The Philadelphia Flyers couldn't explain why they were so terrible early in the season, and they can't explain why they are so hot now.
After spotting the Washington Capitals a 2-0 lead early in the second period Saturday night at Landover, Md., they charged back to gain a 3-2 victory and extend their unbeaten streak to 14 games (12-0-2).
They cut this one close. Ilkka Sinisalo went in on a breakaway with just 2:25 remaining to beat goalie Clint Malarchuk and scored the tiebreaker.
Ron Hextall, who gave up a goal to Mike Gartner in the opening minute, settled down to stop 29 of the next 30 shots to improve his record against the Capitals to 6-0-1.
Hextall has been prominent in the Flyer surge. He is 11-0-2 in his last 13 games. The absence of Hextall, who was suspended for the first eight games of the season, had something to do with the slow start. When he did return, he was not effective. Now, he is playing the way he did last season when he was the best in the league.
"There was no indication three or four weeks ago that this was about to happen," Coach Mike Keenan said. "These guys have just done an absolutely outstanding job lately. This gives us all a great Christmas present."
There was some solace for the Capitals. Their best defenseman, Rod Langway, at one time feared out for the season because of knee problems, returned. The veteran played well, although he was on the ice for only about 15 minutes.
However, goalie Pete Peeters had to retire after one period with a groin injury. He had won four in a row for the Capitals.
Edmonton 5, Calgary 4--In one of their few impressive performances in recent weeks, the Oilers rode third-period goals by Wayne Gretzky and Craig McTavish to score a victory at Calgary, Canada.
Gretzky's 29th goal broke a 3-3 tie at 7:32, and less than two minutes later, McTavish scored his 12th. The victory put the Oilers just one point behind the Flames in the Smythe Division.
Montreal 4, Toronto 2--Stephane Richer has a sore wrist, but it isn't keeping him from putting the puck into the net.
His late goal Wednesday night gave the Canadiens a tie with Washington and he came right back in this game at Toronto to score twice and lead the Adams Division leaders to another victory.
Brian Hayward stopped 28 shots to earn the victory.
New York Islanders 2, Boston 1--Ken Leiter scored midway through the third period at Uniondale, N.Y., to break a 1-1 tie and enable the Islanders to end a four-game losing streak.
A strong performance by veteran goalie Billy Smith enabled the Islanders to stay within one point of the Flyers in the Patrick Division. Smith had 30 saves, five of them in the last two minutes when the Bruins put on heavy pressure.
Pittsburgh 6, Detroit 3--As injuries continue to mount, Mario Lemieux is becoming a one-man team for the Penguins.
In this game at Pittsburgh Lemieux scored his 31st goal to break a 3-3 tie and had two assists.
Winnipeg 5, Minnesota 4--Laurie Boschman scored at 3:09 of overtime at Winnipeg, Canada, to give the Jets the victory.
Boschman, who also scored in the second period, came around the goal and tucked the puck in under goalie Jon Casey.
Dino Ciccarelli tied the game, 4-4, six minutes into the final period. Goalie Daniel Berthiaume stopped 40 shots for the Jets.
Quebec 4, Hartford 2--Peter Stastny set up power-play scores by brother Anton and Jeff Brown at Hartford, Conn., to put the Nordiques in command. He then ended the Whalers' hopes when he scored into an empty net in the last minute.
St. Louis 5, Chicago 4--Bernie Federko scored twice in the last period at Chicago, the second with six minutes remaining, to give the Blues the victory.
The victory enabled the Blues to move to within a point of first place in the Norris Division.
New York Rangers 5, New Jersey 3--Because goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck had a good game at East Rutherford, N.J., the Rangers, who seldom win on the road, beat the Devils, who seldom lose at home.
Vanbiesbrouck stopped 34 shots, almost all from close range, to end the Rangers' three-game losing streak. The Rangers are 3-11-0 on the road, the Devils 12-4-1 at home.