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Fiset Stops Whalers Cold in 3-2 King Win

Hockey: Goaltender's acrobatics in final 20 minutes keep team unbeaten on this trip.

November 03, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HARTFORD, Conn. — Stephane Fiset sprawled on his back like a turtle, his body spinning and his limbs flailing while anxious eyes focused on him from every corner of the Civic Center.

How he made acrobatic saves on Gerald Diduck's 15-foot shot at 13:09 of the third period and Adam Burt's backhander less than two minutes later to preserve the Kings' 3-2 victory over the Hartford Whalers Saturday, no one was sure.

Even Fiset could not describe the spectacular stops that twice left him prone, his arms and legs everywhere, but the puck safely in his possession.

"I don't know either," said Fiset, who made 35 saves and has stopped 99 of 103 shots in three games since being pulled against Edmonton on Oct. 24. "Some nights you have the luck. . . . The puck was very big for me tonight."

Fiset came up big for the Kings (6-6-2) on a night his teammates did many little things right, improving their record on this trip to 2-0-1 with one game left and their unbeaten streak to 2-0-2. The Whalers, playing before a lively crowd of 13,425, lost at home for the first time after four victories and a tie but had nothing but praise for Coach Larry Robinson's team.

"They played well. It's all Larry," defenseman Paul Coffey said. "He's got the team where he wants it to be. He's got everybody believing. I can't tell you how much respect he commands."

Their solid positional play and doggedness on defense helped blunt a Hartford offense that relies on speed and scoring from the wings. If the Kings didn't halt the Whalers (5-3-2) completely, they got enough of a player's body to defuse a rush or make the Whalers regroup and give their own defense time to get back.

"This is a darned good team, and for the most part we did a good job of not stopping them, but [slowing them] a bit so they were not able to get in on us," Robinson said. "The forwards and the defensemen were there to help each other."

Offensively, the Kings were incredibly opportunistic, never more so than when Kevin Stevens scored their first goal without even taking a shot.

Stevens, who has struggled since he arrived from Boston in the Rick Tocchet trade, was cruising by the right post when Vitali Yachmenev's centering pass deflected off the stick of Whaler goalie Sean Burke and bounced off Stevens' chest and into the net. That tied the score, 1-1, 6:16 into the second period, less than a minute after Steven Rice had converted his own rebound for the game's first goal.

"Those kind of goals will go in if we go to the net," Robinson said. "We're doing a much better job going for rebounds and skating to the front of the net, and we have to continue that."

Ed Olczyk put the Kings ahead at 13:44, after he pounced on a puck that squirted free in the Kings' zone and outraced defensemen Adam Burt and Glen Wesley to break in alone on Burke. "He went to the old Davey Keon backhander up top," Robinson said, referring to the great Toronto Maple Leaf center of the 1960s.

Olczyk, one of the Kings' oldest players at 30, knows who Keon is. "Yeah, and some of the guys were asking me if I played with him," he said.

Ray Ferraro, a former Whaler, gave the Kings a 3-1 lead at 18:28 of the middle period, redirecting a pass from Craig Johnson for his fifth goal. Rice brought the Whalers close when he ripped a wrist shot inside the right post with less than a second left in the period, but Fiset blanked Hartford for the final 20 minutes.

"The guy's probably one of the best-kept secrets in the league," Ferraro said of Fiset. "He played in Quebec and the team struggled, but he was [22-6-7] in Colorado last season. It's not like the guy fell off a box of turnips.

"A lot more people are going to know about him before the end of the year. He's one of the most underrated guys at his position in the league."

Fiset, whose 11 career victories over Hartford are the most he has earned against any opponent, credited his teammates' attention to defense for his success Saturday.

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