The Minnesota North Stars are one step from taking their playoff odyssey to even greater heights.
Just when it was thought they could play no better, the North Stars did just that Wednesday night. They delivered their most electrifying performance of the playoffs, demolishing the St. Louis Blues 8-4 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Norris Division finals."I think it's a great win for our club," North Stars Coach Bob Gainey said. "It was a great win under pressure against a good opponent. We played the game that was there, and it wasn't an easy game to play."
In the Smythe Divison finals, Edmonton beat Los Angeles 4-2 and holds a 3-1 edge.
The North Stars, who upset overall point champions Chicago in the first round, are bidding to become the first team to knock off the top two regular-season teams since the NHL expanded from six teams in 1967.
Strong efforts came from all quarters. Mike Modano scored two goals and set up another. Stewart Gavin had three assists. Dave Gagner had a goal and two assists and Brian Bellows and former Salt Lake Golden Eagle defenseman Brian Glynn scored two goals apiece.
Minnesota set the tone early, bombing Blues goalie Vincent Riendeau for a 3-0 lead in less than nine minutes.
"We forced the game out of their control early," Gainey said.
The Blues' Brett Hull broke his three-game goalless streak, scoring two of his team's four power-play goals. In all, there were eight power-play goals, a Stanley Cup playoffs record.
The Blues finished 37 points ahead of the North Stars this season and had a 5-1-2 record against them. But that is all inconsequential now, and if the North Stars can win Game 5 Friday night in St. Louis they will be in the conference finals for the first time since 1984.
"I believe we're in trouble," Hull said. "It's obviously upon us. You have to win. And if you don't win, you're going to be gone."
At Edmonton, Alberta, the Oilers broke to a 3-1 lead after one period and drew on the exceptional goaltending of Grant Fuhr to put the Kings on the brink of elimination.
Petr Klima scored 1:49 into the third period to restore the Oilers' two-goal cushion. The goal, coming after Edmonton's Kevin Lowe stole the puck from Wayne Gretzky, seized the momentum from the Kings, who dominated the second period but scored only once. Game 5 is in Los Angeles Friday night.
The Wales Conference playoffs resume Thursday night. In the Adams Division, the Bruins face the Canadiens with the series 2-2. Pittsburgh, which leads Washington 3-1 in the Patrick Division finals, can close the series at home against the Capitals.
The series has been reduced to a best-of-three affair with the Bruins holding the home-ice advantage. Boston, after allowing six goals in Tuesday night's Game 4 loss in Montreal, will hope to smother snipers Stephane Richer and Shayne Corson on its smaller ice surface in Game 5. Richer (nine goals) and Corson (seven) each scored twice for the Canadiens in Game 4.
The Penguins are attempting to advance past the second round for the first time. Pittsburgh, which swept Washington on the road in Games 3 and 4 by 3-1 scores, will look to high-scoring forwards Kevin Stevens and Mario Lemieux. Stevens, who has scored the winning goal for Pittsburgh in all three of its victories, leads both teams with seven postseason goals.