Despite Invitation, Neilson Stayed Upstairs

Posted: May 27, 2000

In the end, it was Roger Neilson's decision to stay put.

That's how Flyers interim coach Craig Ramsay described yesterday's news that his best friend had declined an invitation to join him behind the bench in Game 7, preferring to remain in the press box.

"We thought about it, we talked about it, and he felt he'd be more comfortable upstairs," Ramsay said at the Flyers' morning skate at the First Union Center.

The idea had been broached on Thursday. Neilson's doctors and Flyers management have not permitted him behind the bench since he returned to the team after treatment for bone-marrow cancer.

"Ramer and I discussed this in the morning and felt it was best to just leave things way they were," Neilson said. "We were going to do a lot of different things for this game, and I didn't want one more change. We thought one more change wasn't good."

Neilson said Flyers general manager Bob Clarke was not consulted.

"It had to be something that Ramer and I were comfortable with, and I felt I could do more from being up in the box."

Ramsay seemed very relaxed and at ease yesterday morning. Only a handful of players skated and, unlike other morning skates, this practice had players coming and going onto the ice in shifts.

Just as they did before Game 6 in New Jersey, the Devils had a full squad at the skate and went hard for nearly an hour, frequently regrouping with coach Larry Robinson to go over instructions. On the other hand, the Devils did not practice on Thursday while the Flyers did.

Ramsay said his club was "having fun," but the expressions on the Flyers' faces yesterday were more serious than in past days. No one seemed loose. Eric Lindros gave short answers to questions in a very low tone.

Ramsay tried to relax his team the last two days by telling the players what an honor it was to play in a seventh game of a conference championship.

"They're thrilled to be part of it," he said.

A moving performance. Instead of the National Anthem, Lauren Hart sang "God Bless America" live on last night's live broadcast.

"I had a barrage of so many people who wanted me to sing that song," she said. "The TV and radio, everyone wanted it, plus I felt it wold be a nice tradition to end the season while honoring my dad."

Hart's father Gene, the longtime voice of the Flyers, died of cancer last July.

She last sang "God Bless America" on Fan Appreciation Day last year.

"If ever there was a time I was going to do it, it was tonight," she said.

Line ups. Ramsay said prior to the game - and before Lindros' collision - he might mix up his lines and did not dismiss the possibility of Lindros' moving to the first line.

The Flyers have not made as many line adjustments as the Devils, although breaking up the Simon Gagne-Mark Recchi-LeClair line in Game 5 to accommodate the return of Daymond Langkow off the injured list was one of the pivotal moves in the series.

LeClair had been dominating Scott Stevens, but his success had not shown up on the scoreboard. The line regrouped in Game 6, but the magic suddenly vanished. LeClair went into last night's Game 7 with just two assists in the series.

"I have had some tough luck the last couple of games," LeClair said. "I had some chances to score, and I haven't. Hopefully, tonight can make a difference."

Asked whether he had given any thought to asking Ramsay to put Lindros back with him, LeClair said, "I think it would be great. Obviously, Eric and I have a real good chemistry together, and it could be beneficial. It could be real good for us."

LeClair said that he didn't ask Ramsay to reunite him with Lindros but that Ramsay would have been open to any suggestion. Lindros said the same thing.

Pep talk. Robinson didn't say much to his club, certainly nothing on the level of his tirade after Game 4 that awakened the Devils and got them back into the series.

"This game has to be the best game of their careers, of their lives," Robinson said. "Mistakes now can be critical."

Tim Panaccio's e-mail address is tpanaccio@phillynews.com

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