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As Maple Leafs Fall, Kings Keep Rising : Hockey: Third victory in a row, 4-1 in Toronto, puts Los Angeles back into the playoff picture.

March 14, 1995|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TORONTO — Three games later, King Coach Barry Melrose put his resume away and everyone quit worrying about what to buy Wayne Gretzky for his retirement party.

Dazed and confused no longer, the Kings have stirred, climbing back into the Western Conference playoff race with a 4-1 victory over Toronto before 15,746 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Monday's victory, which put them in a ninth-place tie with San Jose and Edmonton, one point out of a playoff spot behind eighth-place Winnipeg, was achieved even though they were without injured defenseman Rob Blake and forward Jari Kurri.

It was their third consecutive victory, the first time the Kings (8-11-4) have accomplished that feat since a three-game span last season from Oct. 29, 1993-Nov. 6, 1993. For King goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who faced 40 shots, it was his third consecutive victory and sixth of the season.

Right wing Rick Tocchet and left wing Dan Quinn, looking as though they have played together for years, combined for five points. Tocchet had three points, scoring his team-leading 13th goal and adding two assists. Quinn, converting a precise cross-ice pass from Tocchet, scored the game-winner with 18 seconds remaining in the first period for his seventh of the season and later added a third-period assist.

And Gretzky, who seems to be answering questions about his future on an hourly basis, picked up two points, including an empty-netter with 27 seconds remaining for his first goal in seven games.

After last week's debacle in Dallas, an 8-2 loss on Monday, the Kings knew how slender the margin of error was for them the rest of this five-game trip.

"A week ago, the situation was that if we didn't win two or three games, we're done," Tony Granato said. "We couldn't go into the last half of the season being eight or 10 points out of a playoff spot.

"We were almost at the panic point because of the way we were losing."

Said Gretzky: "There's no question that if we went 0-5, the playoffs would have been tough to get into."

The Kings have tightened up defensively, allowing three goals in their last two games. In the Kings' three victories--against Chicago, Winnipeg and Toronto--their penalty-killing unit has been flawless, not giving up a goal in 11 opportunities, including six by the Maple Leafs.

Maybe it has something to do with the road. The Kings are 6-3-2 away from the Forum and have lost once on the road in their last five games.

"We don't like earthquakes, fires and mudslides, so obviously we can't play in L.A," Melrose said. "We like snow and travel. Maybe we should play in Newfoundland. They have everything we like. There hasn't been an earthquake there in 400 years."

Said Granato: "We're just playing with confidence for the first time all year. This is the toughest trip of the year. Our backs were as much against the wall as much as (they have) ever been since I've been playing here."

*

King Notes

King forward and former Maple Leaf Eric Lacroix scored his fourth goal of the season, at 5:41 of the first period, something of a bonus for his father and Quebec General Manager Pierre Lacroix, who attended the game. . . . An ex-King who is struggling for once: Dixon Ward, who has three assists in 22 games, has been put on waivers and will go to the minors if he clears.

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