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To Kings, a Tie Looks Good

Hockey: Struggling to turn season around, L.A. battles back from two-goal deficit against defensive-minded Minnesota in 2-2 finish.

November 19, 2001|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Most days, the Kings probably would not feel good about themselves after a tie against the Minnesota Wild. Most days, the Kings would not look favorably upon tying a second-year expansion team.

But for the struggling Kings, who have won only two of their last 11 games and are last in the Western Conference, these are not most days.

So their 2-2 tie Sunday night in front of a crowd of 18,064 in the Xcel Energy Center, the Wild's 58th consecutive sellout, felt a little like a victory.

Playing without injured regulars Adam Deadmarsh and Mathieu Schneider, two of their top three scorers, against a determined, defense-oriented opponent, the Kings battled back from a 2-0 first-period deficit after giving up power-play goals on each of the Wild's first two shots against backup goaltender Jamie Storr.

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," said Storr, who stopped the Wild's last 16 shots in only his second start of the season. "We have to look at this game and realize there are a lot of things we did very positively.

"To play sound defensively and to come back, down 2-0 in someone else's barn after being in sort of a skid, is always a positive."

Ziggy Palffy got the Kings close with an impossible-angle backhanded shot from the bottom of the right circle late in the second period, then set up the tying goal, which was scored by Steve Heinze midway through the third.

Meanwhile, the Kings killed five penalties after the Wild, successful on an NHL-leading 22.1% of its power-play opportunities before Sunday, got goals by Sergei Zholtok and Marian Gaborik in their first two man-advantages.

Oddly enough, Coach Andy Murray said it was an injury that rallied the Kings, veteran winger Kelly Buchberger suffering a bruised left knee after he was tripped by Wild center Darby Hendrickson late in the first period.

Said Murray: "The word went down the bench when Kelly Buchberger got hurt, 'He's fought a lot of battles all year for us, so let's go out and battle hard and get ourselves back in this thing--play hard like Bucky would like us to play. Like he plays.' There was a bit of determination. They talked about it between periods too."

Buchberger, who has played in 198 consecutive games, returned for one shift in the second period but was unable to continue.

Still, his presence was felt.

"Absolutely," Heinze said. "He's a big leader in this locker room and a guy that has stood up for his teammates his whole career and a guy that stands up in the locker room--the epitome of a hockey player.

"So when a guy like that goes down, you've got to respond and get a little angry and go out there and work at it, and I think we did."

They were fortunate on Palffy's goal, his shot intended as a pass before glancing off the stick of defenseman Ladislav Benysek and the blocker of goaltender Dwayne Roloson before settling into the net at 17:20 of the second period.

"I tried to just put puck in front of net and got a good bounce," Palffy said. "I was surprised. I tried to pass it across to somebody but

No need to apologize, Storr said.

"We got a lucky bounce, but hey, we haven't had a lot of lucky bounces in the last couple of weeks so, for us to get a goal like that, we deserve that," he said. "It's about time something like that happens."

On the tying goal, Heinze skated left to right through the slot and took a pretty pass from behind the net by Palffy and ... mishandled it.

He stopped, pivoted and whacked a backhander into the net.

"I should have had it the first time because it was an unbelievable pass, but I turned it into a grenade," Heinze said. "So I just turned around and slapped it at the net. The goalie actually carried it in as he tried to cover it up, so I guess it goes to show, just shoot whenever you have the puck."

And, his teammates might add, keep working when all looks lost.

"It's not a good feeling when you look at the board and you've [given up] two shots and two goals," Storr said. "I was very fortunate that the team rallied around me instead of looking at it like, 'Oh, we're down 2-0 again."'

Murray, who questioned his team's heart after Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, couldn't help but feel encouraged about the follow-up.

"We're scraping for every point, so we'll take this one," he said. "For a team that doesn't have many points, we've got to take every one we can get."

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