Center Ray Ferraro scored twice Sunday night at Hartford to lead the Whalers to a 5-2 victory over Detroit that lifted them into third place in the Adams Division.
The third consecutive victory gave the Whalers a 19-15-1 record. It is the first time since the Whalers joined the NHL for the 1979-80 season that they have been four games above .500.
There can be no doubt that in the third season under Jack Evans, the Whalers are the most improved team in the league. Last season when they won 30 games for the first time, the Whalers did not win their 19th game until Feb. 19, in their 57th game.
As it was, the Whalers finished with 69 points, more points than seven other teams. Unfortunately, in a league where all but five teams make the playoffs, the Whalers happened to be playing in the most competitive division.
Until just a few days ago, they were calling the Whalers the best last-place team in the league.
In the tightest divisional race, the Whalers have emerged from the cellar and are only three points out of first place.
Ferraro's first goal and his eighth of the season broke a 1-1 tie halfway through the second period. Before the period was over, the Whalers scored two more goals, both of them set up by team captain Ron Francis.
Francis, in his fifth season although he is only 22, is the heart of the team. He is the leading scorer and an outstanding playmaking center.
"My first two years here, we were making our summer vacation plans at Christmas time," he told the Associated Press recently. "But slowly over the past three seasons we've been moving along. This year we're making a big move. We definitely consider ourselves playoff-bound and we won't be satisfied with anything less."
When the Whalers were in the Norris Division, they made the playoffs in their first NHL season. They haven't been in postseason play since. They have gone longer than any other team without getting into the playoffs.
It was the 10th loss in the last 11 games for the Red Wings.
New York Rangers 6, Washington 5--Former King Brian MacLellan scored a goal and assisted on two others in a five-goal second period burst by the Rangers at New York.
The Capitals held a 3-0 lead early in the period, but MacLellan scored at 2:28 to ignite the rally that put the Rangers ahead, 5-3, with more than four minutes remaining in the second period.
Edmonton 5, Vancouver 3--Dave Hunter and Raimo Summanen each scored twice at Vancouver to lead the Oilers to victory.
The Oilers scored four goals in the first period, but the Canucks fought back and the Oilers didn't clinch the win until Summanen scored his second goal with four minutes to play.
The Oilers, who lead the Smythe Division by 17 points, are 4-0-1 against the Canucks this season.
Buffalo 4, New York Islanders 3--When a power failure delayed play at Buffalo for 40 minutes in the second period, the Islanders led, 3-1.
On the second of three goals by Mike Foligno, the Sabres cut the margin to 3-2 shortly after play resumed. Then, they came back to dominate the third period.
Foligno's third goal tied it at 3:06 and just past the middle of the period John Tucker scored the winning goal.
Mike Bossy of the Islanders scored his 23rd goal of the season and the 497th of his career.
Chicago 4, Boston 3--The Bruins' woes on the road continue. Denis Savard broke a 3-3 tie with a 20-foot wrist shot halfway through the final period to saddle the Bruins with their 11th loss in their last 12 games away from home.
It was the sixth win in the last seven games for the Black Hawks and put them just two points out of first place in the Norris Division.