The National Hockey League's long, long playoffs continue toward their June conclusion tonight minus a division champion and three of the league's top eight clubs during the regular season.
Gone are St. Louis, the Norris Division leader; Washington (No. 3), Calgary (tied for No. 5) and Buffalo (No. 8).
Philadelphia and Winnipeg, the hottest teams at the close of the regular season, underlined the value of momentum by charging into the divisional finals.
The Flyers, who swept the New York Rangers, have won 19 of their last 20. The Jets, who ousted Calgary in four games, have lost only one of their last 17.
While Philadelphia is favored to end the New York Islanders' bid for a fifth Stanley Cup in six years, Winnipeg is an underdog against the Cup holder, Edmonton.
Montreal and Quebec renew their annual provincial competition and past performance has proven that past performance is meaningless in the NHL's most intense rivalry.
Chicago is favored over Minnesota to determine which Norris Division club will serve as cannon fodder for the Edmonton-Winnipeg winner.
Unlike the last few seasons, there will be at least one day off after each game, so this round can go until May 2. Regardless, the conference finals will not commence until May 4.
Here is a brief rundown of the pairings:
New York Islanders vs. Philadelphia: The Islanders are coming off a tough five-game series with Washington, while the Flyers have been resting since Saturday. New York's biggest asset, experience, coincidentally serves as its principal liability, age, in its matchup against the NHL's youngest team. Of the current Flyers, only Brian Propp played in the 1980 Patrick Division final, when the Islanders defeated Philadelphia to begin a run of four straight championships.
A key for the Flyers is how soon their captain, Dave Poulin, can return after suffering a strained knee against the Rangers. Philadelphia needs him to contain the Islanders' outstanding center, Bryan Trottier. The teams divided the season series, 3-3-1, but the Flyers won the last three meetings.
Quebec vs. Montreal: Any series between these teams is guaranteed to be memorable. The Nordiques' Dale Hunter scored in overtime of the fifth game to decide the Adams Division semifinal in 1982. Last year, the Canadiens pounded out a bloody six-game decision in the divisional final, which included a fight between Hunter and his Canadien brother Dave. The Canadiens continued their domination through the regular season, finishing with a 6-1-1 margin and taking all four games in Quebec's Le Colisee.
Minnesota vs. Chicago: The North Stars, after a 25-43-12 regular season, eliminated St. Louis in three straight. Meanwhile, Chicago embarrassed Detroit in three while outscoring the Red Wings, 23-8.
Chicago, 11th overall during the regular season, had a 4-3-1 edge on the 17th-ranked North Stars. Last year Minnesota beat Chicago in a five-game divisional semifinal en route to the conference championships, where it was swept by Edmonton.
Winnipeg vs. Edmonton: The key in the Smythe Division final is the physical condition of Winnipeg captain Dale Hawerchuk, who suffered a cracked rib when cross checked by Calgary's Jamie Macoun Saturday. Edmonton won the season series, 5-3, but Winnipeg took the last three, including two in Edmonton, to terminate decisively a string of 20 straight losses to the Oilers.