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Kings Close the Door on Oilers : Hockey: They make playoffs with 4-1 victory. Edmonton fails to qualify for first time.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Any satisfaction the Kings felt upon officially eliminating the Edmonton Oilers from playoff contention was tempered by the knowledge that it had been a foregone conclusion for more than a month.

Still, the Kings didn’t mind being included in a dubious part of Oiler history. The Kings’ 4-1 victory over Edmonton on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 17,503 at Northlands Coliseum, coupled with the Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the St. Louis Blues, put them into the playoffs and mathematically eliminated the Oilers for the first time in their 14 seasons in the NHL.

“It’s nice to get Edmonton done with,” King Coach Barry Melrose said. “It’s also good we don’t have to play them again. They’ve beaten us four out of the last five times in the playoffs, so it’s nice to put them out.”

Goaltender Robb Stauber, who came close to his first NHL shutout while winning his third in a row, played a large part, making 34 saves, getting beat by center Doug Weight at 13:21 of the third period.

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Friday provided an interesting twist to the King-Oiler rivalry, considering it was the Oilers who knocked the Kings out in last season’s first-round playoff series. The six Kings who once played for the Oilers--Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley, Charlie Huddy, Jari Kurri, Jimmy Carson and Pat Conacher--weren’t openly gleeful about Edmonton’s elimination but were quietly pleased with the end result.

“The Islanders went through a tough time four or five years ago,” said Gretzky, who scored the game’s first goal, at 16:16 of the first period. “Edmonton’s going through that right now. They have a lot of young kids now. Time will tell whether they get out of it.”

Said Huddy: “I guess it’s a little bit (satisfying) considering all the years they’ve knocked us out, especially last year. But the last thing on our mind is to worry about the Oilers. We’re just worrying about ourselves.”

For the Kings, the concern now is to either stay in third place or make a serious run at second-place Calgary in the Smythe Division. The Kings are three points ahead of the fourth-place Jets, whom they play Sunday in Winnipeg.

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The return of right wing Tomas Sandstrom has given the Kings’ offense a significant boost. Melrose juggled the lines a bit Friday, putting Sandstrom on a line with Gretzky and Luc Robitaille and placing Tony Granato with Carson and Kurri.

Sandstrom helped start the offense and finished it as well. He picked up an assist on Gretzky’s goal in the first period and added two third-period goals. From the left crease, Sandstrom played the puck off his helmet and kicked it across to Gretzky, who was all alone at the right side to put it between Edmonton goaltender Bill Ranford and the right post. And Sandstrom did it while being checked by defenseman Brad Werenka.

The Kings went ahead, 2-0, near the end of the second period when Dave Taylor scored at 16:30. Stauber had to make several big saves until the Kings’ offense got on track later in the game.

King Notes

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Goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who was supposed to start against the Oilers, was released from Edmonton’s University Hospital early Friday and spent the day at his parents’ home nearby. Hrduey came down with an intestinal virus Thursday morning in Vancouver, suffering severe pain and vomiting. It is the second time this month Hrudey has been forced out of the lineup because of illness. . . . Defenseman Mark Hardy, acquired from the New York Rangers on Monday, played his first game since the trade and received a lot of ice time because Melrose benched Alexei Zhitnik for most of the second and third periods. “He (Hardy) had to play a lot when I gave Alex his sabbatical,” Melrose said.


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