For the last six years, Wayne Gretzky has been the dominant figure in sports. He has been head and shoulders above the rest of the National Hockey League.
In no other sport has an athlete so thoroughly dominated. He has been so good he has dragged his Edmonton Oilers to three Stanley Cup championships in four years.
It has been different this season. Gretzky, who has usually had the scoring title wrapped up by this time, has seemed to lack a challenge. He is still the leading scorer, but Mario Lemieux, the big Pittsburgh center, is within range.
With Gretzky playing below his best, the Oilers have struggled along in second place in the Smythe Division.
Gretzky finally found a challenge Wednesday night at Edmonton. The streaking Philadelphia Flyers, winners of seven in a row and unbeaten in 14 consecutive games (12-0-2), came roaring in to confront the Oilers.
It was all the Great One needed. Skating and handling the puck in his best form, Gretzky led the Oilers to a surprisingly easy 6-0 victory.
Gretzky set up the first three goals and scored himself in the third period.
Hartford 3, Toronto 1--Harold Ballard, the feisty owner of the Maple Leafs, enjoyed a lot of laughs last spring when his team made the playoffs and won their first series. He had taken heavy criticism because the Leafs had not finished over .500 in a decade.
Ballard isn’t doing any laughing these days. The Maple Leafs appear headed for the cellar in the Norris Division, probably the weakest in the league.
In a division in which the top clubs struggle to reach .500, the Leafs are unable to keep up.
Sylvain Turgeon scored the go-ahead goal and assisted on the final goal at Hartford as the Whalers dropped the Maple Leafs’ record to 14-19-4.
Washington 4, New Jersey 3--Kevin Hatcher scored with 4:21 left at East Rutherford, N.J., to break a tie and give the Capitals their first victory in four games.
Hatcher was the trailer on a 3-on-1 break and when Peter Sundstrom’s shot was blocked by goalie Bob Sauve, Hatcher pounced on the rebound and knocked it into the open net.
Minnesota 6, Chicago 4--Brian Bellows had a hat trick, and the North Stars held the Blackhawks scoreless for 40 minutes at Chicago.
The Blackhawks built a 3-1 lead in the first period, but did not score again until there was just one minute left. In between the North Stars scored five goals.
Detroit 3, St. Louis 2--Doug Halward and Jeff Sharples scored second-period power-play goals at St. Louis, and the Red Wings ended a four-game losing streak.
The victory enabled the Red Wings to slip ahead of the Blues into first place in the Norris Division race.