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NHL PLAYOFF NOTES : Burns Isn’t Dunked by a Slam Delivery

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 18 dozen doughnuts sent to Toronto Coach Pat Burns at the Maple Leafs’ Santa Monica hotel didn’t last long--but King Coach Barry Melrose won’t find any traces of chocolate glaze or sprinkles on Burns’ chin.

After Burns made fun of Melrose’s long hair during the series opener, Melrose returned the insult by joking about Burns’ portly physique. His parting shot was to coyly say if he wanted to be nasty, he could have told Burns to have a doughnut, the insult that was hurled by then-New Jersey Devil Coach Jim Schoenfeld at referee Don Koharski during the 1988 semifinals.

Playing off that remark, an unidentified donor had 18 boxes of doughnuts delivered to Burns on Friday. But Burns resisted the temptation: Instead of indulging, he and his fiancee spent part of the afternoon giving the doughnuts to homeless people in Santa Monica and Venice.

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“I don’t even like doughnuts,” Burns said.

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Cliff Fletcher knew he faced an extensive rebuilding project two years ago when he took over as Toronto’s general manager. The Maple Leafs were 23-46-11 in 1990-91 and had failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years; they failed to make the playoffs again in 1991-92, but their modest improvement to 30-43-7 in Fletcher’s first season gave him reason for hope.

“Our objective in the second year was to make the playoffs and maybe make some noise in the first round,” said Fletcher, who was the Calgary Flames’ general manager for that franchise’s first 19 years. “If someone had suggested we’d have 99 points and be in the top third in the league and be in the final four, no, I never would have believed that.” The Maple Leafs were 44-29-11.

Fletcher played a major role in orchestrating the Maple Leafs’ first trip to the semifinals since 1977-78. His acquisition of Doug Gilmour and Jamie Macoun from Calgary last season gave Toronto leadership on offense and defense, and the addition of goalscorer Dave Andreychuk in a trade with Buffalo this season boosted the Maple Leafs’ production.

“This is beyond what we felt would be reasonable to expect at this stage,” Fletcher said, “but now that we’re here, we want to make the most of it. The Maple Leafs, over a period of 10 years, had the worst record in the league. I think it’s the greatest hockey franchise in the world, and our fans are reveling in this.”

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Wayne Gretzky is one goal from tying Gordie Howe’s NHL record for career goals, regular season and playoffs. Howe had 801 regular-season goals and 68 in the playoffs; Gretzky has 765 and 103. . . . The Stanley Cup finals will begin May 29 if both conference finals are completed in six games or fewer. However, if either conference final goes beyond five games, the finals will start June 1. A seven-game final could end June 15, the latest finish in NHL history.

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Melrose met with “Hockey Night In Canada” host Ron McLean and discussed their differences, most notably the Don Cherry controversy. Melrose said he will now let his players appear for in-between period and postgame interviews. The Kings and Melrose were criticized in Toronto for snubbing “Hockey Night In Canada” on Wednesday.

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In fact, the Kings were willing to let one of their players or Melrose go on after Game 2, according to King public relations director Rick Minch. Refusal to cooperative with the league in media matters can bring a substantial fine, at the discretion of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman contributed to this story.

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