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Gretzky, Kings Get No Closer to Their Goals : Hockey: He hasn’t scored since March 2 in pursuit of Howe’s record. Sabres rally for 5-3 victory.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Kings, for once, weren’t their own worst enemies on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres.

They put in a spirited effort after getting yelled at by owner Bruce McNall in the hallway between periods on Wednesday and by Coach Barry Melrose in a heated team meeting afterward. Several players heard McNall wondering loudly why they weren’t hitting anyone and stating they were certainly getting paid enough money.

The storm clouds seemed to leave the Forum by Saturday, however, and there was good news before the game started: The San Jose Sharks lost to the Calgary Flames.

But the biggest problem isn’t the Sharks or the Mighty Ducks. It’s the calendar--16 games remaining in the season--and the Kings squandered a valuable chance to make up some ground in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, blowing a two-goal lead and losing to the Sabres, 5-3, before a sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum.

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The deficit between the Kings and a playoff spot remained at nine points. A week ago, it was five points. The Kings (22-36-10) have won once in their last 14 games, going 1-9-4, and are winless in their last eight home games (0-6-2).

What helped decide this one was a lapse by King goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who appeared to be stunned by Alexander Mogilny’s one-timer at 6:55 of the third period. Dale Hawerchuk set up Mogilny with a behind-the-back drop pass in the right circle. Mogilny launched the shot from above the dot in the right circle, beating Hrudey between the pads.

“We can’t be satisfied with a good effort,” Hrudey said. “If we were the ones who had a nine-point lead, that would be different. But now, it’s not enough.”

Mogilny’s goal, his 28th of the season, gave the Sabres a 4-2 lead. The Kings cut the deficit to 4-3 with John Druce’s second goal of the game, on the power play, at 8:55. But the Sabres put it away with empty-netter by Yuri Khmylev with 1:21 remaining. It was his second goal of the night. Mogilny had three points on one goal and two assists.

“You get a lot of chances against L.A.,” Buffalo Coach John Muckler said. “I don’t think we had as many three-on-twos and two-on-ones in any game as we had tonight.”

Said Melrose: “I asked one thing of the guys tonight, I asked for effort--and I got effort. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

Meanwhile, Wayne Gretzky, still three goals away from tying Gordie Howe’s all-time record of 801, was held without a goal for the fourth consecutive game. But unlike his previous three games, Gretzky had a handful of scoring opportunities.

His best chance came early in the game, at 6:04, when his 30-footer beat Dominik Hasek cleanly but hit the post. Gretzky had three shots on goal, including two in the second period. Gretzky has not scored since March 2 at Hartford and he is pointless in three consecutive games.

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Saturday, Buffalo rebounded in the second period and it took consecutive shots in a span of 1:16 by the Sabres to puncture the Kings’ newfound confidence.

The Sabres, trailing by 2-0 after the first period on goals by Druce and Luc Robitaille, erased the deficit with goals on their 13th and 14th shots. At 2:19, right wing Donald Audette tucked a backhander past Hrudey, and Buffalo tied it on Khmylev’s breakaway at 3:35.

King Notes

Joining the Wayne Gretzky watch were his parents, Walter and Phyllis, who were sitting rinkside Saturday. . . . The scratches were defenseman Tim Watters and forwards Dave Taylor, Tony Granato and Phil Crowe. Granato, finishing a 15-game suspension, will return to action against Ottawa on Tuesday.

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