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One Curse Down, at Least One More to Go for Kings

April 17, 2001|ELLIOTT TEAFORD

"The Curse of Marty McSorley" finally has been broken.

The Kings at last started exorcising the Stanley Cup playoff demons that have haunted them since McSorley was found to be playing with a stick that violated the rules in Game 2 of the 1993 finals against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Kings actually won a postseason game Sunday, defeating the Detroit Red Wings, 2-1, in Game 3 at Staples Center and ending their miserable 14-game playoff losing streak. The home victory was their first since Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Kings actually had a playoff lead Sunday, scoring first on Luc Robitaille's wicked blast from the slot past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood's stick 8:21 into the second period. They last led in Game 3 of their 1998 opening-round series against the St. Louis Blues, a.k.a. "The Meltdown on Manchester."

Defenseman Sean O'Donnell's five-minute major led to four power-play goals by St. Louis, erasing a 3-0 King lead and propelling the Blues to a four-game series sweep.

"What is it next? A power-play goal?" asked a laughing Robitaille, the lone King holdover from their last playoff victory.

Robitaille knows the history. He has lived through every hideous minute of it. He has played a role in the Kings' 0-for-34 slump without a power-play goal in the last two postseasons against the Red Wings, for instance.

"Franchise-wise, there's not much we can do now about the past," Robitaille said Monday after the Kings' optional skate at their El Segundo practice facility. "The big thing is we want to win this series."

How the Kings rid themselves of their losing streak was nothing special. They simply played hockey the way it's supposed to be played. They delivered checks instead of absorbing them. They protected the front of their net as if their lives depended on it, whipping rebounds out of harm's way and making life a good deal easier for goalie Felix Potvin.

The Kings also got in the faces of the Red Wings, sending Darren McCarty to the bench doubled over in pain at least twice and blanking Sergei Fedorov for the first time in three games. McCarty had made a pest of himself in the first two games and Fedorov had a goal in Games 1 and 2.

"We didn't have a good start to the first two games and that was the difference [Sunday] night," said defenseman Jere Karalahti, who was finally a physical presence Sunday. "We had to come back."

King Coach Andy Murray figured there were only five guys--Karalahti, Philippe Boucher, Adam Deadmarsh, Nelson Emerson and Glen Murray--who had played well in the first two games of the series. And that was the main reason the Red Wings won both by lopsided scores of 5-3 and 4-0.

"We rate our players after every game," Murray explained Monday. "I think we had two guys who were below average [Sunday] night. Some were average and the rest were above average."

That's a stark contrast to the lackluster efforts the Kings got in the two games in Detroit. Murray hammered home a simple message before Game 3, one he hopes his team remembers going into Game 4 on Wednesday at Staples.

"When you hang up your skates for the last time, you shouldn't have any regrets," he said. "If the season was to end Wednesday, if we lost four straight to them, we felt there would be a lot of regrets. Last year, we felt we really battled in all four games. I remember coming back after losing the first two games and sitting in this office and saying, 'Boy, we're playing pretty hard. What more can we do?'

"We came back [Sunday] and agreed we haven't played well yet. Our biggest hope is that three-quarters of our team hasn't started to play yet. I sensed [Sunday] night, right from the start, it was going to be different. It was going to be a different game. I thought we were resilient. We hadn't shown a lot of resiliency."

If the Kings play with the same sort of intensity and effectiveness Wednesday in Game 4, this series could be even at two games apiece.

"If" is a big word, though.

For instance, what if McSorley had been playing with a legal stick eight years ago in the Montreal Forum, would the Kings have gone on to win the 1993 Stanley Cup? If he hadn't used that illegal stick, would the Kings have suffered through a 14-game playoff losing streak?

BETTMAN SPEAKS

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman stopped by Staples to watch Sunday's game. Among the topics he covered with reporters were slumping TV ratings, attendance woes in Anaheim and East Rutherford, N.J., and the league's two-referee system.

Of the ratings, which are down slightly after a 22% gain last season, he said:

"ABC is not concerned. ESPN is not concerned. The league is not concerned. We're getting great exposure. Let's not keep score so quickly."

Of low attendance averages for the last-place Mighty Ducks (less than 14,000 this season) and the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils (several players expressed surprise at a sellout for Game 1 of their opening-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes), he said:

"Anaheim has been a great market for us and we expect it will continue to be a great market for us. The fans will be back. [The Devils] are playing in a building that's too big and needs to be replaced. But they sold out their first two games, so that's good."

Of the refereeing, which has been criticized at times this season because of the influx of younger, less experienced referees:

"The officiating hasn't been an issue. We phased in the two-referee system and it's worked very well, but we also know it's going to get better. It's a work in progress."

In addition, Bettman said the league has provided referees with laptop computers, e-mailing video clips of poor calls or good ones in an attempt to offer more timely constructive criticism.

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