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Kings End Regular Season, Problems in Goal Continue : Hockey: They lose to Vancouver, 8-6. It appears that Hrudey will start playoffs in the nets, but he and Stauber remain shaky.


Eighty-four games have been played and the Kings still don't have a clear-cut No. 1 goaltender. But after losing to the Vancouver Canucks, 8-6, Thursday night in their regular-season finale, before a sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum, they seem to be leaning toward Kelly Hrudey.

Hrudey struggled on Tuesday against the Canucks in Vancouver, and the door swung wide open for Robb Stauber to seize the opportunity to start in the opening game of the playoffs.

But the door slammed shut by the third period when the Canucks wiped out a 5-3 Kings' lead with five third-period goals. Stauber, who had played a so-so game through two periods, slipped a notch and gave up two goals in an 11-second span.

Earlier in the third, Cliff Ronning pulled the Canucks within one at 5:28 to make it 5-4. Then he tied it, scoring on the power play, completing a three-way passing play to beat Stauber between the pads at 11:16. King Coach Barry Melrose pulled Stauber 11 seconds later when he gave up a slow trickler to Trevor Linden, who shot from the edge of the right-wing circle. The goals came on back-to-back shots and gave the Canucks a 6-5 lead.

Melrose replaced Stauber with Hrudey, who gave up the game-winner to Geoff Courtnall at 14:54. Courtnall, alone in front, beat Hrudey up high to make it 7-6. This came after the Kings had seemed to pick up momentum when they tied the score on Mike Donnelly's power-play goal at 14:35.

The Canucks scored an empty-netter with Hrudey pulled for an extra attacker. Ronning completed his hat trick when he turned and fired a 50-footer into the empty net with 1:13 to play for his 29th of the season.

"Robb was struggling, and he looked a little unsure of himself on the last goal," Melrose said. "He gave up a couple bad goals; that's why I pulled him. I haven't decided who will start in the playoffs. . . . You can't read too much into this. It was a typical game that didn't mean anything. What I'm hoping is this upsets the guys."

Before the third, it had been an exciting offensive show for the Kings, who finished 39-35-10. They looked like they were going to reverse a losing trend against the Canucks. But Vancouver has excelled against them all season, losing only twice to the Kings in nine meetings.

One of the few bright spots was the Kings' left wing, Luc Robitaille, who has played well all season. Robitaille, who played all 84 games, has had the best season ever by a left wing. His four-point performance on a goal and three assists moved him past Pittsburgh's Kevin Stevens to become the NHL's all-time leader for points scored in a season among left wings.

Robitaille came into the finale with 121 points, needing two points to tie Stevens. By the end of the first period he did that, scoring the first goal of the game for his 63rd of the season at 1:39 and helping set up Tomas Sandstrom at 10:06 to give the Kings a 2-1 lead after one period.

He moved past Stevens at 6:57 of the second period, coming up with the second assist on Wayne Gretzky's 16th goal of the season, which tied the score at 3-3. And Robitaille wasn't even going to play on Thursday as he was suffering from a case of flu. Gretzky, at least for the first two periods, also played a strong game with one goal and two assists.

"It would have felt better if we would have won the game," Robitaille said. "I'm happy, but it's always a lot more fun when you win."

King Notes

For King fans, the first game of the playoffs won't quite be the same. Because ABC is carrying Game 1 in Calgary on Sunday afternoon, it means that Prime Ticket television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller won't be calling the action. Miller, who is in his 20th season as the voice of the Kings, said he has never missed a playoff game in 17 series. Apparently, radio isn't an option, which is a shame since Miller is considered one of the best announcers in the business, in any sport. . . . Rob Blake has missed five consecutive games with a lower-back contusion and said he is doubtful for Game 1 of the playoffs. He skated Wednesday but still feels pain when he leans forward.

Playoffs at a Glance


First round, Smythe Division

Best-of-seven series

All times PDT -- Sunday: at Calgary, Noon (TV: Channel 7) -- Wednesday: at Calgary, 6:30 p.m. -- April 23: at Forum, 7:30 p.m. -- April 25: at Forum, Noon -- April 27: at Calgary*, 6:30 p.m. -- April 29: at Forum*, 7:30 p.m. -- May 1: at Calgary*, 5 p.m. * if necessary

--Times after Sunday are tentative.

--Prime Ticket will televise all games that are not carried by Channel 7.

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