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Anger Is Catalyst for Kings : Hockey: They score six goals in the third period to beat Detroit, 9-3, and run their record to 6-1-1 since Gretzky’s outburst.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Kings seem intent upon becoming hockey’s version of the old Oakland Athletics.

Wayne Gretzky rips club management when the players are stuck on their private jet for more than five hours during a snowstorm in Philadelphia. Management rebuts with a terse memo.

Two weeks later, King Coach Barry Melrose has a bitter, expletive-laced screaming match with left wing Luc Robitaille on Sunday in Winnipeg. All is forgiven the next day.

And the Kings keep winning. Monday, tension gave way to tranquillity when they scored six third-period goals to defeat the Detroit Red Wings, 9-3, at Joe Louis Arena before 19,875.

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Since Gretzky assumed an increased leadership role on March 14 in Philadelphia, the Kings are 6-1-1.

Against the Red Wings, Gretzky had his third four-point performance of the season, two goals and two assists. Robitaille had one goal, his 55th, and one assist, and center Jimmy Carson scored twice against his former team. Defenseman Alexei Zhitnik had three assists, and defenseman Rob Blake got the game-winning goal at 1:50 of the third period, breaking a 3-3 tie.

As for Melrose? Screaming one day, smiling the next.

“I challenge them,” he said. “I don’t have robots playing for me. That’s just my relationship with the players. Unfortunately, you guys were listening yesterday. After it’s done, it’s all forgotten.”

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He was speaking of Sunday’s loud exchange with Robitaille, which reporters could hear outside in the corridor at Winnipeg Arena. Melrose accused Robitaille of being a “selfish player.”

Robitaille heatedly denied it. He said he thought his transgression was not getting off the ice for a line change in the waning seconds of regulation. This got him stuck at the Jets’ blue line, and Winnipeg scored the tying goal with five seconds left.

“It was a judgment error,” Robitaille said Monday. “I know what I did, and it was a good talk (today). We had a talk and we’re going to go ice-fishing tomorrow.”

Said Melrose: “I have a strong enough relationship with them. It’s not a personal thing. He’s fiery and I’m fiery. When two things alike meet, there’s a reaction.”

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Usually, Melrose knows what buttons to push. The tactic might make Robitaille upset with him, yet the anger can pay off in the very next game.

Robitaille and rest of the Kings came back the way Melrose wanted after they had blown a 3-1 lead in the final seven minutes against Winnipeg. The victory increased their lead to five points over fourth-place Winnipeg in the Smythe Division and pulled them within four points of second-place Calgary.

The Kings took advantage of shaky Detroit goaltenders Tim Cheveldae and Vincent Riendeau. Cheveldae gave up three goals on six shots in the first period, and Riendeau replaced him at the start of the second. In the second, King goaltender Rick Knickle had his problems, allowing three goals on eight shots. Then the goaltending difficulties swung back to Detroit, as Riendeau gave up goals on four consecutive shots in the first 8:02 of third period. He stopped only two shots in the third.

“We lost bad,” Detroit forward Shawn Burr said. “The last 10 games, teams we’ve played haven’t hit us very much. These guys didn’t do that. They attacked us. Gretzky was firing on all cylinders. He has a gajillian points. Now he’s got a gajillion-four.”

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Gretzky’s inspired play has seemed to spread. Pat Conacher, Robitaille and Blake have surpassed their highs for goals scored in a season. Tony Granato, who scored his 36th of the season, is closing in on his high of 39 goals, set last season.

With the Kings playing well the last two weeks, Gretzky is confident enough to look ahead in the standings.

“We’re happy with the way we’re playing,” he said. “It’s all coming together at the right time. We’re hoping we can come out of this two or three points behind Calgary, and we can give them a run for second place. It’s not over.”


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