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A Sickly Showing by Kings : Hockey: Gretzky, battling flu, is shut out, and his team is embarrassed by Mighty Ducks, 5-2.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

So the Kings mustered all of their resolve this week--and managed to manhandle the NHL’s worst team, the Ottawa Senators.

One day after their positive-thinking session, the Kings were positively embarrassed Wednesday night by the Mighty Ducks, who beat them for the first time, 5-2, in front of 17,174 at the Anaheim Arena.

The Ducks aren’t a harmless rival, either. They are the Kings’ competition in pursuit of San Jose for the final Western Conference playoff spot, and by winning, the Ducks crawled back into the thick of it. They trail eighth-place San Jose by four points--though San Jose could easily regain the ground tonight, when the Sharks play Ottawa.

Said Duck Coach Ron Wilson: “Over the last month, I haven’t heard them (the Kings) mention us as being ahead of them in the playoff race. It’s always been San Jose. Now hopefully we’ll get their respect. They looked past us maybe. I think we’ve finally earned their respect.”

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The Kings remain seven points back, but two games against San Jose this weekend could decide whether their playoff hopes are dead in the water.

Said King Coach Barry Melrose: “What do you want me to say? There are no excuses. I’ve never made excuses. We’ve got to make up seven points. If we don’t beat them (San Jose), that will make it tough.”

The last time the Kings and Ducks played, Wayne Gretzky beat the Ducks almost single-handedly with an inspired five-point performance.

This time, Gretzky was so ill with flu that he vomited on the team bus the night before the game and was inhaling oxygen on the bench during the game.

He got no closer to Gordie Howe’s all-time record of 801 goals. No. 99 is still on 799 and needs two goals to tie Howe, three to pass him. Gretzky still made a game effort, trying four shots in the first period alone.

The Ducks, who have been dragging lately, suddenly found jump in legs Wilson thought were exhausted. Tim Sweeney scored two goals, and the Ducks got a spark from recently acquired center Stephan Lebeau and right wing John Lilley, who played for the U.S. Olympic team at Lillehammer and was making his NHL debut.

Just as crucial was the play of backup goalie Mikhail Shtalenkov, whose sharpness lately earned him the start. He made 31 saves for his second NHL victory.

The Duck power play, which had spiraled to dead-last in the NHL recently, was suddenly revived.

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After scoring on only three of their previous 63 chances with a man advantage, the Ducks scored three power-play goals against the Kings--and turned a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead.

“It was the difference in the game,” said Wilson. “Yesterday we spent a good hour on it, just moving the puck, moving our legs. It was the difference in the game, if we didn’t score those power-play goals, it would have been a 2-2 game.”

With Tony Granato in the penalty box for holding the opponent’s stick early in the second, Duck right wing Terry Yake faked a shot from the left side, then passed cleanly across the slot to defenseman David Williams, whose shot beat Kelly Hrudey at 3:22.

Later, with Alex Zhitnik off, once again for holding the opponent’s stick, Lebeau swooped in to knock home a loose rebound from the right side of the net. Joe Sacco and Troy Loney had kept the rebound alive in front of the net after Hrudey stopped Bill Houlder’s point shot.

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The Kings went in after two periods trailing, 3-1, but had to kill off the end of a Jari Kurri high-sticking penalty to start the third. They didn’t do it, as Sweeney scored on a rebound 40 seconds into the period. That gave the Ducks a three-goal lead--plenty big enough to dig in defensively for the rest of the game.

Sweeney added another goal in the third for a 5-1 lead, and it stood up despite a review that appeared to show him directing it in with his skate.

Mike Donnelly scored the Kings’ second goal, but it was too little, too late.

The Ducks had taken the original lead at 12:27 of the first period, after Lebeau sent Sacco out on a breakaway with a perfect pass that the speedy Sacco picked up out front. He skated in on Hrudey, shooting from such close range that his stick hit Hrudey in the neck area and the goalie needed a couple of minutes to recover.

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Duck-King Notes

Canadian Olympic star Paul Kariya, whose contract talks with the Mighty Ducks remain stalled, said he doesn’t feel compelled to join the NHL before the season ends. “It can wait,” Kariya told Canadian Press from his family’s home in North Vancouver, Canada. "(This is) the first chance I’ve really had to regroup and rest in two years. That has to be good for me. My body feels rested, not battered and bruised. I do not feel any necessity to play in the NHL right now.” With the sides still millions apart on a multiyear deal, the next team Kariya plays with will probably be Team Canada in the World Championships in April in Italy. “If things do not get resolved, I would love to play in the World Championships. It would be redemption,” said Kariya, who was stopped on a penalty shot in a shootout in the Olympic gold-medal game against Sweden. “I’ve gone over that penalty shot about 200 times in my mind.” . . . Duck center Anatoli Semenov returned after missing the last seven games because of a sore elbow.


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