The playoff race in the Patrick Division is the most contested in the NHL this season as all six teams remain alive in the fight for four playoff spots.
While the last-place New York Islanders are 13 points out of a playoff spot and would have to rally strongly to make the postseason, the division's other five teams figure to battle to the wire.The results of Sunday's games shuffled the standings slightly as Philadelphia defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 to move into second place, five points behind the New York Rangers, who beat New Jersey 5-2.
"This was a big game," said Philadelphia's Derrick Smith, who scored the game-winning goal. "We have to beat the teams behind us in the standings. It was a big divisional game. With our division being so tight, we need every point we can get."
Pittsburgh, which tied Washington 5-5, fell to third, one point behind Philadelphia.
The Capitals remained in fifth place but are only three points behind the Devils and a possible playoff berth.
Last season, the Flyers were one of two Patrick Divison teams that failed to make the playoffs, the first time in 18 years that had happened.
They are determined to make amends for that this year.
"Last year is history," said Ron Sutter, who scored one goal and assisted on another against the Islanders. "We know we have to make something out of this year. We can't worry about what happened last year."
Sunday night's victory was Philadelphia's 31st of the season, one more than the team recorded in 1989-90.
"We have more confidence this year," defenseman Terry Carkner said. "We're healthier and we're winning games and battling for first-place in our division."
Coach Paul Holmgren said there were a number of reasons for Philadelphia's improvement this year.
"We're playing better in our own zone," he said. "We've gotten good goaltending and our defense as a whole has played pretty good. Carkner and (Gord) Murphy are a year older and more mature. They were inconsistent last year but they've been rock solid this season."
The Flyers improved to 11-12-6 against Patrick Division foes this year, compared to 13-18-4 last season, and Sunday night's win gave them a pair of victories over the Islanders and a tie against the Rangers in their last three games.
"Getting five of six points is encouraging," Holmgren said. "But we still have to play the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Washington."
Philadelphia lost its season series with the Devils 1-4-2 but topped the Islanders 4-2-1.
Rangers 5, Devils 2
At New York, Brian Leetch assisted on first-period power-play goals by Kevin Miller, John Ogrodnick and Kelly Kisio to spark the Rangers. The Rangers scored four goals in the first period to take control and Mark Janssens added an even-strength tally.
Capitals 5, Penguins 5
At Landover, Md., Dino Ciccarelli scored with 32 seconds left as the Capitals came back from a two-goal deficit. Mark Recchi scored once and collected three assists for Pittsburgh, which is 0-6-1 in its last seven road games. Mario Lemieux, playing in only his 11th game, scored Pittsburgh's fifth goal and assisted on two others.
Kings 5, Jets 3
At Winnipeg, Wayne Gretzky and linemates Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom each had a goal and two assists to lead the Kings to a sweep of their weekend series against the Jets.
Sabres 5, Whalers 5
At Buffalo, N.Y., Dave Andreychuk scored his second goal of the game with 2:53 left in the third period to lift the Sabres into the tie. Dale Hawerchuk threw a pass out from behind the net and Andreychuk put a 12-foot wrist shot through the pads of Hartford goaltender Peter Sidorkiewicz.
Edmonton 6, Quebec 3
At Edmonton, Alberta, Adam Graves scored twice in a 2:30 span of the third period to pace Edmonton. The Oilers came back from a 3-2 deficit with a four-goal third period.
Blackhawks 6, Blues 2
At Chicago, Jeremy Roenick scored twice and assisted on another of Chicago's four goals in the opening 10:33 that powered the Blackhawks. Rookie goalie Ed Belfour earned his 35th win of the season, and appeared to be headed for his fourth shutout until Bob Bassen scored twice in the final five minutes.