Sometimes, hockey is so easy for the Edmonton Oilers, they need a special challenge. They have one now. Wayne Gretzky, the best player in the National Hockey League, is out indefinitely with a sprained knee, and another outstanding center, speedy Mark Messier, is also injured.
So, how have the Stanley Cup champions reacted to these losses? By playing their best hockey of the season, that's how.
With Grant Fuhr turning aside 29 shots, the Oilers played tough defense at Hartford, Conn., Wednesday night to beat the Whalers, 5-1.
It was the second impressive performance by the Oilers without Gretzky and the third standout effort by Fuhr.
In their first game without Gretzky Saturday, the Oilers lost at Washington, 2-0, despite the heroics of Fuhr. They then battled back to tie the Bruins, 2-2, at Boston Monday night.
The Whalers had won two in a row, but they just couldn't solve Fuhr. The All-Star goaltender, who has missed only one game all season, was at his best in the second period when he stopped 15 shots. He had a 3-0 lead before yielding a power-play goal to Dean Evason late in the second period.
"We knew we all had to give out a little more when Wayne and Mark went out," said Fuhr, who has won 23 games. "We had to show everyone that we had more than just two players. I think we've done that.
"I sure hope we don't go too long without Wayne, though."
Gretzky may be out for two more weeks, but Messier, who has a hip injury, may play Friday at Winnipeg.
New York Rangers 4, Vancouver 2--The Rangers have made a six-team free-for-all of the Patrick Division.
Brian Mullen scored twice in a three-goal, second-period rally at New York that carried the Rangers to their fourth win in a row and extended their unbeaten string to seven games (6-0-1).
Until the streak, the Rangers lagged far behind in the competitive division. With this victory, they pulled within five points of first place, though they are still last.
John Vanbiesbrouck, who has started in the nets in all seven games of the streak, stopped 28 shots.
Detroit 4, St. Louis 2--Petr Klima sparked a three-goal burst in the second period at Detroit and helped the Red Wings extend their lead in the Norris Division lead to four points.
Klima's 23rd goal, and third in four games, preceded scores by Joe Murphy and Gerard Gallant.
Buffalo 6, Montreal 5--Dave Andreychuk completed a hat trick with 11 seconds left in regulation at Montreal to climax a four-goal, third-period rally by the Sabres.
It was the second goal in the final minute for the Sabres, who came back from a 3-0 deficit. Scott Arniel tied the game with just 59 seconds left.
Toronto 5, Minnesota 5--Dino Ciccarelli of the North Stars was ejected late in the second period at Toronto in a stick-swinging incident that John McCauley, NHL director of officiating, called the most flagrant high-sticking infraction he'd seen in 20 years.
Ciccarelli figures to get a lengthy suspension, although the player he attacked, Luke Richardson of Toronto, was unhurt.
Quebec 6, Chicago 1--The Blackhawks scored before the game was seven minutes old at Chicago, but the Nordiques scored the next six goals to make it a rout.
Calgary 6, Winnipeg 1--Rookie Joe Nieuwendyk scored two power-play goals and had an assist at Calgary to spark the Flames.