02/22/2002 12:00AM

Islanders are NHL's pleasant surprise


LAS VEGAS - The Olympic gold medal game takes center ice Sunday in Salt Lake City, and by Tuesday the best hockey players in the world will be back with their NHL teams and starting the stretch run toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There has been a lot of movement in the odds released by Las Vegas Sports Consultants at the beginning of the season. The Devils opened as the 4-1 favorite last summer, but are on track to be only the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and have drifted up to 12-1.

The Devils might be a nice longshot play now however. They are 4-1-2 in their last seven games since Kevin Constantine replaced Larry Robinson as coach.

The Flyers and the Bruins and tied for the top seed in the East right now, but the Flyers are seen as a stronger team by oddsmakers. The Flyers are 5-1 to win the Cup after opening the season at 12-1. The Bruins were an outsider at 40-1, and are now down to 8-1.

The biggest surprise in the NHL has been the Islanders, who opened the season at 250-1 (tied for the biggest longshot in the league) and have been lowered to 15-1 based on a 29-19-6-3 record that currently has them fifth in the East.

The top team in the futures is the Red Wings, who are 15 points ahead of their nearest competitor in the Western Conference. The Red Wings opened the season at 7-1 but have been bet down to 5-2. Goalie Dominik Hasek is 9-0-2 in his last 11 starts.

The biggest surprise in the Western Conference is the Blackhawks, who were 60-1 entering the season but have the second-most points in the West, and have had their odds lowered to 7-1.

The defending champion Avalanche have seen their odds rise from 9-2 to 7-1, but they have turned things around with wins in nine of their 13 games before the Olympics break, and now lead the Northwest Division. At 7-1, they seem to be a better bet than the Blackhawks.

Basketball notes

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't going anywhere this year with an 18-35 record, but they're a winner as far as bettors are concerned. The Cavs are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven games and 30-21-2 on the season heading into Friday night's game at Indiana. The only teams with better spread records than the Cavs are the Eastern Conference-leading Nets (31-21-1) and the Midwest Division-leading Mavericks (32-21-2).

Conversely, the Knicks are a league-worst 18-34 against the spread and have only covered one of their last seven games.

* In the colleges, Maryland has covered its last eight games, but has been outdone by Kent State, which has covered nine straight in the MAC. Yale is on a 7-0 spread run in the Ivy League.

Iowa, last year's Big 10 conference champ, has dropped its last 15 games against the spread. Bradley and Oregon State have each failed to cover seven straight.

o The Las Vegas Club downtown is giving a lunchtime special to basketball bettors. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, all NBA and college sides and totals are available for -105 (bet $1.05 to win $1) instead of the standard -110. Race and sports book manager Tony Nevill said he is doing it to attract business from downtown hotel employees who can't bet at their own casinos and locals who are looking for value on their lunch break.

District attorney not charging Tyson

Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell announced Thursday that his office will not file sexual assault charges against boxer Mike Tyson. A local woman, who had a year-long relationship with Tyson, and a California woman accused Tyson of raping them in two separate cases. The D.A.'s office looked at both cases concurrently and concluded that convictions would be unlikely in either case.

Bell, in a letter to police detective Jon M. Scott that was released to the media, wrote: "There was consensus among all the prosecutors who reviewed this matter that there was no possibility whatsoever to successfully prosecute Mr. Tyson in regard to either or both of these events, given the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Bell also wrote: "In other words, it was simply unclear whether the sexual interaction between each of the two alleged victims and Mr. Tyson was consensual or forced."

Bell declined to go into details of the case, citing the likelihood of civil charges being brought by the women.

Meanwhile, on Thursday night, Nevada State Athletic Commission chairman Luther Mack told ESPN that Tyson can reapply for a boxing license, even though state rules call for a one-year waiting period.

When Tyson's license was denied last month, his attorney Bob Faiss made sure the commission did not consider the pending criminal charges - and the commission didn't, instead focusing on Tyson's actions in the ring and his failure to follow up on anger counseling and medication - so it's unclear on what grounds Tyson would appeal.

Mack said Friday: "Just because he reapplies doesn't mean he'll get a license. He has to show the other requests of the commission are in place, and I'm not sure if they are. If three commissioners agree to hear an appeal, a special hearing will be held in a public forum."

As of Friday afternoon the most likely site for a Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight appears to be the District of Columbia, which last week licensed Tyson to fight there.