Until Wayne Gretzky’s line got warmed up in the second period, the Kings’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night was looking to be a defensive matchup featuring the Kings’ new goalie, Kelly Hrudey, and another of the National Hockey League’s best, Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall.
Defense and fisticuffs were all the rage until Gretzky took over in the last half of the second period. After that, the defense dropped off a little but the fisticuffs didn’t.
Gretzky, who had scored the Kings’ only goal in the first period, added assists on all four of the goals scored in the second period, then scored the only goal of the third period on a breakaway as the Kings beat the Flyers, 6-2, before another sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum.
As Gretzky scored the Kings’ final goal, Jay Wells, who was chasing him up the ice with no chance of catching him, demonstrated the brutality level of the game by reaching out with his stick and swinging away with a solid, two-handed slash that caught Gretzky in the left elbow. As the puck went into the net, Gretzky doubled over, holding his left arm. He was helped from the ice by trainer Pete Demers and never returned to the game.
It had long since been decided, anyway. There were just more punches to be thrown. At the end there were six Flyers on the ice swinging at five Kings. In the final tally--a tally that continued on the back of the official score sheet--the Kings were assessed 27 penalties for a total of 110 minutes and the Flyers 24 penalties for 104 minutes.
But, as Gretzky said as he was shrugging off the “not overly hard slash” and trying to shift the focus: “It was a win we needed desperately.”
After a miserable trip (in which they went 1-3-1), the Kings need every point they can get in their battle with Edmonton for second place in the Smythe Division and home ice in the first round of the playoffs. With the victory, the Kings’ record improved to 34-27-6. That’s exactly the Oilers’ record.
“We knew it would be a physical game,” Gretzky said, and although a lot of Kings ended up bruised and battered, there were no serious injuries.
King defenseman Dean Kennedy, who had a mean-looking bump swelling over his right eye, argued that the positive side of all the fighting was that nobody got cut with a swinging stick. Limit the fighting to fists and everyone lives to fight another day.
It was defenseman Dale DeGray who was trying to get at Wells after the slash at Gretzky. Asked how he felt about seeing his teammates stick up for him like that, Gretzky said: “It’s just a reminder that whether it’s myself or any other player, when the game is 6-1 with just a few minutes left, those plays will not be tolerated.”
It was Hrudey’s first start for the Kings at the Forum, and he was brilliant, stopping 28 shots after getting beaten by Rick Tocchet on the Flyers’ first shot of the night, just 20 seconds into the game. He also gave up a late goal to Dave Poulin.
Gretzky had tied the score, 1-1, at 16 minutes of the first period, and then it was a standoff for 14 minutes during which the game was slowed by the series of fights.
Gretzky set up the first goal of the four-goal series in the second period by holding the puck behind the net--and holding it and holding it--because the Flyers were holding up his teammates, giving him nowhere to pass the puck. Tim Watters was tied up at the left post, and Mike Krushelnyski was tied up at the right post. Finally, Gretzky skated around to the front and took the shot himself. Mike Allison and Krushelnyski both jumped at the rebound, and the puck went in off Krushelnyski’s stick at 10:15.
Less than three minutes later, at 13:12, Krushelnyski jumped on the rebound of a shot by Watters and backhanded it past Hextall as he skated across the front of the net.
And just 43 seconds later, Gretzky did his thing behind the net again, only this time Allison was free to take the pass, and he pocked it into the right corner.
In two consecutive shifts, the Gretzky-Allison-Krushelnyski line had scored three goals.
The final goal of the period was scored by Bernie Nicholls, who ended his seven-game drought by getting the puck behind Hextall and into the right corner as the finishing touch of his two-on-one breakaway, Nicholls racing up the right side, passing the puck back and forth with Gretzky, who was racing up the left side.