The Philadelphia Flyers redeemed their game in hand for two points today. They defeated the New York Islanders, 5-3, and increased their Patrick Division lead to six points over the Washington Capitals with 10 games left for each club.
In a confrontation of hot teams, the Flyers extended their winning streak to seven games while ending the Islanders' unbeaten run at five.
Philadelphia, which had not beaten the Islanders here this season, took a 3-0 lead in the first 14 minutes on goals by Brad McCrimmon, Murray Craven and Dave Poulin. New York never got closer than two as it took its 29th loss of the season, its most in 11 years.
It was a matchup of Flyers' quickness, speed and a little bit of luck against Islanders' experience. In this case, quickness accounted for numerous stolen passes, as Philadelphia repeatedly broke up New York sorties in the neutral zone.
"Everybody is playing well and it doesn't seem to matter who we're playing," said Flyer Brad Marsh, who engaged in fights with Patrick Flatley and Duane Sutter. "It used to be when we came in to look at the videotapes, the coach showed us the bad plays we'd made. Now all we seem to see are good plays, and the coach tells us about it."
"We're surprising a lot of people with our age and play," said Flyer Doug Crossman, who scored a key second-period goal that made it 4-1. "I wish the playoffs were starting tomorrow. We're on a roll, we've got momentum and everybody is really excited."
The Flyers capitalized on second chances to build their early lead. McCrimmon opened the scoring with a drive from the right point after Mark Howe had hit a post from the left point.
Then, with Poulin in the penalty box, Ilkka Sinisalo stole a pass and fed Craven, who somehow missed the net on a two-on-nobody short-handed break. Sinisalo regained the puck and got it back to Craven, who lifted it in with goalie Bill Smith floundering on the ice.
Poulin cut through three Islanders and sent the puck over Smith's left shoulder for his 25th goal. Almost immediately, Islander Stefan Persson was chased for holding and the 17,191 fans smelled the kill, then saw it yanked away by Bryan Trottier's short-handed goal.
The Flyers eventually earned a 2-1 decision in the battle of short-handed scores among the most dangerous penalty-killing units this side of Edmonton. Crossman scored, with Brian Propp in the box, after both Pat LaFontaine and Persson had rattled posts behind Pelle Lindbergh at the other end.
Duane Sutter, showing he can bedevil teams other than Washington, closed the gap to 4-2 moments after he had cross-checked Propp into the boards while referee Bob Myers was looking elsewhere.
Late in the second period, Lindsay Carson deflected Rick Tocchet's shot to build the Flyers' margin to 5-2.
"It was important for us to beat the Islanders on our ice surface," said Flyers Coach Mike Keenan, who wore a green carnation in his lapel. "And it was a game in hand for us. When you can capitalize on games in hand, particularly with only 10 games left in the season, it's very critical."
Asked if he felt the Flyers had first place wrapped up, Keenan replied, "We feel that we've got a good run at it."
"I guess our guys don't like a 2 o'clock start," said Islanders Coach Al Arbour, whose only sign of green on St. Patrick's day was around the gills. "Not too many showed up."
New York was playing without Brent Sutter, Philadelphia without Tim Kerr, both injured in games with Washington. Since Kerr, a 51-goal scorer, hurt his right knee, the Flyers are 4-0, outscoring the opposition by 27-10.