Meltdown on Manchester

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call it the Nightmare on Manchester.

In a game that will be talked about for years, the Kings had a three-goal lead wiped out by four St. Louis power-play goals in a span of 3:07 of the third period after defenseman Sean O'Donnell received a fighting major for beating down the Blues' Geoff Courtnall, who had knocked down King goaltender Jamie Storr.

Pascal Rheaume, Brett Hull and Pierre Turgeon scored goals to tie the score and then Terry Yake knocked in the game-winner as the Blues rallied for a 4-3 victory Monday night to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series before a sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Great Western Forum.

Game 4 is Wednesday night at the Forum, and turning this series around will have to be to the magnitude of the Miracle on Manchester--the Kings' 6-5 playoff victory over Edmonton in 1982 in which they rallied from a 5-0 deficit.

The turning point of the game came at 8:34 of the third period when the Kings' Ian Laperriere was called for boarding but play continued into the Kings' zone.

Courtnall skated into Storr, who fell back into the crossbar before falling to the ice and then O'Donnell pounced on Courtnall, who covered his head while kneeling. Referee Don Koharski penalized O'Donnell for fighting and Courtnall for charging but that minor was offset by Laperriere's minor.

The Blues, who had been 0 for 7 with a man advantage before O'Donnell's penalty, stormed back with four goals to turn around a game that had been completely dominated by the Kings.

King Coach Larry Robinson was livid with Koharski's call.

"He robbed of us of a game, plain and simple," Robinson said. "Their guy runs our goaltender and could have put him out of the game and he gets a two-minute for charging. It's a disgrace. An absolute disgrace. . . . The people of L.A. should be very upset. [Koharski] absolutely gave it to the team across the hall."

When asked about Courtnall's hit on Storr, Koharski told Sam Sisco, an NHL supervisor of officials, that he didn't see it clearly.

O'Donnell, who had scored his first career playoff goal earlier in the game, also let Koharski have it.

"It was the worst call I ever seen in my life," he said. "It's 3-0 in Game 3, the biggest game of our season. . . . You could see [Courtnall] picking up speed from the blue line, I could see him from over my shoulder. He runs our goalie and then he turtles. Sure I hit him but it was in the back of his head, it was nothing. Give me [a four-minute double-minor] and him a [two-minute minor]. Or give him four and me five. But to give him two and me a five-minute major is awful.

"I can't fault what Geoff Courtnall did. He did what he had to do, he got his team going but the stupid ref just got sucked in by a guy who ran our goalie and then turtled. Jamie played great. . . . it should be a 2-1 series going into Wednesday night."

Until O'Donnell's penalty, the Kings had outplayed the Blues and appeared headed to winning their first playoff game in five years. Although they had given St. Louis numerous scoring chances with seven power plays and ended up being outshot, 37-28, the Kings controlled the game's first 30 minutes.

Laperriere gave the Kings their first lead of the series when he scored an even-strength goal at 11:01 of the opening period. Laperriere helped created his goal with a check on St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger, who made a weak clearing pass from the Blues' zone. Ray Ferraro was able to keep the puck inside the blue line and shot it toward the Blues' goal. Laperriere then redirected it past St. Louis goaltender Grant Fuhr.

Late in the period, the Kings scored their first power play goal of the series, ending a 0-for-17 stretch, when Fuhr tried to make a clearing pass that was intercepted by Luc Robitaille, who fired a shot that Yanic Perreault knocked into the net before Fuhr could recover.

The second period began like the first as St. Louis had two consecutive power plays but was unable to get the puck past Storr. Despite being outshot, 22-10, for the first 30 minutes, the Kings took a 3-0 lead at 11:03 when Robitaille had a shot from the high slot blocked by Fuhr only to have O'Donnell score a rebound goal while being knocked to the ice from behind by Jim Campbell.

In the third period, the Kings continued to dominate until O'Donnell's fighting major.

"I let the team down," said an emotional Storr, who had 33 saves.

But that's not how the Kings felt. Their blame landed squarely on Koharski.

"He took the life out of a bunch of kids that worked their tails off," Robinson said. "That's not fair. It's an absolute disgrace and he's a veteran referee too."

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