NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- There is a certain symmetry about the numbers on their backs: 99 for Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, and 88 for Eric Lindros, the Next One. There is a certain symmetry in their numbers on their score sheets: three goals for Gretzky in Game 2, and three goals for Lindros in Game 3.
Lindros' hat trick paced the Philadelphia Flyers to a 6-3 victory over the Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden. The result gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals, which resume on Friday in the Garden.
Gretzky also did his part last night. He scored a goal to tie the game at 3-3 at 14: 21 of the third period. He also assisted on one of two goals by Russ Courtnall. But just 38 seconds after Gretzky tied the score, Trent Klatt put Philadelphia ahead to stay.
"It was a bit of a yo-yo-style game," Lindros said, referring to the two leads the Flyers squandered. "I don't think anyone felt too much in control."
The loss could suggest a change of fortune for an overachieving New York team that finished only four games above .500 in the regular season, but opened the playoffs with nine victories in its first 12 games.
In the first two rounds, against the Florida Panthers and the Devils, the Rangers lost the opening game on the road before sweeping the next four. Now, they must try to come from behind again against a bigger, younger, healthier opponent that finished 17 points better in the regular season.
The winner of this series will play either the Detroit Red Wings or the Colorado Avalanche.
Already having lost three checking forwards with injuries in this tournament, the Rangers played last night without a regular defenseman, Aleksandr Karpovtsev, who left the team to travel to Russia after learning of the death of his mother.
Brian Leetch, who sustained what the Rangers called a right-wrist injury in Game 2, played a full complement of minutes and skated well.
But coach Colin Campbell admitted that Leetch -- with only two shots on goal -- was not at full strength.
"That's not Brian Leetch tonight," Campbell said. "We expect more improvement" in Game 4.
Flyers goalie Ron Hextall, asked when he felt comfortable with the lead, replied, "When the buzzer went off."
Philadelphia 2 0 4 -- 6
' N.Y. Rangers 0 0 3 -- 3
Pub Date: 5/21/97