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Is Kontos’ Success a Catch-22? : Kings’ New Wing May Be Forced to Fly Off to Islanders

Times Staff Writer

If he is as productive offensively against the Calgary Flames as he was against the Edmonton Oilers, Chris Kontos of the Kings might just play himself right off the team.

Kontos, 25, could be the player to be named in the trade that sent goaltender Mark Fitzpatrick and defenseman Wayne McBean to the New York Islanders and brought goaltender Kelly Hrudey to the Kings.

“I haven’t thought about that,” said Kontos, who signed with the Kings as a free agent about two weeks after they acquired Hrudey on Feb. 22. “In fact, I didn’t even know about that. Any more good news?”

A source in the Kings’ organization said Tuesday that, if they are eliminated from the National Hockey League playoffs by the Flames, the Kings will be allowed to protect 12 of their players from being chosen by the Islanders.

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They will be allowed to protect 11 if they beat the Flames, 10 if they reach the Stanley Cup final and nine if they win the Stanley Cup.

General Manager Bill Torrey of the Islanders, who was a guest of owner Bruce McNall of the Kings for two games during the Kings’ division semifinal series against the Oilers, said he couldn’t help but notice the young wing, who scored eight goals in the series, including an NHL-record six on the power play.

“I think he’s caught everybody’s eye,” Torrey said from his office in Uniondale, N.Y. “Of course, playing with Wayne Gretzky doesn’t hurt a guy’s batting average. But he’s made the most of his opportunity.”

Kontos, who was released by the Kings last summer and played in Switzerland last winter, didn’t rejoin the Kings until March 7, but he scored three goals in Game 2 against the Oilers, the first postseason hat trick by the Kings in 12 years.

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His second-period goal Tuesday night in the Kings’ 4-3 overtime loss was his fifth in five games.

“I’m just having fun helping a club I watched with envy from Switzerland,” Kontos said. “What better place to play than on a team with Wayne Gretzky? Somebody must be looking out for me.”

Among those looking at Kontos is Torrey.

The Kings might have won Game 1 Tuesday night if not for an unusual bounce that led to the game-tying goal by Gary Roberts of the Flames with 1 minute 36 seconds left in regulation.

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A pass by the Flames’ Dana Murzyn circled behind the Kings’ net and hit a steel post, ricocheting out in front, where Roberts cut inside of defenseman Steve Duchesne of the Kings to chase it down.

Duchesne turned the wrong way, expecting the puck to circle all the way around to the right corner.

“I was lucky enough to have the inside on (Duchesne),” Roberts said. “He kind of turned to the right and I turned to the left and it came back out.

“It was a bad bounce for them.”

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And a lucky bounce for Roberts, who skated in and fired a shot that glanced off the hip of goaltender Kelly Hrudey and into the net, sending the game into overtime. A goal by Doug Gilmour at 7:47 of the extra period gave the Flames a 4-3 victory and left the Kings shaking their heads.

“I turned my head and the puck came behind me,” Duchesne said. “It happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to hook him or anything.

“It was bad luck.”

Tickets to Flames’ games are hot in Calgary.

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In fact, ads have appeared in local newspapers offering the right to buy season tickets for $10,000 a ticket.

That would enable the buyer to avoid a waiting list for season subscriptions that includes more than 5,000 names.

Clare Rhyasen, vice president of business and finance for the Flames, told the Toronto Star that, according to the club’s legal interpretation of Alberta’s Amusements Act, it is not illegal to sell the right to buy season tickets.

“People aren’t selling the tickets, they’re selling the rights,” Rhyasen told the Star.

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Most of the time, tickets aren’t available.

From their first game in Calgary, a 5-5 tie against the Quebec Nordiques Oct. 9, 1980, through a 5-5 tie against the Edmonton Oilers Nov. 5, 1987, the former Atlanta Flames sold out 323 consecutive games.

But when capacity at the Olympic Saddledome was increased last year for the Winter Olympics, the Flames held 2,800 upper-level seats a game to be sold on a per-game basis, and the sellout string ended.

The extra tickets are put on sale the day before each game.

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Still, the Flames have sold out 27 of 45 home games this season, and their smallest crowd of the year was 17,784.

Tuesday night’s game drew a capacity crowd.


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