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Finale a Good Start for Fiset

October 10, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

The Kings lost a game and a series on April 29, the night the St. Louis Blues beat them, 2-1, to complete a four-game sweep in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

It could be the only thing the Kings gained from those 60 minutes on the ice is a goaltender.

Stephane Fiset was between the pipes that night, his first venture back onto the ice since he had surrendered five goals in the Kings' 8-3 loss in Game 1.

Fiset stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced in Game 4. He kept the Kings in it, until they eventually--almost inevitably--lost to a Blues team that was better at finding a way to win.

Instead of starting the summer with Game 1 on his mind, Fiset could leave with a better impression. He went out with a showing more indicative of his season, when he gave up an average of 2.71 goals in 60 appearances.

Even if that Game 4 had been a disappointing effort for Fiset, at least he was out there. That beat watching from the bench, which was where he sat after Coach Larry Robinson went with Jamie Storr for Games 2 and 3.

"That was pretty hard," Fiset said. "That's in the past now. I just hope I never have to live that again. I don't want to think about that anymore, because that's in the past. That hurt a lot. I was really, really hurt when I was sitting on the bench.

"You start asking questions. 'Am I still good? What's going on?'

"It was just, like, Jamie was playing good at the end of the season and I had one bad game. [Robinson] had to change something. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn't work. When I went back for the fourth game, I think I played a good game. I knew it wasn't my confidence or anything else."

Confidence is everything to goaltenders. Jim Carey went from a Vezina Trophy winner to trade bait in less than a year in Washington because he never recovered from a playoff whipping put on him by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Robinson, whose Game 4 goaltending choice was made for him when the aftereffects of Geoff Courtnall's hit on Storr made Storr unavailable, said he would have gone back to Fiset this season anyway.

"I don't think that our thoughts changed that much," Robinson said. "Steph struggled in the first game, but so did 20 other guys. It wasn't so much that he didn't stop his usual 55 shots as much as we wanted to kind of give our guys a little wake-up call. Sometimes a goalie change like that is to give the other team a little different look.

"Steph is the one that got us where we were, and also Steph came in after Jamie was knocked out of the fourth game and came in and played great."

So there wasn't an open tryout for the goaltending spot during training camp--Storr didn't exactly give Robinson reason to reconsider by missing 12 days in a contract holdout. Fiset was the man.

Fiset did his part in the exhibition season, holding opponents to 10 goals in his four starts that resulted in a 3-0-1 record.

"I had a pretty good training camp, so my confidence is pretty good right now," Fiset said.

And it doesn't hurt to know he's the top dog.

"When you know you're the guy, that means everybody has confidence in you when you're in the goal," he said. "You're not nervous when you're playing."

Storr is the future, and Robinson will make sure to get him his work during the season. He also wants to keep both players fresh. Robinson speculates that fatigue might have been one reason Fiset faltered toward the end of last season.

Fiset and Storr remain friends locked in a healthy competition--"Nothing nasty," Fiset said. It's a solid combination. A luxury, even.

Come playoff time, one of them will have to produce some stellar performances, because no team gets anywhere near a Stanley Cup without a hot goaltender. Is Fiset ready to be the man when it counts?

"Right now, to tell the truth, I'm not thinking about the playoffs," Fiset said. "We didn't even start the season. I just want to go out there and have a great season, and we'll see what happens after that."

At the moment he's closer in time to his last playoff performance than his next one. If that April 29 game is the image that sticks in the mind for now, that's an encouraging thought for the Kings to take into the new season.

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