They watched together Friday night: Bruce McNall, the man who brought Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles, and Gretzky, the man who was the key to bringing the Kings the first division title in their 24-year history.
And when it was over, when the Edmonton Oilers had beaten the Calgary Flames, 6-5, in overtime, to eliminate the Flames from the division race and hand the Smythe title to the Kings, they both spoke from McNall’s home.
“I’m excited to bring the first Smythe Division championship to Los Angeles,” McNall said “This is the first step toward the ultimate goal, to bring a Stanley Cup to the many fans. I’m proud of all the players, coaches and staff for what they have done to provide a championship.”
Gretzky said he was “extremely excited to finish first. We worked hard all year to achieve this goal. Whether we play Edmonton or Vancouver in the first round is not the biggest reason for finishing first. It was to get pride, tradition and history started for this organization. That was the most important reason. Eventually, you’ve got to play the best team to win the Cup anyway.”
Dave Taylor, finishing his 14th season as a King, dedicated this first title to “all of the players who have worn Kings colors over the years.”
The loss leaves Calgary four points behind the Kings with only one game to play, the finale between the two Sunday in Calgary’s Olympic Saddledome.
Thursday, the Kings will open the playoffs against the Vanouver Canucks, and the Flames will face the Oilers.
Friday night, the Oilers ended the Flames’ division hopes when Joe Murphy scored 1:54 into overtime at Edmonton.
Murphy’s 27th goal of the season came after the Flames had forced the overtime on goals 58 seconds apart by Frantisek Musil and Robert Reichel early in the third period.
It also came after a controversial call in the third period when referee Andy VanHellemond disallowed a goal by Calgary’s Gary Roberts that would have given the Flames a 6-5 lead.
Calgary defenseman Jamie Macoun took a shot that hit Roberts in the leg and bounced past goaltender Bill Ranford into the net. VanHellemond ruled that the net had come off its moorings before the goal, but television replays showed the puck crossed the goal line before Roberts and an Edmonton defender bumped into the net and knocked it backward.
The Flames eventually skated away without a victory, without a division title and without the home-ice advantage if they should play the Kings in the second round.
At the Forum, where the final results of the Oiler-Flame game brought a standing ovation from the crowd on hand for the Lakers and Portland, they were already answering the phone in the Kings office “Smythe Division champions.”
For the Kings, there is as much anticipation as satisfaction, as much hope for what is ahead as joy at the accomplishment.