The Chicago Blackhawks proved they were willing to fight--literally--to retain their supremacy in the NHL, and in so doing made quick work of the Kings, who fought well but played worse.
The Blackhawks won, 6-3, proving the value of scrappy teamwork and over flashy but selfish play. The sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum on Thursday watched a game in which five players were ejected.
Wayne Gretzky--despite setting an NHL record for scoring an assist in his 18th consecutive games--was as ineffective as anyone on his team. A subdued Gretzky later espoused the “united we stand, divided we fall” theory.
“The success of our team has been 20 players playing together,” he said. “I don’t think there is one guy on this team who would say he played well. We had 20 players who did not contribute.”
The Kings lost doubly. Calgary won at home Thursday night to move into a tie with Los Angeles at the top of the Smythe Division. The teams meet Saturday at Calgary.
Chicago (43-22-6) has 92 points and the best record in the NHL. The Kings (41-22-9), St. Louis and Calgary are a point behind.
The loss does not bode well for the Kings going into the last leg of the season, for, as defenseman Larry Robinson observed: “Everything we did was the easy way out. Sometimes it takes hard work. You have to put your head down and play hard.”
The game was also a disaster for King goaltender Daniel Berthiaume, who was 2-0 against Chicago and had stopped 77 of 78 shots. On Thursday, he stopped 21 of 27.
In the first period, the Kings failed to score in five power plays. Robinson was as incredulous as anyone about the remarkable 20 minutes. “That’s what I mean,” he said. “When you’re given an opportunity like that at such an opportune time. . . . They out-hustled us all over the ice. There is no other way you can explain it.”
That first period also featured 94 penalty minutes. At game’s end, the teams had combined for 172 minutes.
Trouble started quickly. Fifty-one seconds into the first period Chicago was assessed a rare bench minor for having a starting lineup different from that given to game officials, and Troy Murray and Dave Taylor were penalized for fighting.
Two goals emerged amid the fights, one for each team and both shorthanded. The Kings scored first on a blue-collar effort by defenseman Marty McSorley at 6:31 and Dirk Graham countered at 12:09.
Between them, the bell rang for the main event. Tim Watters of the Kings and Jeremy Roenick of the Blackhawks were skating around in each other’s arms behind the net after a play was whistled dead.
From mid-ice Chicago defenseman Chris Chelios skated in to join Roenick, becoming the third man in, an automatic ejection.
Stu Grimson of Chicago then piled on, making him the fourth man in.
When the melee was sorted out, minutes later, Chelios and Grimson were sent off with game misconducts. Later Keith Brown would also be levied a game misconduct, leaving Chicago without one-third of its defensemen.
Chicago tied the game on Graham’s goal, his league-leading sixth.
Three quick goals began the second period on a swifter note. Steve Larmer scored after only 55 seconds, giving Chicago the lead for the first time. Brad Jones--scoring only his ninth goal--tied it for the Kings on a nifty end-around two Blackhawks.
Chicago got the lead back for good less than a minute later when Roenick beat Berthiaume on a rebound. The Blackhawks got a 4-2 lead on a power play goal by Dave Manson.
Larmer scored again for a 5-2 lead in the midst of the Kings’ sixth power play.
Adam Creighton gave Chicago its third shorthanded goal at 15:29 in the third period, and Gretzky set up Tony Granato on the Kings’ final goal at 16:07.