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Kings Penalize Hopes for the Playoffs Again


VANCOUVER, Canada — For the Kings, a familiar pattern has emerged this season. They take a handful of unnecessary, untimely penalties and lose a hockey game. Afterward, they repent, saying they learned a lesson.

Then it happens again. And again.

Facing the prospect of failing to make the playoffs did not cure the Kings of this tendency Sunday. They gave up four power-play goals in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Pacific Coliseum.

The Kings (25-39-11) are 10 points behind the San Jose Sharks in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with nine games remaining. The Sharks beat the Blues in St. Louis.

"I don't think you have to be a genius to see it puts us in a hole," said the Kings' Wayne Gretzky, who had two assists. "There are nine games left, we pretty much have to win every game. We've dug ourselves in a big hole. We're (10 points) back and we need help now. We've got to win all nine games."

The Canucks came into Sunday's game with the league's worst power play at home, effective only 11.5% of the time. Friday, they failed on all seven power plays and gave up two shorthanded goals to the Rangers.

There were no such problems with the Kings. Three of the Canuck power-play goals were by right wing Pavel Bure in the second period and his fifth NHL hat trick brought a flurry of hats onto the ice from the sellout crowd of 16,150. The goals were his 51st, 52nd and 53rd of the season.

His third goal seemed to be a major turning point, giving the Canucks a 3-2 lead at 19:19 of the period. With Pat Conacher off for slashing Greg Adams, Bure shot the puck at goaltender Robb Stauber from a bad angle from below the left circle. The puck hit Stauber's stick and then his shoulder and plopped behind him into the net.

"I blocked the pass and it went up my stick and hit my shoulder and went in," said Stauber, who faced 43 shots. "How it went in behind me I don't know. That's a heartbreaker.

"We played well to get to 2-2. A fluke goal takes a bit of the wind out of you. It's like giving up a touchdown in the last second."

King Coach Barry Melrose was critical of Stauber's play, saying: "Three of the goals, Robb should have had. Robb's got to make those saves."

Perhaps Melrose should have been tougher on those who took penalties leading to power-play goals--Conacher, Gary Shuchuk, Phil Crowe and Alexei Zhitnik. At least Conacher made some amends with his 13th goal of the season. The other two King goals came from Tony Granato (eighth) and Mike Donnelly (21st).

"You can't do that--you can't take penalties that jeopardize the outcome of a hockey game," Gretzky said. "We've done it all season long, and we continue to do it. It was not the sole reason we lost, but it doesn't help. We have no one to blame but ourselves."

Crowe's penalty might have been the worst of the four. He was beaten handily by Canuck enforcer Shawn Antoski in a fight at 3:17 of the first period. Attempting to save face, Crowe went after Antoski in the second period, but Antoski refused to fight and Crowe went off with a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Bure scored his first goal of the game 27 seconds later with a slap shot from the top of the left circle, making the score 1-1.

"Phil wants to help the team," Melrose said. "The guy turtled. Phil's young. He thought the guy would fight him, and he didn't. Phil will learn from that."

Said Crowe: "I wasn't smart on the play. I know what I did on the play was selfish. I think I let the team down. Some of us have been acting as individuals . . . I was guilty of that tonight. I probably cost us the game."

King Notes

John Druce, who suffered a mild concussion when he was checked from behind on Friday in Edmonton, did not play against the Canucks. He said his neck was stiff but he would probably practice today.

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