"If we don't wrap it up tomorrow night, I'm playing Sunday," said Tocchet, who is supposed to be out another week with a shoulder separation. ''I've got all summer to heal."
Can you believe it has come to this? We write the truth here at the Daily News, as implausible as it might sometimes seem. And we stand, taller than Quebec goalie Mario Gosselin stood against a third-period Flyers onslaught last night, behind these facts:
* The 4-4 tie with the Nordiques at the Spectrum left the Flyers still needing a point to clinch. They can get it in Quebec City tomorrow night or Sunday night here against Washington.
Or they can get it if the Rangers tie or lose either tonight in Winnipeg or Sunday night at Madison Square Garden against these same Nordiques.
Or the Flyers can get it if the Devils lose to either the Islanders at the Meadowlands tomorrow or at Chicago Sunday.
The Rangers have to win both and the Flyers lose both in order for New York to beat out the Flyers. If the Rangers do that and grab one of the two remaining Patrick Division playoff spots, the Devils still could claim the other if they win both their games and the Flyers lose both of theirs.
It would take a Rube Goldberg contraption working flawlessly to send the Flyers through the trapdoor. The combination still seems far-fetched. But it is considerably shorter than it was on March 2, when this was so impossible it never occured to anyone. The injuries started hitting and the Flyers started into their 3-11-1 spiral. And the simple act of making the playoffs turned into a death struggle.
This is not simple anymore. Not the way the Devils refuse to lose, not the way the Rangers' survival instincts surface at this time of year. And not the way the Flyers came out for last night's game looking decidedly tight and anxious.
They got over it in time to save a point. For a period and a half, Dave Poulin was just about their only player who seemed challenged, not frightened, by how important this game had become. But he was enough to get the Flyers a 1-0 lead on a breakaway, and then rally them to within 3-2.
After Poulin had soloed a good portion of the ice for a second goal, the Flyers all slapped themselves in the face. Murray Craven tied it after Pelle Eklund chased down an Ilkka Sinisalo rebound and hit Craven in the slot. And the Flyers, with more of their best players in the lineup than at any time all year, began to play like injuries have left them unable to for almost 15 months.
They fell behind again when Michel Goulet got free up the slot to beat Ron Hextall for a four-on-three goal, but the Flyers kept coming. With three strong lines, and the threat that Tim Kerr could pop one, they continually pinned the Nordiques back in their own end.
The Flyers got the tie when Nordiques defenseman Steve Finn got an extra two minutes for a scuffle with Scott Mellanby. With a power play that lacked rotation standing and waiting to fail again, Willie Huber, back in the lineup after seven games, gave the Flyers what they haven't had in years: a booming point shot that flat-out beat Gosselin to the stick side at 9:15 of the third period.
But one goal and one point were all the Flyers got. Huber played well. Doug Crossman had some life. Hextall, who has looked sharper, was at least back in the nets. And the Flyers' forwards, three lines strong, finally were pushing the opposition up against the glass again.
It would have done a fellow's heart good, too, to see that his Flyers, even after all they've been through, still are capable of doing some damage in the playoffs. But, unfortunately, that heart is pounding through that poor fellow's chest in absolute terror.
What if they don't make it? What if the Flyers wake up on Wednesday finally healthy and ready to be themselves and no other team has to play them?
Some people, like Kerr and Hextall, were feeling their layoffs. Others were feeling the pressure. A calm Mike Keenan, the Flyers' coach, launched into his standard postgame spiel about not respecting a still-dangerous opponent and not being prepared to play from the opening faceoff. But he conceded that nerves might have been a factor in the Flyers' failure to drive up the tempo early enough to make the Nordiques, who had nothing to play for but pride,
"I'd like to believe that (nervousness) wasn't the case," Keenan said. ''These players have responded so well in so many pressured situations."
But they never have been in this one. They never could have dreamed of being in this one. There is no fear like a we-might-not-make-the-playoffs kind of fear.
Unless they get some help from the Jets tonight - and if you saw them at the Spectrum last Saturday night, you know not to get your hopes up - the Flyers now have to break an eight-game road losing streak tomorrow night to avoid a terrifying last call.
"There's no doubt we're a little bit nervous," Craven said. "We've been through pressure situations, but you're right, maybe this is different."
It was a tough spot for Hextall, who was playing for the first time since suffering a shoulder separation 12 days before. He was beaten on the short side by Lane Lambert on the goal that gave Quebec a 3-1 lead. And as open as Goulet was left coming in from the left point for his second goal, the shot
went between Hextall's legs in a situation in which the goalie didn't have to open up.
Hextall had to keep his concentration while the Flyers busied themselves in the other end for the entire third period, but he came through big in the overtime on good chances by Finn and Goulet.
And if this was November, or February, or even last week, this could have been characterized as one of those promising, but not-quite-there-yet games a team plays when it starts to come out of a slump.
But there is not enough time left for nature, and talent, to take its course. The Flyers have to squeeze the two opportunities that are left so hard that breaks can't take a playoff spot away from them.
As reassuring as was the Flyers' dominance in the second half of the game, the failed chances once they got it tied were equally as unnerving. Poulin missed an empty net. Gosselin made a strong blocker save on a labeled Brian Propp shot and then got his leg out on a Mellanby tip of a Derrick Smith setup off a steal. All three close calls could have ended the torture. All have great potential as omens of The Year The Flyers Didn't Make The Playoffs.
"It has been a pressure-packed month," Keenan said. "It has been difficult to put all those injuries aside and come up with a fresh outlook. It puts added responsibility on player after player.
"This team has been through a lot. Maybe if they get the monkey off their back, they'll respond differently.
"I really don't know. It's a mature group, it's common for them to put on a facade in front of the coach. So I'm not really sure of the way they're feeling."
This joke has gotten so elaborate that, on April 1, even the coach has been fooled. The standings won't go for any of it, though.
The "Pts." column can tell a good joke or two in October. After 80 games, it has no sense of humor.