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Nothing Can Faze Kings These Days


PHILADELPHIA — The plane was late leaving Toronto early Thursday morning.

Another goaltender, Rick Knickle, came down with flu and had to return to Los Angeles.

In Philadelphia, the rooms at the hotel weren't ready.

Welcome to another Kings' trip from hell, a journey featuring four games in five nights and six games in nine. But after surviving the blizzard of blizzards here two weeks ago, these latest difficulties hardly fazed the Kings. They pushed away the problems with relative ease to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-1, on Thursday night at the Spectrum before a sellout crowd of 17,380, finishing this trip 3-1-2.

It was the makeup of a game on March 13, which was stopped after one period when a Spectrum window smashed due to the high winds of a blizzard and the building was deemed unsafe. The game was tacked on to this trip and the Flyers moved their game against Toronto to April 4.

This trip could have been the downfall of the Kings in the Smythe Division. Instead, the third-place Kings (37-32-9) stayed within three points of second-place Calgary, which defeated the Minnesota North Stars, 5-3.

"We had to do it," King Coach Barry Melrose said. "There's no use complaining about it. The funny thing was that everything went wrong, everything went against us. Except for the game. The outcome was perfect."

Said Wayne Gretzky, who had two assists: "It's been a tough trip. In all my years in the NHL, it's the hardest trip I've ever been on. We went from one coast to the other and played in some tough buildings each night. We played with a lot of heart and this is the way we have to play in the playoffs."

Essentially, it was playoff hockey in the sense that the Kings were forced to play a tight-checking defensive game because of the fatigue factor. They killed off six penalties, including three consecutive Flyer power plays during the third period. Goaltender Kelly Hrudey made 26 saves, giving up one goal to Mark Recchi at 7:04 of the first period.

The defense in front of Hrudey was outstanding. Additionally, two of the Kings' three goals came from the defense--Rob Blake at 14:25 of the first period for his 16th of the season, breaking a 1-1 tie, and Darryl Sydor (sixth) at 11:55 of the second.

The other goal, the Kings' first of the game, came from Luc Robitaille at 9:52 of the first. It was his 57th goal and his 112th point, a career high.

In the 1987-88 season, Robitaille scored 53 goals and had 111 points. He added one more on Thursday, assisting on Sydor's goal.

In part, the Kings were also helped by the mediocre performance of Philadelphia rookie goaltender Tommy Soderstrom, who has had something of a roller-coaster season.

Clearly, his showing on Thursday was a low point.

"What shall I say?" Soderstrom said. "Today I was brutal and that's it. I couldn't stop a beach ball. I couldn't have stopped a big beach ball. This was my worst game of the season."

Once again, Melrose used his entire bench and ended up playing his so-called fourth line of Warren Rychel-Pat Conacher-Dave Taylor more than the third line of Lonnie Loach-Jimmy Carson-Jari Kurri.

"They (the fourth line) have played really well for us," Marty McSorley said. "They know they don't have to score. They've been tough and have given the bench such a big lift. I think this trip has shown that we're capable of playing the way we did in the first 30 games of the season."

This development has been the best news of the trip for Melrose. The Kings are finally showing what they can do with the team healthy and intact.

With second place still a possibility, Melrose views the final six games as a mini-playoff. Which is good and bad. "I'm not a normal nice guy during the playoffs," he said.

Along those lines, he will try to create semi-road conditions when the Kings are playing home playoff games. Unbeknown to his players, he wants them to stay at a hotel away from their families at home and on the road.

"It's more rest for them," he said. "The guys on the team have a lot of little kids. Children don't understand the playoffs."

Not a fancy hotel, mind you. That's not Melrose's way.

"I'm not a big resort guy," he said. "I'm a gulag guy."

This trip has been ideal preparation.

King Notes

Owner Bruce McNall received the Lester Patrick Trophy on Thursday in New York. The award is for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Also honored was NHL President Gil Stein.

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