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Kings Look Back, See Oilers Closing : Hockey: Edmonton's 4-2 victory puts it only eight points behind Los Angeles.

January 23, 1991|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EDMONTON, Canada — The Edmonton Oilers stumbled from the bright lights of last spring's Stanley Cup finals into the darkness of the Smythe Division cellar at the start of this season.

Jari Kurri went off to play in Europe. Mark Messier went off the ice with a knee injury.

The team lost a record nine in a row, starting in late October.

To the Smythe Division-leading Kings, Edmonton was barely visible in their wake.

Not any more.

After losing to the Oilers, 4-2, Tuesday night at the Northlands Coliseum, the Kings have no trouble seeing their fast-closing pursuers in what has suddenly become a three-team race.

In losing their third in a row, the Kings (26-17-5) remain two points ahead of the Calgary Flames, also losers Tuesday.

But Edmonton, with Messier healthy, is making a charge. The Oilers, once 2-11-2, are 23-20-3, third in the Smythe, only eight points back. Tuesday's victory gives Edmonton a 4-0-1 record over its last five games.

"We've reached the serious part of the season," King Coach Tom Webster said. "Any given team could be in first. It just shows the parity in our division."

Webster was forced to face the Oilers without Wayne Gretzky, who stayed in his Edmonton hotel room with the flu.

Webster, however, thought there were a few other King absentees--in spirit.

"One team showed up," he said. "We certainly didn't."

Still, the Kings were in the game to the end. They scored first on Luc Robitaille's 24th goal.

The Oilers went ahead on Messier's sixth goal and Joe Murphy's 16th.

Then, in the third period, after Esa Tikkanen's shot was blocked in the slot, Glenn Anderson scooped up the loose puck and flipped it over goalie Kelly Hrudey at the 8:27 mark for a 3-1 lead.

The Kings protested that there had been an intentional hand pass by the Oilers before Tikkanen's shot, but the play stood.

The Kings closed the margin on a power play. Steve Smith attempted to pass the puck in his own zone to Ken Linseman in the slot. But Tony Granato read the play and stepped in front like a defensive back, coming up with both the puck and his 16th goal at 12:08 to cut Edmonton's advantage to 3-2.

But the Kings could get no closer, to the delight of the sellout crowd of 17,503.

With 56 seconds to play, Webster pulled Hrudey.

On a subsequent faceoff, Messier beat Todd Elik and shoved the puck to Tikkanen, who scored his 21st goal into an empty net to provide the final margin.

"We're running out of time," King defenseman Larry Robinson said. "If we want to do well, we have to take charge. If we keep losing these division games, the other teams will start to catch up."

With two days off before the finale of this five-game trip in Vancouver, the Kings are going to Victoria for Camp Webster, an intensive 48 hours of practice, videos and testing to see where they stand coming out of the All-Star break.

They don't need a camp to see how they're doing in Edmonton. A look at the standings will suffice.

King Notes

With Wayne Gretzky out, Bob Kudelski took his place on the first line, skating between Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom. . . . King center Scott Bjugstad was taken to a nearby hospital in the first period to treat a fractured nose, the result of being hit by Martin Gelinas. . . . King center Steve Kasper has rejoined the team and could play Friday. Kasper has missed 10 games because of a ruptured sinus cavity and a fracture around the eye socket. He is required to wear a mask temporarily for protection and is still adjusting to the limits it puts on his vision. . . . Defenseman Tim Watters, out four games because of a twisted knee, will rejoin the team in Victoria. . . . Before the game, Oilers Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson were honored, Messier for his 1,000th career point and Anderson his 400th goal. The two achieved those milestones Jan. 13 in Philadelphia on the same goal. They teamed up for what appeared to be a goal, only to have it disallowed by an official. One period later, they did it again, this time, no questions asked. . . . Messier was presented a silver stick for becoming the third Oiler to reach 1,000. He was preceded by Gretzy and Jari Kurri.

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