As the final minutes of the sixth consecutive overtime between the Kings and the Jets were ticking away at the Forum Wednesday night, the Kings’ Steve Kasper slapped a shot at Winnipeg goalie Pokey Reddick, and Reddick made another in a long series of stops to keep the Kings at bay.
But this time the rebound bounced to the side, to the Kings’ Marty McSorley, who threw a centering pass out to the front of the net and just hoped for the best.
The puck glanced off the skate of Winnipeg’s Dave Ellett and became the game-winning goal in the 2-1 victory that finally put the Kings over the top, that finally clinched second place in the Smythe Division and gave them the home-ice advantage over the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs that begin next week.
“Wait till the calls home start tonight,” McSorley said, basking in the moment. “It doesn’t say in the box score how I got it--just that I got it.”
McSorley himself called it a fluke. But that was before he got his brothers on the phone.
The Kings could have secured second place--their highest finish since being assigned to the Smythe Division for the 1981-82 season--by letting the game end in another tie, an odds-defying fifth straight against the Jets. Instead, they wrapped it up with a victory on a fluke goal.
The Kings’ record of 40-31-7 puts them solidly ahead of the Oilers, who won at Vancouver Wednesday to run their record to 38-33-8 with one more game to play. The Kings have a home-and-home series against the Vancouver Canucks this weekend.
Wayne Gretzky is expecting some rest in those games, but he says he will play in both. He will even make the trip to Vancouver.
“The good thing about wrapping up second place is that now we can start concentrating on preparing to meet Edmonton in the playoffs,” Gretzky said.
The Jets, the only team in the division with nowhere to go when the regular season ends this weekend, sure didn’t look like a 25-41-12 team in the series against the Kings.
The Kings’ victory Wednesday night was their first over the Jets since Oct. 28. Since then, the Kings were winless in five straight--all overtime games.
In the two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday night at the Forum, the Jets received stellar goalie performances back-to-back, with Bob Essensa facing 42 shots and stopping 39 Tuesday night and Reddick facing 50 shots and stopping 48 Wednesday.
King goalie Kelly Hrudey, who should know, commented: Their goaltending was the story of the series. I didn’t think anybody in the league was going to come in here and outplay Essensa’s Tuesday night game. And then look what Reddick did. That’s as good a job of goaltending as you’ll ever see in back-to-back games.
“I was impressed.”
Hrudey didn’t have a bad game himself, facing 29 shots. And he even got an assist on Gretzky’s goal after he came out of the crease to stop a shot by Fredrik Olausson and sent the pass out to Gretzky for the goal at 15:32 of the first period.
Former King Paul Fenton evened the score at 1-1 when his slap shot from the bottom of the right circle bounced off Hrudey’s leg pad and into the goal at 6:18 of the second period.
It was a scoreless game for the next 37 minutes. Both teams were thinking defense, and were very cautious.
Hrudey said: “We showed patience and perseverance.
McSorley noticed that, too.
“We took 50 shots on their net, and I think it’s miraculous that they only scored one goal on us while we were generating that kind of offense,” he said. “That’s a good sign going into the playoffs.”
Winnipeg Coach Rick Bowness couldn’t have asked for a better effort from a team playing out a losing season. And he surely couldn’t complain about that last goal.
“Pokey Reddick saved our buns again tonight,” Bowness said. “He made a lot of great saves and it’s too bad the winning goal had to go in off a skate. But that’s the way it happened.”
Saturday night the Kings will play their last home game of the regular season against the Vancouver Canucks before finishing the season Sunday at Vancouver. Saturday night will be Fan Appreciation Night and the evening will begin with the annual team awards ceremony. The game is sold out. . . . Wednesday night’s sellout was the 23rd of the season. The Kings will finish with 24 regular-season sellouts, three times the previous record of eight. . . . Phil Sykes missed his fourth straight game with a sore groin. . . . Kelly Hrudey made his fifth straight start in goal for the Kings Wednesday night.