Kings' Future Is Now as They Open Season : Hockey: They don't look back to playoff success as they prepare to play the Canucks tonight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coach Barry Melrose of the Kings watched the playoff highlights at a luncheon one more time this week, smiling when Gary Shuchuk scored in double overtime of Game 5 against Vancouver and feeling goose bumps after Wayne Gretzky's hat trick in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.

That was enough.

"Afterward, I told Cap (Raeder), 'We never want to see that again,' " Melrose said Tuesday about a conversation with his assistant. "I don't live in the past. If the past excites you, then your future is pretty boring.

"Right now, it's done. It's history."

And so, for Melrose at least, the book closed on the Kings' playoff run of 1992-93. The future begins tonight when the Vancouver Canucks oppose the Kings at the Forum.

The Canucks, who won the division title last season with 101 points, are favored by many to repeat in the newly renamed Pacific Division. They went 7-2 against the Kings last seasonbut lost to them at the most important juncture, in the Smythe Division final. Which goes to show that the importance of the regular season has its limits.

"I'm glad to start against the Canucks," Melrose said, adding jokingly, "And I'm really glad we're playing them six times instead of the normal 16 times. Realistically, Vancouver andCalgary are the teams to beat.

"The two (other) teams I've coached that have won championships were second by a long way in the regular season. Last season, we were third by a long way. The regular season is just something to get you into the playoffs."

Goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who will start tonight, reached another level in the playoff series against the Canucks and kept improving in the latter rounds.

But Hrudey, like his coach, refused to relive that glory for one more day.

"It's going to be a tough game," he said. "If they're not the most talented team, they are one of the most talented. It's a real challenge for a goaltender. This is now, and that was then. I'm not one who wants to live in the past."

This season, there are different challenges for Melrose. Last fall, he had to change the team's faulty practice habits and lackadaisical attitude.

Complacency would seem to be the biggest enemy now.

Some of the Kings already have noticed a change in Melrose.

"Yes," Hrudey said. "His intensity has gone up about 10-fold. That's OK."

Sometimes, there is a down side to Melrose's fast-paced, aggressive on-ice system, however. Last season, the Kings were short-handed more than any other team and gave up 114 power-playgoals, second-most in the NHL. He fights a seemingly never-ending battle to keep Tony Granato and Luc Robitaille, among others, from taking needless penalties.

"They've been away from me for two months," Melrose said, smiling. "It's like starting over."

And now the Kings begin again, opening their 27th season in the NHL.

They are trying to show that last season's playoff performance was not an isolated occurrence.

"We will prove that last year was not a fluke," Gretzky said. "A lot of people don't think we deserved to be there. So it's good incentive. The press doesn't think Montreal will be back and they're the Stanley Cup champions and a good hockey club. I think we will be back."

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