The Patrick Division is developing into a three-team race and the New York Islanders have served a warning they intend to be in it.
Early in the season the Islanders seemed in command of the race. But, they went into a scoring slump and Philadelphia took charge. Lately, the Washington Capitals have been hot and soared into contention. And now, the Islanders are back.
Pat LaFontaine sparked the newly found offense again Sunday night at Hartford and the Islanders skated to a 7-2 victory over the Whalers.
LaFontaine scored twice and assisted on another goal as the Islanders extended their unbeaten string to four games (2-0-2). The two ties last week still rankle. In both of them, the Islanders held a two-goal lead until well into the final period, then settled for ties.
In this game, LaFontaine's 38th goal opened the scoring, and with goaltender Billy Smith stopping 39 shots, the Islanders were never in danger of letting the Whalers get even.
Until the Islanders broke loose with nine goals against Calgary last Tuesday, their lack of offense had put extra pressure on Smith and the other goalie, Kelly Hrudey. With the Islanders outscoring the opposition, 22-8 in the last three games, the goaltenders are starting to relax again.
The Islanders, with 66 points, are tied with Washington for second place, three points behind the Flyers.
Philadelphia 5, Detroit 3--It was a day of firsts for the Flyers as they slowed down the Red Wings at Philadelphia and maintained their lead in the Patrick Division.
Rick Tocchet scored three goals for the first time in his career, rookie Greg Smyth scored his first NHL goal and Mike Keenan coached his 300th game.
Two of Tocchet's goals came 98 seconds apart in the second period and went a long way toward ending the Smythe Division leaders' three-game winning streak.
"We have five regulars out of the lineup and we're unbeaten in our last four games (3-0-1)," Keenan said. "That's pretty good. I'm happy with our progress and now we have to get ourselves ready for the playoffs."
Edmonton 4, Winnipeg 3--One thing the Oilers have learned by having their ace, Wayne Gretzky, out of so many games because of injury is that they have a number of outstanding players to rely on in the clutch.
In this overtime battle at Winnipeg, defenseman Kevin Lowe knocked in a rebound in a melee in front of the net to give the Oilers the victory at 3:15 of overtime.
Gretzky, who suffered a corneal abrasion when hit with a stick Friday night against Pittsburgh, is expected to miss two more games.
It was the fifth time this season the Jets and Oilers have gone into overtime. Each has won a game and the other three were ties.
Boston 4, New Jersey 1--There are some games in which a goaltender can do no wrong. Even when he's out of position he gets a glove or pad in the way of the shot.
This game at East Rutherford, N.J., was one of those for Bruin goalie Reggie Lemelin. Lemelin made four fantastic saves in the first eight minutes and seem to take the spirit out of the Devils.
Steve Kasper had a goal and an assist as the Bruins regained first place in the Adams Division.
Quebec 6, Buffalo 5--Peter Stastny completed a hat trick with 55 seconds left at Buffalo to offset three goals by Ray Sheppard of the Sabres and give the Nordiques only their second victory in the last nine games.
Michel Goulet had his 400th goal for Quebec.
St. Louis 5, Pittsburgh 4--Mario Lemieux, also injured Friday night at Edmonton, returned to action at St. Louis and scored his 54th goal, matching his career high.
But Doug Gilmour's second goal of the game early in the last period gave the Blues the win.
Vancouver 6, New York Rangers 4--Jim Sandlak and Barry Pederson scored 28 seconds apart in the third period at New York to lead the Canucks to the victory.
Calgary 3, Chicago 3--Denis Savard scored his second goal of the game with just five seconds left in regulation at Chicago to get the Blackhawks a tie. His first goal cut a 3-1 lead in half earlier in the last period.