Drastic measure has kept Kings behind the curve

Former coach Barry Melrose says it cost the Kings their one legitimate chance at a Stanley Cup championship.

The Hockey Hall of Fame would love to display it.

Marty McSorley won't discuss it.

McSorley, whose use of an illegal stick served as the defining moment in the Montreal Canadiens' championship series triumph over the Kings in 1993, declines even to reveal the shady stick's whereabouts.

"Tell your editor," the former defenseman says, "I wouldn't tell you."

Fifteen years later, he can still be a stick-in-the-mud.

It's understandable.

The Kings, featuring Wayne Gretzky in the last finals appearance of his magnificent career, lost the championship series, four games to one, but all anyone seems to remember is Game 2 at the Montreal Forum.

And McSorley's role in it.

The Kings, having never previously advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs, had won Game 1 and led in Game 2, 2-1, with 1 minute 45 seconds to play. Only two teams had ever won the first two games on the road in the Stanley Cup finals and not gone on to win the Cup, none since 1966 and none with Gretzky on its roster. So Kings fans could almost taste the champagne.

Games 3 and 4 would be played at the Inglewood Forum.

"Dead on the frozen water," Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift later wrote of the Canadiens' chances of reviving their Stanley Cup aspirations. "Dead as smelt. Lifeless, inanimate, without a snowball's chance in hell."

But then Canadiens coach Jacques Demers told his captain, Guy Carbonneau, to ask referee Kerry Fraser to measure the curve on the blade of McSorley's stick. When it was found to be curved about a quarter inch more than the legal half inch, the Kings were penalized. Moments later, Canadiens defenseman Eric Desjardins ended his team's 0-for-32 streak on the power play, sending the game into overtime.

In overtime, Desjardins scored again, completing a hat trick and capping an improbable, momentum-swinging Canadiens comeback.

"We've given them life," Gretzky lamented afterward.

Back in Southern California, the Kings overcame deficits of 3-0 in Game 3 and 2-0 in Game 4 but lost both in overtime. The Canadiens closed out the series with a more routine victory at Montreal, McSorley scoring the Kings' only goal.

Still, McSorley's Game 2 gaffe remains the focal point.

"I think it cost us the Stanley Cup," says Melrose, back in coaching with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season after 13 years at ESPN. "I don't think anyone doubts that. We won Game 1 handily, we were dominating Game 2. . . .

"If you're up, 2-0, going back to your building, the numbers show that you're going to win the Cup, so without a doubt I think it cost us the Stanley Cup."

He says he has no idea whatever became of the stick.

"It's the type of thing that should be in the Hall of Fame," Melrose says, "because it probably determined who won a Stanley Cup. I would think they'd have it."

They don't.

"We'd love to have it," says Phil Pritchard, Hockey Hall of Fame curator. "It's still one of the most popular things that gets talked about from the L.A.-Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup finals: What if? It's one of those timelines of hockey that is always spoken about, part of what makes the game what it is."

But it didn't cost the Kings the Cup, Luc Robitaille says.

"It cost us that one game," says the Kings' president of business operations, who in 1992-93 was their leading scorer. "The next two games were probably the best two games the Kings have ever played, but we lost both in overtime."

The last he knew, Robitaille says, the scandalous stick that stuck it to the Kings was sitting behind glass at Wayne Gretzky's Restaurant in Toronto.

It remains at the restaurant, Craig Johnson says, but is not presently on display. Johnson, the memorabilia-filled eatery's curator and not the former Kings player of the same name, says the most famous piece of equipment in Kings history is in storage but is displayed periodically as items are rotated in and out.

"When we know Marty's not in the area, we'll put it on display," Johnson says, laughing. "And when he's in the area, we'll take it out."

All kidding aside, Tom Bitove says McSorley has been a great sport about it. Bitove, Gretzky's partner in the restaurant, says he asked McSorley shortly after the 1993 finals whether he could display the stick and McSorley willingly obliged.

The restaurant, located only a few blocks from the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto, has been in possession of the keepsake ever since.

"We pride ourselves on having unique stuff, that was unique to Wayne and unique to sports," Bitove says. McSorley's stick, he notes, "still elicits a lot of discussion around here. That's why it goes up pretty much every year."

It is displayed alongside a picture of Fraser measuring it.

"As soon as people see the picture," Bitove says, "they know what it is."

Kings fans won't ever forget.

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jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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