against too much.

"The Flyers have a lot going for them, but not more talent this time. In some ways, maybe they didn't feel the same pressures we did, so they may have even been a little better prepared. But I just don't see a weakness on this team, and I think they had a few which we exploited. This is the best team we had here. It was only appropriate that we finally won."

Still, there are nagging regrets. There will only be so many years Montreal won't win the Stanley Cup and this was one opportunity to seize. The Islanders, in their final, Stanley Cup form, are young enough to have several championships still in front of them and there is a limit to how many years Bobby Clarke has left. With just one more break, the Flyers would have been home for Game 7 and that is plenty of reason for a few tears.

BUT NOT FOR ANY finger-pointing or recriminations. The Flyers will be in it again next year, probably strengthened at a few positions, hopefully a little healthier when it is all on the line. And no less determined to see their third championship through.

"They were so tough," said Lou Nanne, the Minnesota general manager. "And had so much character. Clarke is a once-in-a-century player. They bring these kids in and he just puts them in his mold.

"It just makes me sick thinking that we'll have to beat one of these two teams to win a Stanley Cup. Seeing the way they played today, it just doesn't seem possible."