Where’s Richard Steele when you really need him?
The fight for first place in the Smythe Division turned ugly Saturday at the Forum as the Kings took an 8-0 lead on their way to 8-4 victory over the Calgary Flames before a sellout crowd of 16,005.
The victory was the Kings’ 43rd of the season, tying the club record, and it moved them past the Flames and back on top of the division by one point with four games to play.
But before the afternoon of mayhem was over:
--Fists were flying.
--The plexiglass partition separating the two teams was tumbling.
--Coach Tom Webster was rumbling.
--And goalie Kelly Hrudey was stumbling, yet another knockdown victim on a day when the referee’s whistle was the most prevalent sound.
The total was 52 penalties for 196 minutes, the Kings getting 25 of those penalties for 96 minutes.
Three players--the Kings’ Rod Buskas and Calgary’s Jim Kyte and Tim Hunter--were ejected along with Webster.
If it had been a boxing match, Steele or one of his colleagues would have stopped it.
As a matter of fact, it was stopped, with 3:52 remaining in the opening period, the officials sending both teams to their respective dressing rooms to cool down.
That was after the day’s most spectacular clash.
It began with a fight between Buskas and Calgary’s Joel Otto in front of the two benches.
The players on the ice went eyeball to eyeball.
Then both benches. Then both coaches.
What happened next depends on whom you talk to.
According to Webster, he screamed at Doug Gilmour, who was pounding on the glass at that point, “Why don’t you quit yapping and play. You’re too good a player to do that.”
According to Gilmour, Webster interjected personal insults.
According to Webster, Gilmour then slugged him either in the chest or on the chin. Webster wasn’t sure.
According to Gilmour, Webster struck first.
“All hell broke loose,” said Webster, a point over which there can be no argument.
At that point, with Calgary Coach Doug Risebrough and several of his players beating on the plexiglass partition, it came loose and threatened to topple onto the Kings until assistant coach Rick Wilson grabbed it and held it precariously above his head.
Then, Webster, his glasses already knocked to the ground, got into it with Hunter, although Hunter denies that.
There was no denying Risebrough’s feelings about Webster.
“As soon as he (Webster) becomes accountable on the ice,” Risebrough said, “as soon as the player that he punches gets the chance to do something to him, he can be brave. Otherwise, I think it’s a classless act and a cowardly act.”
In the Flames’ dressing room, Gilmour wasn’t content to let the matter die.
“In my mind, there is only one way to pay him back,” he said of the Kings’ coach, “but that’s between him and me. It will happen in the future.”
Before Saturday’s game, the Kings had been accused of lacking intensity.
After beating Calgary a week ago at the Saddledome, the Kings had stumbled badly, losing to the Vancouver Canucks and tying the Toronto Maple Leafs to drop out of the division lead by one point.
There were certainly no problems with intensity Saturday, and several players credited their fighting coach.
“Its better for the team when he gets riled up,” Todd Elik said. “He pumps us up.”
Nobody showed that more than Elik. The King center, who has suffered through several prolonged offensive slumps this season, had two goals and two assists.
The Kings, flat in the opening periods of their past two games, came out flying Saturday.
They had a 3-0 lead on goals by Tony Granato (his 29th), Luc Robitaille (team-high 43rd) and Dave Taylor (23rd) before the Webster incident.
After the teams returned from the unorthodox intermission, they finished the first period and skated right into the second without a break.
The Kings picked up where they had left off. With Elik getting his 18th and 19th goals and fellow Kings Rob Blake (12th), Steve Duchesne (21st) and Tomas Sandstrom (42nd) also scoring, the Kings had their 8-0 lead at 11:46 of the second period.
It wasn’t as if they were bombarding the nets. They scored their first seven goals on 15 shots.
But the Flames could do nothing to stop them. Risebrough used both Mike Vernon and Rick Wamsley in the net.
But neither could stop the Kings from improving their record to 43-23-10.
Calgary scored the final four goals--Joe Nieuwendyk getting his team-leading 43rd and 44th, Al MacInnis his 25th and Frank Musil his sixth.
But by then, the only thing at stake was Hrudey’s goals-against average. And his well-being.
In the final period, with the issue long decided, Otto ran by the King goalie and clipped him on the chin with an elbow.
Hrudey was on the ice for several moments before rising.
The Flames (44-25-7) have gone 16-4-2 over their past 22 games, but half of those losses have been to the Kings.
The two teams meet in the regular-season finale a week from today in Calgary. They might need Steele for that one.
One day after he and Wayne Gretzky spent $451,000 to buy a Honus Wagner baseball card, King owner Bruce McNall, also the new owner of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, revealed he has made a two-year, $6-million offer to Notre Dame star Raghib (Rocket) Ismail to try to lure him away from the NFL. “I think he’s a player who would fit in with the CFL’s wide-open game,” McNall said.