On Saturday, the Kings’ suffered a big loss.
On Sunday, they discovered just how big.
Hours after losing to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3 in double overtime, in Game 2 of the Smythe Division finals, the Kings learned they have lost forwards Tomas Sandstrom and Bob Kudelski.
Sandstrom has a broken right leg. The Kings don’t expect him back in fewer than four weeks.
Kudelski has a sprained ligament in the right knee and will be on crutches for six weeks. He won’t be completely healed for at least three months.
The Kings, tied 1-1 in the series, also have two other question marks heading into Game 3 tonight in Edmonton.
Both center Steve Kasper and forward Mike Donnelly are recovering from concussions. Kasper, who suffered his during Game 1, skated in practice Sunday. Donnelly, who suffered his during Game 2, did not. A decision wasn’t expected before this moring on the status of either.
The somber atmosphere surrounding the injuries was tinged with bitterness.
Both Sandstrom and Kudelski were knocked out of action by defenseman Craig Muni.
Muni hit Sandstrom from the side in the first period. He got Kudelski in the first overtime. No replays were available on the Sandstrom injury, but Muni can clearly be seen tripping Kudelski on a replay.
Muni also attempted a similar move on Tony Granato, but Granato jumped out of harm’s way.
“Instead of hitting hard at the top of the body, he chops at the knees,” Rogie Vachon, King general manager, said of Muni. “He does it all the time.”
Hoping for disciplinary action, Vachon plans to send a tape of the Kudelski injury to the league office.
According to Edmonton writers, Muni has taken out more than a dozen players with such tactics.
“I think that’s brutal,” Vachon said.
Neither Sandstrom nor Kudelski will require surgery.
Sandstrom showed up at the Kings’ practice Sunday, wearing a splint.
“I didn’t see him coming,” Sandstrom said of Muni. “I didn’t know what hit me. With him, you have to keep your head up and I got caught. He was coming from the far side, but I never thought he’d come like that. It was a late hit, but that’s the way he plays. He’s done it to a few guys. It’s just too bad it happened to me. But that’s part of the game.
“Hopefully, I can heal quickly and make it to the finals. You never know.”
Kasper was complaining about dirty play that led to his injury, administered by Oiler center Adam Graves.
“He elbowed me in the head,” Kasper said, “and then kicked my legs out from behind me.”
The injuries overshadowed the longest and one of the most exciting games in King history.
After Luc Robitaille’s seventh goal of the postseason tied the score in third period, it turned into a goaltending duel between the Kings’ Kelly Hrudey and Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr.
There were several opportunities to end it earlier. Wayne Gretzky missed on a breakaway early in the first overtime. Hrudey made a great pad save on Charlie Huddy’s shot from the slot.
And Dave Taylor missed the best chance to end it when he found himself with the puck off a rebound and the open right side of the net only several feet away.
Taylor fanned, however, and they skated on.
The winning sequence began with Oiler forward Craig MacTavish stealing a pass from the Kings’ Marty McSorley. MacTavish slid the puck to Esa Tikkanen, who bided his time at the blue line until teammate Petr Klima was in position.
Tikkanen then whipped the puck to Klima at the left post, and Klima redirected it past Hrudey.
The red light went on at five minutes to midnight. The two teams had played 24 minutes and 48 seconds of overtime, surpassing a King record set last season when they clinched their opening-round series with the Calgary Flames 3:14 into the second overtime of Game 6.
So what now?
Cruising along on what was their most successful season to date, the Kings of 1991 suddenly look a lot like the Kings of 1990, who were swept out of the second round by the Oilers after getting hit with a rash of injuries.
Losing Sandstrom, who tied Robitaille during the regular season with a team-high 45 goals, is bad enough. When the Kings lost Sandstrom in December, the team went 2-6-2 in his absence.
But in the past, Coach Tom Webster could at least put Kudelski in Sandstrom’s spot on the first line. Now, he has lost that option.
Along, perhaps, with his crucial checking line of Kasper, Donnelly and certainly Kudelski.
Can Rocket Ismail play hockey?
Both Vachon and Webster tried to strike optimistic notes Sunday.
“The good news,” Vachon said, “is that the sun shone this morning.”
Said Webster, “We lost a game, not the battle.”
Tough talk, but he’s going to need some reinforcements to back it up.
“It’s just another sign of what this club has to go through,” Webster said of the injuries. “Another challenge. I believe in this team. We could have packed it in after some of these injuries. We dug deeper. But we still have some digging to do. We still have healthy bodies, people capable of doing the job. Let’s do it.
“It’s no time to wallow in self-pity.”