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Peter the Great
Michael Farber
May 04, 1998
As rumors of dissension and a possible coaching change swirled around the sputtering Avalanche, Colorado star Peter Forsberg seized control of the series against Edmonton
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May 04, 1998

Peter The Great

As rumors of dissension and a possible coaching change swirled around the sputtering Avalanche, Colorado star Peter Forsberg seized control of the series against Edmonton

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Roy was prescient. The posturing between the first two games was diverting but meaningless. The Avalanche sent videotapes to the league office of Guerin's high stick and Doug Weight's two-hander, which broke third-line winger René Corbet's thumb—any playoff game in super slo-mo looks like the Zapruder film—but the NHL declined to suspend anyone, in essence telling the teams to settle the business between themselves. Sather also weighed in with the boy-going-up-the-hill-to-cry-wolf remark, but before the Oilers chartered home 36 hours later, Forsberg had fashioned one of the most extraordinary playoff performances of the 1990s, on the embarrassingly slushy McNichols Arena ice.

The story was not simply the five points Forsberg scored but the artistry he displayed. He tallied one goal by weaving through two Edmonton defenders and beating goalie Curtis Joseph from a sharp angle, though that was merely his third-best play of the night. While killing a penalty after the Oilers had crept to within 2-1, Forsberg was cut off along the boards by a defenseman. Instead of dumping the puck aimlessly into the Edmonton zone, he flipped a long, blind, backhand pass onto the stick of Sakic, who scored Colorado's third goal. The pass was so accurate and well-timed that Lacroix speculated, incorrectly, that Forsberg must have seen Sakic's reflection in the glass. But the real eye candy came in the third period. With Bobby Dollas pressuring him behind the Oilers' net, Forsberg passed the puck to himself off the bottom of the cage with his forehand, then backhanded it through the skates of the suddenly ossified defenseman, picking it up and zipping it around the net for a scoring chance on which his team, alas, did not capitalize. "[Dollas] was coming so fast, I had to figure out some way to get out of it," Forsberg said. The play was the equivalent of Michael Jordan switching to the left hand and going under the hoop for a layup, something that can be justified on utilitarian grounds even though the whole world knows he did it just for the heck of it.

"That's Peter," Sakic said of Forsberg's performance following the slash in Game 1. "He's not going to complain. He's going to go out and run the guy the next time—or get five points, whichever comes first."

Edmonton knew it couldn't give Forsberg as much space in Game 3, which perhaps is why the visitor's bench at Edmonton Coliseum was bolted about 10 inches closer to the boards than usual, creating the same sort of cramped space that guests at McNichols must endure. The Avalanche training staff had to construct a riser for the coaches after the one behind the bench mysteriously disappeared, along with the rack that holds the players' water bottles. Even after the riser was built, what Crawford saw was maddening at times. Forsberg set up a goal on a first-period power play after drawing the penalty that gave Colorado the man advantage, but he lost his composure in overtime. After drawing an interference penalty, he reacted to a spear by Roman Hamrlik with a slash that felled the Oilers defenseman and best supporting actor. "Peter was stupid, no doubt," said Crawford later, "but Joey bailed him out." Sakic buried a 30-footer at 15:25 of overtime, rendering moot the lack of discipline shown by Forsberg and forward Tom Fitzgerald, who earlier had drawn an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for yapping at referee Bill McCreary.

Will the real Colorado team please stand up. The Avalanche has the best playoff goalie in Roy, the peskiest playoff pest in Claude Lemieux, the most dangerous rushing defenseman in Sandis Ozolinsh, the deadliest sniper in Sakic and, of course, Forsberg, but Colorado's breakdowns in defense and discipline, the exposed nerves, the soft goals, send a mixed message.

So go ahead, take one last look at Forsberg's cheek. Consider, before it fades, the inch-long cut that is his playoff badge. Right now, it is the only thing the Avalanche has sewn up.

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