Wayne Gretzky was too sick for the warmup skate. He was so weak from the flu that he had to skate short shifts throughout the game. After the game, his laryngitis was so bad he could barely croak out the admission, between coughs, that the last few weeks have left him run down.
Still he somehow managed to score the Kings' final goal in a 6-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues Saturday night in front of 17,204.
For the first few weeks of the season, all of the Kings were caught up in the excitement of Gretzky's pursuit of the National Hockey League's scoring record. Gretzky himself was overwhelmed--by the games, the entourage, the media, the extra appearances . . .
"That was a big part of it," Gretzky whispered. "It's been a tough week for me. We've played a lot of hockey games. I've had a lot of family and friends around. I probably ran myself into the ground."
So why did he play?
Jim Fox said it best: "Wayne Gretzky at 50% is better than most players at 100%. His being on the ice gets the other team stepping back. I think whether you're too sick to play depends a lot on how valuable you are."
Fox was valuable himself, getting the eventual winning goal--his first in this comeback season--as the Kings came on strong in the third period.
Fox gave a lot of credit for the goal, and the big comeback, to defenseman Tom Laidlaw.
The Kings were down, 3-2, after the second period. And Laidlaw didn't like what he was seeing. So between periods, he spoke up.
Laidlaw said: "I just said that, as a team, we have a great opportunity here. The organization, the coaches, the general manager, have brought together a lot of talent, and I felt like we were wasting it away . . .
"It seemed like we weren't working together. . . . Like we were waiting around for playoff time.
"There are a lot of expectations for this team, and it seemed like we were waiting for it to happen. We needed to make it happen."
When the gate opened, Bernie Nicholls came out and tied the score, 3-3, only 1 minute 1 second into the third period. He carried the puck into the Blues' zone to beat goalie Greg Millen at close range on the play.
Nicholls also assisted on the go-ahead goal three minutes later, giving John Tonelli a perfect pass from the right side to the spot on the left side where Tonelli could knock it in.
Less than two minutes later, Fox scored what turned out to be the game-winner after Laidlaw sent the puck deep, giving Fox and Craig Duncanson a two-on-one break against defenseman Gordie Roberts. Fox scored on a sharp angle from the right as he skated past the net.
Brett Hull's second goal of the night brought the Blues back to within a goal at 9:02. But Gretzky iced it for the Kings, waiting just to the right of the crease for a pass from defenseman Larry Robinson that he put past Millen.
"It was a big question before the game whether (Gretzky) was even going to play," King Coach Tom Webster said. "That's why I dressed an extra player."
Jay Miller skated in warmups but was scratched when Gretzky decided he could go.
"We went with four lines, and I think that helped us at the end," Webster said. "We have two games in two nights, and we had a few guys under the weather.
"Bernie jumped forward when we needed him. It was great to see that. He picked up the whole hockey team. And Jim Fox. It was nice to get a contribution from everyone."
Luc Robitaille had a goal for the Kings and John Tonelli had two goals after they switched lines--Robitaille going with the checking line of Steve Kasper and Keith Crowder, and Tonelli going with Robitaille's regular line of Nicholls and Dave Taylor.
Tonelli's goal was scored with the Nicholls' line. Robitaille scored on the power play. All four of his goals this season have been on power play.
"I just wanted to change things around a little," Webster said.
The Kings are 5-3 overall, 3-0 on the road.
Gretzky is expected to play at Chicago tonight.
"I don't have the zip or the extra legs I would have if I felt good," Gretzky said. "I just have to play within the limits of what I can do. . . .
"Everybody, over the course of 80 games, is going to play sick. That's professional hockey. I think I should play if I can. I think I give (my teammates) some room to work."
Mayor Vincent Schoemehl proclaimed it Wayne Gretzky Day in St. Louis in honor of his recent breaking of Gordie Howe's scoring record. . . . Jim Fox, who sat out all last season after having surgery on both knees, scored his first goal Saturday night and said that he would give the puck to his therapists--Clive Brewster and Judy Seto of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic. . . . The Blues held Denis Savard, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman scoreless in consecutive games this week. They came within 2 minutes 13 seconds of shutting out Gretzky. . . . King Coach Tom Webster was wearing his lucky purple socks Saturday night. The socks are 3-0. Asked why he hadn't worn them when the Kings lost to Boston Tuesday night, he said: "I wore my purple tie--I've chucked that sucker."