For the moment, though, the challenger is Calgary, which received two goals from Joe Mullen Saturday night in a 5-3 victory over the visiting Jets. The victory broke a tie between the teams for second place and put the Flames just five points behind the slumping Oilers.
Before the Flames can take aim on first place, though, they must beat the Jets again tonight at Winnipeg. Otherwise, there may be a three-team battle.
It is an unusual switch in a division that had been dominated by the Oilers for the last five regular seasons. Last season, for example, Edmonton finished 30 points--the equivalent of 15 games--ahead of the second-place Calgary.
The dominance of the Oilers ended when the Flames knocked them out of the playoffs in the second round and ended the Oilers' hopes of a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
The Flames won the playoff series with the help of strong goaltending by Mike Vernon.
A different goalie, Rejean Lemelin, is hot now. Lemelin stopped 30 Winnipeg shots to extend his unbeaten string to 10 games (9-0-1).
Mullen, obtained from St. Louis late last season, has 39 goals this season and has been the spark for an improved offense.
After Dale Hawerchuk scored the first of his two goals to give the Jets an early lead, Mullen tied it at 6:13 of the first period. Mullen's other goal gave the Flames a 4-2 lead in the second period.
Hartford 2, Quebec 1--In the words of Coach Michel Bergeron of the Nordiques, "If Mike Liut had just played a good game, we would have won by three or four goals."
But Liut, the main reason the Whalers lead the Adams Division, was far better than good, stopping many difficult shots among his 31 saves at Hartford, Conn.
Sylvain Turgeon and Paul McDermid scored for the Whalers.
Ric Seiling scored the first goal of the game, and his mate on the Red Wings' fourth line, Mark Lamb, scored the last one. Each had scored only one goal going into the game.
"I know I have to make the most of my opportunities," Lamb said. "When our line gets a couple of goals, it's a bonus."
Boston 5, Buffalo 1--Coach Terry O'Reilly reunited a line that worked well early in the season, and the Bruins slowed the Sabres at Boston.
The trio of Charlie Simmer, Keith Crowder and Ken Linseman accounted for four goals, two apiece for Simmer and Crowder, to hand the Sabres only their second loss in the last 11 games.
Injuries to Linseman and Crowder had broken up the line, and when they recovered, the line had failed to click and was dismantled.
Chicago 2, Pittsburgh 1--Bill Watson and Wayne Presley scored third-period goals at Pittsburgh as the Blackhawks stretched their unbeaten string to five games.
Presley's 24th goal of the season broke a 1-1 tie with fewer than 10 minutes remaining.
New York Islanders 3, St. Louis 3--Mikko Makela scored a disputed power-play goal with 48 seconds left in regulation at Uniondale, N.Y., to give the Islanders a tie.
The Blues argued that the Islanders' Gerald Diduck was offsides on the scoring play.
Montreal 3, New Jersey 2--Guy Carbonneau scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway at 6:17 of the third period at Montreal as the Canadiens ended their winless streak at four games.
The victory kept the Canadiens in second place in the Adams Division, three points behind Hartford.
Toronto 8, Vancouver 6--Rick Vaive scored three goals and assisted on another at Toronto in a wild-scoring game in which the Maple Leafs broke a four-game losing streak.