Is this the season the Edmonton Oilers will be dethroned as Stanley Cup champions? Many hockey experts believe the Oilers, winners of two titles in a row, are ripe to be taken.
The young, eager Philadelphia Flyers, they say, are just the team to do it.
But don't hold your breath. As long as Wayne Gretzky retains his enthusiasm, the Oilers figure to reign over the National Hockey League.
The greatest player in the game clearly demonstrated Tuesday night that he is at his best when the going is toughest.
The Oilers and Flyers met for the first time at Edmonton since the Oilers won the championship by beating the Flyers, 4-1, in the final round last spring.
The Flyers dominated the first period and built a 2-0 lead behind Bob Froese, the only goaltender in the league with a goals-against average less than 3.00 (2.61).
But Gretzky shifted into high gear in the second period and was unstoppable. Gretzky had a hat trick and the Oilers eked out a 4-3 victory. It was his 36th hat trick of his career.
Most of the season Gretzky has been content setting up his teammates for goals. Always, in his seven-year career, though, Gretzky has provided whatever the Oilers have needed.
In this game the need was for somebody to put the puck into the net. The smooth-skating center scored three and was on the ice for all four Oiler goals.
Gretzky, who is not yet 25, is on a record-breaking assist pace, with 70 in 37 games. The three goals increased his output to 26. He needs only four more points to reach 100.
The Flyers pulled out all the stops. They fired 48 shots at goaltender Andy Moog, and in the closing minutes they protested that Mark Napier was using an illegal stick. They were right, and it gave them a power play in a desperate effort to tie the game.
Thanks to Gretzky's stick handling, the Flyers didn't get even. They did indicate they are the one team capable of giving the Oilers a real battle for the title.
New York Islanders 5, Detroit 4--The Red Wings came close to giving Brad Park a victory in his debut as coach at Detroit. With the help of two goals 46 seconds apart by Ron Duguay, the Red Wings built a 4-2 lead after two periods.
But the Islanders got goals four minutes apart in the third period by defensemen Stefan Persson and Pat Boutilier, the first of the season for both.
Then, 53 seconds into overtime, Mikko Makela scored from a sharp angle to win the game.
Park replaced Harry Neale after the Red Wings lost 10 of their last 11 games.
Quebec 5, Hartford 1--Fresh from a victory over the powerful Soviet Central Red Army team, 5-1, Sunday, the Nordiques slowed the drive of the Whalers in this game at Quebec.
Michel Goulet, who had a hat trick against the Soviets, scored 89 seconds after the opening faceoff to get the Nordiques on the board. They scored four times in a little under three minutes of the third period to blow the game open.
Clint Malarchuk stopped 29 Hartford shots, but lost his shutout when Bob Crawford flipped a rebound into the net when Malarchuk was sprawled on the ice.
Boston 6, Buffalo 6--Steve Kasper completed a hat trick with goals 13 seconds apart in the third period at Buffalo to enable the Bruins to gain a tie.
The Sabres built a 4-1 lead in the first minute of the second period and still led, 6-3, halfway through the third period. The three late Boston goals came in an 83-second span.
Pittsburgh 8, St. Louis 4--Mario Lemieux has been a brilliant performer in a little more than a season with the Penguins, but he had never scored more than two goals in a game until this one at St. Louis.
Lemieux did even better than a hat trick. He scored four times to help the Penguins to an easy victory.
Minnesota 6, Calgary 3--Steve Payne, Dennis Maruk and Neal Broten scored in the second period at Bloomington, Minn., to break open a tight game and hand the Flames their seventh loss in a row.
The North Stars have won four in a row.