Shortly before the All-Star break it was freely predicted that the Washington Capitals would challenge the Edmonton Oilers in the championship round of the Stanley Cup competition.
The Philadelphia Flyers were just about the only dissenters and they were protesting in a barely audible voice.
Now, the Flyers are ready to shout from the rooftops that they are a solid contender.
Another splendid goaltending performance by Pelle Lindbergh Sunday night at Philadelphia enabled the Flyers to beat Calgary, 4-1, for their seventh consecutive victory.
Lindbergh, given a cushion with first-period goals by Brian Propp and Ron Sutter, turned aside 31 shots by the Flames. He lost a shutout when Lanny McDonald scored near the middle of the second period.
Going into their game with the Capitals at Landover, Md., Feb. 9, the Flyers were in second place in the tough Patrick Division, 11 points behind the Capitals.
In that game, Tim Kerr scored four times, the Flyers eked out a 5-4 victory and they were on a streak. They have won all four games since the All-Star game and have pulled within two points of the Capitals. Moreover, the Capitals have played two more games than the Flyers.
"The victory tonight was just what we needed to send us out on the road," Coach Mike Keenan said. "We play our next five games on the road, then return home for the first of back-to-back games with the Capitals. By the night of March 8 we should know what our chances are of winning the division.
"Winning the division isn't a must, but it would give us an advantage in the playoffs. We are playing winning hockey and that's what's really important. Pelle just keeps playing better and better."
Lindbergh has been in the nets for six of the seven victories in the streak. His 28 victories leads all goalies in the league. With No. 2 goalie Bob Froese recovered from injuries, the Flyers appear set for the stretch drive.
Montreal 4, New York Islanders 3--The Canadiens spotted the Islanders a 2-0 lead at Montreal and had to fight back to eventually win on Bob Gainey's goal 44 seconds into overtime. It was Gainey's second goal of the game and 15th of the season.
Gainey's first goal in the second period cut the Islanders' lead to 3-2. With eight minutes left in regulation, Guy Carbonneau knocked in a rebound for the equalizer.
It was Carbonneau early in overtime who set up Gainey for a backhand drive for the winning goal.
The Islanders' first goal came on their first shot at goalie Doug Soetaert and was a short-handed goal by Paul Boutilier. Their last goal came on a shot that bounced off Pat LaFontaine's skate and he was credited for his 16th goal.
St. Louis 3, Hartford 2--Home is not sweet for the Whalers these days. Goals by Joe Mullen and Greg Paslawski in the third period brought the Blues from behind and extended the Whalers' home winless streak to 10 games (0-9-1).
The Whalers, who are 5-5-2 on the road since they last won a home game Jan. 5, outplayed the Blues through two periods and were hanging on to a 2-1 lead near the middle of the final period.
But Mullen got the puck in a scramble in front of the Hartford net and lifted it over sprawled goalie Steve Weeks.
A few minutes later Weeks stopped a shot by Bernie Federko, but the rebound went out to Paslawski and he knocked it into the net for the game-winner.
The Blues, 28-21-10, maintained their eight-point lead in the Norris Division.
Chicago 3, Detroit 2--Curt Fraser scored his 22nd goal of the season into an open net with 6:08 left in regulation at Chicago to propel the Black Hawks to victory.
Detroit goaltender Greg Stefan, who faced 45 shots, 21 of them in the last period, made a diving save of a shot by Troy Murray. The goalie was out of position when Fraser pounced on the rebound and shot it into the net.
The Black Hawks, improving their strong grip on second place in the Norris Division, welcomed back goaltender Murray Bannerman. Bannerman, out a week with a pulled stomach muscle, had 33 saves.
In the last two games against the Black Hawks, Stefan has faced 95 shots, stopping 88 of them. He has a tie and a loss to show for his efforts.