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Oiler Spill Is Disaster for Cup Champions : After Blowing 3-1 Edge, Edmonton Players Bemoan First-Round Elimination

Times Staff Writer

Normand Lacombe threw his stick.

Esa Tikkanen kicked it.

Charlie Huddy sat alone in a stairwell and buried his head in a towel.

A few players, including Kevin Lowe, cried as they made their way off the ice Saturday night at the Forum.

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For the first time since 1974, the defending Stanley Cup champions had been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round.

And the Edmonton Oilers were none too happy about it.

Their 6-3 loss to the Kings made them only the sixth team in National Hockey League history to blow a 3-1 lead in a seven-game series.

“Obviously, it’s very disappointing,” said Jimmy Carson, who also had to endure reporters’ questions about the effects of the trade last summer that sent Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

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Carson was one of the players shipped to Edmonton.

“I think the difference (in the series) was probably the Kelly Hrudey trade,” Carson said of the deal two months ago that brought the highly regarded goaltender to the Kings from the New York Islanders. “When (King owner) Bruce McNall got Kelly Hrudey, he really helped that team.

“He had a great series.”

Oiler Coach Glen Sather, though, indicated that he knew last August that the end of the Oilers’ reign might be near.

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“If anybody thought for a moment when he was sold last summer to Los Angeles that he wasn’t going to make a difference in that team, they must have been smoking dope,” Sather said of Gretzky, who had two goals and an assist Saturday night and led the Kings with 13 points in the series.

“He’s the greatest hockey player in the world, and he’ll stay that way as long as he plays. If you don’t think that guy has an effect on a hockey club . . . you just have to coach him to find out.”

Has there been a shift in the balance of power?

Has Gretzky made the Kings better than the Oilers?

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“I don’t know whether you could call it a power shift,” the Oilers’ Craig MacTavish said. “They beat us in a seven-game series that was as close as can be.

“You can call it a power shift down here if you want, but we’re not going to call it that up in Edmonton.

“He obviously makes them a great hockey team, but we still had a great opportunity to win this series.”

But they let it slip away.

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Chris Kontos, virtually unknown before the start of the series, outscored almost all of the Oilers’ big guns, including Carson, Tikkanen, Craig Simpson and Glenn Anderson.

“We didn’t get the kind of production I thought we’d get from a lot of players,” Sather said.

Sather blanched when asked if it was any more disappointing to the Oilers to be eliminated by a team that included Gretzky.

“Wayne’s the greatest hockey player in the world,” he said. “I’m not going to get into name-calling, or wish him a lot of hard luck in the next series. He’s a great guy and I don’t have anything but fond memories.”

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Speaking of the next series, how did Sather think the Kings would fare in the Smythe Division final against the Calgary Flames?

“You’d have to ask Ftorek,” Sather said, referring to Coach Robbie Ftorek of the Kings. “That’s none of my business.”

He was right, of course.

The Oilers were finished.

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