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He's Still King of the Forum

Hockey: Gretzky's back in town, and he scores the game's first goal to lead Rangers past Kings, 6-2.

March 07, 1997|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a good thing the Kings recently had a chance to see what a five-game winning streak feels like because Thursday night the New York Rangers made sure they didn't forget how a loss felt.

With Wayne Gretzky making his first appearance at the Forum in a Ranger uniform, New York scored the first four goals and applied a major blow to the Kings' playoff chances with a 6-2 victory in front of 16,005, the team's fourth sellout this season.

Gretzky scored the game's first goal and added an assist, and Mark Messier had three assists for the Rangers, who scored two short-handed goals and had one power-play score against the Kings, who have been outscored, 10-2, in two games against New York.

Including Tuesday's loss at Edmonton, the Kings--who had moved into the playoff picture with five consecutive wins--have lost two in a row but are still only six points away from the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.

Starting with a lengthy fight between the Kings' Doug Zmolek and the Rangers' Darren Langdon, the Kings seemed to be off a bit all night. They were outshot, 29-25, and were one for six in power plays but gave up two short-handed goals.

"We've talked about the same thing all year. It really comes down to that the guys on our power plays are just getting outworked," King Coach Larry Robinson said. "They think they can just go out there and it's going to happen. But, it's not happening. We're waiting for someone else to do something. . . . We don't cover up for each other and do not have the intensity."

With goalie Stephane Fiset sidelined for as long as a month because of a groin/stomach injury, Byron Dafoe struggled in his first start since Feb. 18. Dafoe faced 19 shots and gave up five goals in two periods before being replaced by Jamie Storr in the third.

Dafoe, who replaced Fiset and gave up two goals in two periods against the Oilers, did not get much help on Gretzky's 18th goal of the season, 4:02 into the first period.

The Rangers, who have the best power play in the NHL, capitalized on their first man advantage when Dafoe stopped a slap shot by Bruce Diver, but New York's Chris Ferraro kept the play alive in the crease before Gretzky knocked it into the net for a 1-0 lead.

The Kings tried to answer with several shots on New York goalie Glenn Healy, but defenseman Sean O'Donnell got caught too deep in the New York zone and Messier broke free to assist on David Oliver's second goal of the season to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead at 8:54.

New York extended its lead with consecutive short-handed goals in the second period to take a 4-0 lead.

Messier was the catalyst for the first score when he made a perfect pass to Bill Berg, who had outskated the Kings' Aki Berg--no relation--to score from the right circle at 6:09. Later in the period, Messier made almost the exact same play, only this time Niklas Sundstrom scored at 15:11 for the Rangers' 11th short-handed goal of the season and the 12th given up by the Kings.

Ray Ferraro scored the Kings' first goal 23 seconds later to cut New York's lead, but the Rangers responded with a score by Brian Leetch with nearly three minutes remaining in the period to lead, 5-1.

"We did too much watching and not enough playing," Robinson said. "It was like we were in awe of all of their players out there. Gretzky and Messier had so much room to skate out there, no one touched them all night. We talked about it before the game. They were skating and we watched them skate."

King Note

Marcel Dionne, center on the Kings' famed Triple Crown line and the third-highest scorer in NHL history, will participate in some of the festivities scheduled next weekend to celebrate the team's 30th anniversary.

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