TORONTO — His voice was steady and he managed to smile, but the redness of Mike Foligno's eyes was strong testimony to his disappointment following the Toronto Maple Leafs' season-ending 5-4 loss to the Kings on Saturday night in the Campbell Conference finals.
"Maybe it just wasn't meant to be," said the 14-year veteran, who had never even advanced to the third round of the playoffs. "When you give your all and you lose because of a couple of bounces, maybe it just wasn't meant to be.
"We thought we were going to win. After we scored the first goal of the game, we thought that. We knew if we got a goal and put some pressure on them, we could do it. They won the first period, but we outscored them and won the second period.
"When we tied it in the third (on Wendel Clark's second goal of the game), everybody on the bench felt we were going to win. You could feel the electricity in the building--in the whole country, probably."
The Kings short-circuited that surge on Mike Donnelly's goal, which glanced off both Toronto defensemen before finding its way into the net.
"God, you hate to see that type of goal," Foligno said. "Everybody on the bench just couldn't believe it."
Nor could they believe the spectacular performance of Wayne Gretzky, even the several Maple Leafs who played with Gretzky with the Kings or Edmonton Oilers.
"You can never say enough about the guy," Mike Krushelnyski said. "He always comes to play. He takes a lot of heat and has taken a lot lately, but look at what he did tonight.
"On the give-and-go play (between Gretzky and Marty McSorley) on their first goal, the guy coming back isn't usually ready for the pass. He was ready. And he gets the bounces all night. That's Gretz. . . . Afterward, I just wished him luck and wished them luck. And I meant it."
Maple Leaf Coach Pat Burns also sent his congratulations to the Kings, but first he congratulated his team on its gritty showing.
"This team went very far beyond my expectations" he said. "I just kept on telling them, 'You've got to kick at the darkness until the daylight shows.' This was a great learning process for this organization, a great steppingstone. From now on, you know if you're going to put this sweater on and wear these colors, you've got to be ready to play. . . .
"I've never been more proud of a team, and I said that to them (after the loss). I would have said it before, but I didn't want them to think it was over."
When it really was over, his players had difficulty accepting the fact that they had no more films to watch or practices to attend until September.
Doug Gilmour, whose three-assist night enabled him to retain the playoff scoring lead over Gretzky for at least another few days, was so drained by the defeat he said he might not even watch the Stanley Cup finals. He was also still bitter that Gretzky had not been penalized Thursday for cutting him on the chin early in overtime and inflicting an eight-stitch cut; Gretzky went on to score the game-winner that sent the series back to Maple Leaf Gardens.
"The playoffs for the Toronto Leafs is over. Two other teams are going on," Gilmour said. "We had a chance to get there and we didn't."