The Patrick Division is considered the toughest in the National Hockey League.
In recent years, the division’s champion has been the favorite to face Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers for the Stanley Cup. And before Gretzky, the Patrick winner usually was the Cup favorite.
With Gretzky trying to help the Kings into a bona fide contender, the playoff favorite figures to once again come from the Patrick.
For the moment, at least, the New York Rangers, who last won the championship 48 years ago, are the best of the toughest.
They showed why Saturday night at Philadelphia as Jan Erixon knocked in a rebound with less than 5 minutes remaining to give the Rangers a 6-5 victory over the Flyers.
The Rangers’ sixth consecutive victory gave them a 7-2-1 record and a point lead over another surprising team, Pittsburgh.
Lucien DeBlois of the Rangers had just emerged from the penalty box when he and Erixon skated in on goaltender Ron Hextall on a 2-on-2. DeBlois fired from an angle and Hextall made the save. But the rebound went up the middle and Erixon knocked it into the open side of the net.
The difference between the Rangers this season and last, when they failed to make the playoffs, is that New York is winning the close games.
“We’ve got players now who are there when the game is on the line,” Coach Marcel Bergeron said. “I don’t want to mention any names, but last year, with the game on the line, they weren’t there.”
Last season, the Rangers did not win their seventh game until Nov. 25 in their 22nd game.
Pittsburgh 5, Montreal 4--The rap against Mario Lemieux, before he won the scoring title last season, was that he didn’t set up many goals. Lemieux, who had a career-high 98 assists in the 1987-88 season, is doing even better this season.
The 23-year-old center assisted on 3 goals and scored his 16th goal in this game at Montreal. One of the assists came on Bob Errey’s goal that put Pittsburgh ahead to stay 4 minutes into the last period.
In 10 games, Lemieux has 21 assists and 37 points. The 16 goals are a league best.
The Canadiens (4-7-1) fell into last place in the Adams Division.
Boston 3, Buffalo 3--Defenseman Ray Bourque, the key to the success of the Bruins, came to the rescue again just as his team was about to lose at Boston.
There were only 32 seconds left in regulation and the Bruins had pulled goaltender Reggie Lemelin when Bourque banged in a shot from close range for his fifth goal of the season to send the game into overtime. Despite 8 shots, 5 by Boston, in the 5-minute extra session, neither team could score.
The Sabres, with their top defender Phil Housley scoring goals 43 seconds apart, built a 3-0 lead in the last 4 minutes of the first period.
Despite Daren Puppa’s outstanding goaltending, the Sabres couldn’t hold on. Puppa stopped 40 shots.
Hartford 3, New Jersey 0--Until Friday night at East Rutherford, N.J., Whaler goaltender Mike Liut had never lost to the Devils. The 5-3 defeat merely made the veteran work a little harder at Hartford.
Liut stopped 29 shots to register his 20th career shutout and give the Whalers a split of the home-and-home series.
Kevin Dineen scored twice to give Liut all the offense he needed.
Edmonton 4, Washington 3--The Oilers, despite the departure of Wayne Gretzky, still have a number of players who can play well in pressure situations.
For most of the game at Edmonton, the Oilers were outplayed by the Capitals. With time running out in regulation, the Capitals led, 3-2.
But Mark Messier, with only 79 seconds remaining, fired a shot high into the corner of the net to send the game into overtime.
With 16 seconds left in the overtime, Jari Kurri scored the winner on a shot screened from goalie Clint Malarchuk.
Quebec 3, New York Islanders 2--Defenseman Tommy Albelin scored a long shot from just inside the blue line at 2:33 of overtime at Quebec to end the Nordiques’ 5-game losing streak.
The Nordiques talented rookie Joe Sakic tied the game with his 10th goal early in the third period. Sakic has at least one point in each of the 12 games he has played.
Minnesota 3, Detroit 2--Dino Ciccarelli may be unhappy playing for the North Stars, but he doesn’t turn down scoring opportunities.
Ciccarelli scored twice in the final 6 1/2 minutes at Bloomington, Minn., to bring the North Stars from behind to win for only the second time in 11 games.
St. Louis 3, Toronto 2--Steve Tuttle scored on a rebound with only 6:18 remaining at St. Louis to end the Maple Leafs’ 6-game road winning streak.
Tuttle tapped in the rebound after goalie Ken Wregget had made the save on Brett Hull’s shot.