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Kings Mighty Close to Elimination, 5-2 : Hockey: Ducks keep thin playoff hopes alive with first victory at Forum.


Clearly, there is a lot more than four points separating the Mighty Ducks and the Kings in the Western Conference standings.

Although neither team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, any realistic postseason chances evaporated when the San Jose Sharks picked up seven of a possible eight points on a tough trip last week.

But it was easy to tell which team is worth watching the final two-plus weeks remaining in the season. With their 5-2 victory over the Kings, the Ducks showed on Wednesday they haven't departed from their usual tenacious style, which earned them their 30th victory of the season.

The Kings (25-40-11) haven't departed from their normal lackluster style, either. They have showed very little fire and very little pride this season and displayed an appalling inattention to the basic tenets of defense.

With seven games remaining, the Ducks (30-42-5) are eight points behind the Sharks in the race for the final playoff spot. The Kings have eight games left and trail San Jose by 12 points and the Ducks by four. Anaheim lost the season series, 4-2, but the Ducks won the final two meetings and this was their first victory at the Forum.

Apparently, the Kings didn't get the message after Coach Barry Melrose pulled them off the ice Monday, about 30 minutes into a sub-par practice. Now, it seems to be a matter of days before it becomes official--the Kings will be the first team in 24 years to miss the playoffs after reaching the Stanley Cup finals the previous season.

The expansion Ducks, who finished strongly with three third-period goals, are still trying to hit their goals. The scoring highlight for the Ducks was center Stephan Lebeau's pool-type shot from behind the net that banked in off King goaltender Kelly Hrudey into the net at 5:54 of the second period.

It looked like something Wayne Gretzky would make. "I'm not 10% as good as he is, but tonight it worked," Lebeau said.

Meanwhile, making the playoffs are a bit more difficult.

"We still feel we have hope, the light is growing dim, though," said Duck Coach Ron Wilson. "To get 30 wins, is the last thing I expected. Florida has 32 wins, we would like to pass them up."

Said Melrose: "I don't have anything smart to say to you guys. We just didn't make the play."

Before the game, there were memories of a happier time for the Kings--like last week. There was a 15-minute ceremony honoring Gretzky, who became the NHL's all-time leader when he passed Gordie Howe with his 802nd goal on March 23.

Howe, citing a family obligation, was not at the Forum.

Owner Bruce McNall gave Gretzky a gift from the organization, a $275,000 black Rolls-Royce convertible, which was driven out onto the ice.

"I really feel a little embarrassed standing here and getting this car, but I'll take it," Gretzky said.

King Notes

Paul Kariya won't join the Mighty Ducks this season. Contract talks between the Ducks and Kariya's agent, Don Baizley, have been suspended until the World Championships in Italy conclude in May, according to Anaheim General Manager Jack Ferreira.

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