Coach Bryan Murray of the Washington Capitals sat in his Capital Centre office Tuesday morning, reading a story about New York Islanders goalie Billy Smith.

Then Murray looked up and said, "Nobody's going to stop the Flyers now. They're going to win the Cup. I just wish we were still around to challenge them."

Until next spring, the Capitals only can think of what might have been. Meanwhile, the seven teams capable of ruining the Flyers' dreams of a third Stanley Cup resume play tonight in the divisional finals.

The Flyers can put the team that ousted the Capitals, the Islanders, in the same position as Washington with a victory at Nassau Coliseum.

Philadelphia, which leads the best-of-seven series, 3-0, has won 11 straight and 22 of its last 23 games. However, the Islanders never have been swept in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, defending champion Edmonton also goes after a four-game sweep in Winnipeg, where the Jets figure to join Murray in the might-have-been sweepstakes, wondering whether things would have been different if Dale Hawerchuk had not been forced out of the series by a cracked rib inflicted by Calgary's Jamie Macoun.

The Oilers have won all six playoff games, led by defenseman Paul Coffey, who has more goals (six) and points (12) than Wayne Gretzky (three and 11). Gretzky did produce the game winner in Tuesday's 5-4 triumph.

Edmonton obviously has escaped the regular-season woes that saw the Oilers win only six of their last 19 games. But the Smythe Division playoffs have lacked the physical nature of the Eastern wars, and in the background is the Oilers' inability to beat Philadelphia in the teams' last eight meetings.

Chicago narrowed a 2-0 deficit to beat Minnesota, 5-3, Tuesday on two quick goals by Al Secord, and the Black Hawks take a 2-1 lead into tonight's Norris Division final in Bloomington, Minn.

Presumably, the survivor will provide one more tuneup for Edmonton before the Stanley Cup final, although the Hawks have been strengthened by the return of a healthy Secord, who managed only 15 regular-season goals while hampered by a pulled stomach muscle.

If the Flyers permit themselves the luxury of a glimpse ahead, they will be watching with interest tonight's result from Quebec, where the Montreal Canadiens try to even their Adams Division final after the Nordiques pulled ahead with a 7-6 overtime win Tuesday.

The hero of that marathon, decided after 18:36 of extra time, was Dale Hunter, who scored his first playoff goal to win it.