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Nothing Is Solved for Kings, 7-4 : Hockey: Hrudey is hit hard in loss to Canucks. Melrose isn't sure who will be in goal when playoffs begin Sunday against Calgary.


VANCOUVER, Canada — This was supposed to be the game that helped answer the last major question for King Coach Barry Melrose.

Which goaltender will start for the Kings in the playoffs?

With Melrose's choices narrowed down to Kelly Hrudey or Robb Stauber, the situation only grew more muddled with Tuesday night's 7-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the Pacific Coliseum before a sellout crowd of 16,150.

All other suspense ended during the first period after the Tampa Bay-Winnipeg score was announced. The Lightning's 5-3 victory over the Jets meant the Kings had clinched third place in the Smythe Division and will play the second-place Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs, starting Sunday at Calgary.

By the time the Kings realized they would finish third, the Canucks were already leading, 1-0, on Petr Nedved's 38th goal of the season, at 4:28 of the first.

Then the Canucks started using Hrudey for target practice, scoring four goals in a span of 1:29. The final three came in a 48-second span, setting a Vancouver team record for its fastest three goals in a game. The Canucks led, 5-0, at the end of the first period. Although Hrudey was virtually abandoned by his defensemen, it was his worst stretch of hockey since the Kings' three-month, midseason slump.

The Canucks' first five goals came on 14 shots. Hrudey gave up consecutive goals on the 13th and 14th shots.

He had entered the game with a 3-0-1 record in his previous four starts, with a goals-against average of 2.20 in that span. Tuesday was hardly a confidence builder and now Melrose will probably see what Stauber can do in the last game of the season against the Canucks on Thursday in Los Angeles. Stauber is 4-1-2 in his last seven starts.

"I've just taken three Tylenol for my headache," said Melrose, who was strangely giddy afterward. "I'll think about (the goaltenders) tomorrow."

At least the Kings didn't give up after the first period. It was almost like their 6-2 defeat in Vancouver on March 24 when they fell behind, 4-0, in the first period and rallied a bit after goaltender Rick Knickle was pulled. The Kings haven't won a game in Vancouver this season in four attempts.

"It's wild," Melrose said. "I don't have any answers. . . We feel we can beat Vancouver. That's not a problem. The only good thing about playing Calgary is we sort of felt for a while we were going to play them."

With the second and third periods being reduced to garbage time, the Kings came back with four goals, scoring three in the second and one in the third. Defenseman Marty McSorley had three assists, bringing his point total to 40, a career high. Left wing Luc Robitaille scored his 62nd goal of the season and added one assist.

In the third period, the Kings had a chance to tie it at 5-5 when Vancouver goaltender Kay Whitmore stopped Mike Donnelly on a breakaway with three minutes remaining. Play continued and Pavel Bure carried the puck out of his own end, bringing it into the Kings' zone. Cliff Ronning fed the puck to defenseman Jyrki Lumme, who beat Hrudey from the edge of the left circle to make it 6-4.

King Notes

With Game 1 of the Smythe Division semifinals starting Sunday to accommodate ABC, the Kings will have two days off before Game 2 Wednesday. They are planning to stay in Banff, Canada, and practice there between games. In 1990, the Kings used Banff as their base and went on to upset Calgary in the first round. Game 3 will be in L.A. on April 23, and Game 4 is tentatively scheduled for April 25.

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