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Austin Murphy
April 17, 1989
It's playoff time, so naturally the Oilers, after a drab season, took a commanding lead over the Great One's Kings
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April 17, 1989

Edmonton Gets A Wake-up Call

It's playoff time, so naturally the Oilers, after a drab season, took a commanding lead over the Great One's Kings

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"As far as pushing him to go beyond his limits—that's a coach's job," Sather said last week. With respect to the trade, "I tried to talk Peter out of it. That trade broke my heart. No matter what [ Gretzky] said, he can't take away that we all won those four Stanley Cups."

Added Sather as an afterthought, "If he's doing it as a playoff ploy, then I respect it."

Of course he does. Sather, who puts scruples aside come playoff time, was at his heartless best when he complained to officials before Game 1 on April 5 in Los Angeles that Hrudey, one of the 21 Kings who dressed for the game, was not on the bench; the Kings goalie had the flu and was all but delirious with a 103� fever. Aware of Hrudey's condition, referee Terry Gregson let him rest in the locker room during the game—technically a violation of NHL rules, which state that each team must have a backup goaltender in uniform and on the bench.

When it was announced over the Forum address system that Glenn Healy would start in goal for Los Angeles, the Kings fans demonstrated their newfound hockey savvy by letting out a collective groan. The reaction proved to be unfair, for Healy, who had just recovered from the flu himself, played a strong game under difficult circumstances. With the arena temperature soaring because of the record 100� heat outside, Healy lost 14 pounds, yet made 31 saves. Edmonton scored two late goals to win the game 4-3, but neither one was Healy's fault.

Twice Fuhr denied Gretzky from in close during Game 1, which set the tone for the series. "That's just Grant," shrugged Gretzky. "I've been saying it for years. He's the best in the world."

In Game 2 at the Forum the next night, the Kings won 5-2, but Fuhr again was magnificent. The Kings bombarded him with 44 shots, and journeyman free-agent Chris Kontos got a hat trick, but Fuhr made half a dozen saves that did not seem humanly possible.

Eight seconds into Game 3, Gretzky stole the puck from Simpson and broke in on Fuhr for the first of what would be eight quality scoring chances. Trying to pick a corner, however, he missed the net. As it turned out, every other shot he took was stonewalled by Fuhr or missed the net. Fuhr was so tough that by the third period the Kings were passing up point-blank shots, searching in vain for the perfect scoring chance. The world's best goalie had climbed into the Kings' heads and was playing with their minds.

Messier, Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen & Co. took care of the Kings' bodies. After their defeat in Game 2 the Oilers said their most pressing mission was to "finish our checks," a euphemism for hitting an opponent so hard that his shoulder blades precede his backside to the ice. Gretzky and Kings center Bernie Nicholls were singled out as having escaped physical "attention."

Said Lowe, the Oiler defenseman, "After he makes a play in the neutral zone, Gretz sort of looks away with that expression that says, 'O.K., the play's over,' so guys don't hit him. What we need to realize is that checking him—or anyone—in that situation is going to take its toll. We can't afford not to."

Thus the Great One took an unaccustomed pounding in Games 3 and 4. Though he was held pointless in Game 3, it was not entirely his fault. Twice Gretzky left perfect feeds for his occasional linemate Jay Miller—"pearls before swine," wags in the press box called them—but on each occasion Miller's shot missed the goal by yards. In his four-year career, Miller has 41 points and 991 penalty minutes. Why was Miller on Gretzky's right wing in a critical playoff game? Kings coach Robbie Ftorek evidently sees something that previous coaches have not been able to. Heretofore in his career Miller has been used exclusively as a hired thug. Privately, several Oilers were scratching their heads over some of Ftorek's line combinations.

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