The Washington Capitals, barring a complete collapse, will win their first division title in their 15th season in the National Hockey League.
Dave Christian and Geoff Courtnall scored 1 minute 41 seconds apart in the third period Wednesday night at Pittsburgh, and the Capitals held on for a 5-4 victory that strengthened their grip on first place in the Patrick Division.
For five consecutive seasons, the Capitals have finished second, but now they have a four-point lead over the New York Rangers. They also have a game in hand. Their last six games are against the division’s three weakest teams.
Three weeks ago, the Penguins appeared to have as good a chance as anyone to win the Patrick. But Mario Lemieux went into a slump, then missed a couple of games because of injury, and the Penguins collapsed.
They are 3-8 in their last 11 games and have lost six of their last seven home games. Lemieux had two goals in a losing cause and has 74 for the season. But the Penguins will probably finish third.
New York Rangers 3, Minnesota 1--Jason Lafreniere scored in the first minute at New York, and goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck turned in an excellent performance to keep the Rangers’ hopes alive.
The problem is that the Rangers have only five games left, including a home-and-home series against Pittsburgh and a game at Detroit, leader of the Norris Division.
The North Stars, striving to gain a playoff spot in the Norris Division, avoided a shutout when Shawn Chambers scored with 8:33 left. Vanbiesbrouck stopped 36 shots.
St. Louis 2, Buffalo 1--Peter Zezel set up the first goal for the Blues and scored the other in a game at Buffalo that was marred by a bloody injury to Sabre goalie Clint Malarchuk.
With 4:43 left in the first period, Malarchuk was caught in the middle of a collision between Buffalo’s Uwe Krupp and the Blues’ Steve Tuttle. The goalie fell to the ice bleeding profusely.
Malarchuk, who suffered a five-inch gash in his neck, left the ice under his own power to the cheers of the fans. He was taken to a hospital, where he was in stable condition.
Montreal 8, Quebec 0--The Canadiens, bidding for the league’s best overall record, have an unbeatable combination with Patrick Roy and the Forum.
The goalie improved his record on home ice to 24-0-2, breaking a 45-year-old club record set by Hall of Fame goalie Bill Durnan. Durnan was unbeaten in 25 in a row.
Shayne Corson had a hat trick as the Canadiens moved two points ahead of Calgary, 109-107, in the race for best record.
Philadelphia 3, Chicago 2--With less than 15 minutes remaining at Chicago, the Flyers trailed, 2-0, and it appeared they would again fail to clinch a playoff spot.
But Dave Poulin scored with less than two minutes remaining to climax a three-goal rally, and the Flyers clinched a spot in Stanley Cup postseason play.
Toronto 5, Vancouver 3--The Maple Leafs prevented the Canucks from clinching a playoff berth, ended a two-game losing streak and kept their playoff hopes alive in the game at Toronto.
The victory put the Leafs four points behind Chicago for the final playoff position in the Norris Division.
Hartford 4, Boston 2--Kevin Dineen scored on two of the Whalers’ 15 shots and assisted on Ron Francis’s goal at Hartford.
It was the Whalers’ second consecutive victory over the Bruins.