Wayne Gretzky, much in the manner of a boxing champion knocking off his latest challenger, has a knack of playing his best against hot players.
Last week, he outplayed Pittsburgh's sensational Mario Lemieux, getting three assists while the big, strong Penguin center was shut out.
The newest threat to the perennial scoring champion is Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars, who leads the league in goals (27) and is second in points.
They met Tuesday night at Bloomington, Minn., and Gretzky, as usual, prevailed, leading the Edmonton Oilers to a 3-2 victory. Gretzky scored his 24th goal and had an assist, while Ciccarelli had but one assist. Gretzky leads the scoring race over Ciccarelli, 67 points to 47.
Craig MacTavish scored on a breakaway when his team was short-handed in the first minute of the final period to give the Oilers a 3-2 lead, and Ciccarelli missed a chance in the final minute to tie it.
The North Stars had a two-man advantage at the time, and Oiler goalie Grant Fuhr was sprawled on the ice after making a save. From a couple of feet away, Ciccarelli, trying to lift the puck over Fuhr, hit it right into Fuhr's chest, and the goalie covered it up.
Gretzky has scored at least one point in 13 consecutive games. The win gave the Oilers a three-point lead in the Smythe Division.
Buffalo 5, Detroit 5--John Tucker's second goal of the game, near the middle of the last period, earned a tie for the Sabres at Detroit and ended their four-game losing streak.
Petr Klima, scoreless in 12 previous games, had two goals for the Red Wings.
Washington 4, New Jersey 2--Michal Pivonka and Alan Haworth scored goals 72 seconds apart early in the game at Landover, Md., to extend the Capitals' unbeaten streak to four games. The Devils are 0-14-1 at Landover since moving to New Jersey.
Philadelphia 6, Vancouver 3--The Flyers, obviously trying to make a deal for disgruntled goaltender Bob Froese, showcased Froese at Philadelphia.
Froese, who led all NHL goalies with a 2.55 goals-against average last season, stopped 28 shots in his first appearance since Oct. 23 and registered his third win without a defeat.
After losing his job to rookie Ron Hextall during training camp, Froese demanded to be traded. Mostly, he has languished on the bench.
Ron Sutter had a goal and an assist in a three-goal first-period assault that put the Flyers on top to stay.
Froese has yielded eight goals in three games.
St. Louis 4, Quebec 1--The Blues strengthened their grip on first place in the Norris Division with this victory at Quebec.
Mark Hunter scored twice as the Blues (12-11-4) increased their lead to four points by handing the Nordiques their fourth defeat in a row.
The Blues held the Nordiques to just six shots on goal in the first 20 minutes, then scored three times in the second period to break the game open.
Doug Gilmour gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 2:36 of the first period by scoring on the first shot of the game.