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Austin Murphy
April 24, 1989
In a week marked by tragedy and triumph, Wayne Gretzky's heroics in the Stanley Cup playoffs stood out as Los Angeles beat Edmonton
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April 24, 1989

Dynasty Undone

In a week marked by tragedy and triumph, Wayne Gretzky's heroics in the Stanley Cup playoffs stood out as Los Angeles beat Edmonton

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Let Posterity note that the Edmonton Oiler dynasty expired last Saturday at 10:29 p.m., Pacific daylight time. The mortal blow, though, had been struck eight months earlier, on Aug. 9, 1988. That was the day Wayne Gretzky became a Los Angeles King and the day a great team, the Oilers—winners of four Stanley Cups in five seasons—became merely a good one.

Winning a playoff series without Gretzky in itself presented a difficult task for the Oilers; winning one against him—even after sitting on a fat three-games-to-one lead in their Smythe Division semifinal series—proved not to be in the cards. "I told our guys once we went up three-one, 'Don't start thinking that it's over,' " said a grim Glen Sather, Edmonton's general manager and coach, after the Oilers were eliminated 6-3 in Saturday's Game 7. "You got a player like Wayne on a club, that club is not going to fold."

Shockingly, it was the Oilers who folded, after skating to that supposedly daunting lead, a choke of such colossal proportions that it has been duplicated only five times in NHL history.

In victory, Gretzky, who assisted on the game-winner and scored two other goals in the clincher—one of them just 52 seconds into the game—was the picture of graciousness and conciliation. "No one takes losing worse than Mark Messier and Kevin Lowe," he said of his close friends and former Edmonton teammates. "Long after hockey's done and over with, Kevin and Mark and I will still be buddies."

Gretzky's guard slipped just once, at a mention of Oiler owner Peter Pocklington, with whom he has feuded since Pocklington dealt him to the Kings. "He said after Game 3 that the people of Edmonton had told him the trade was a good trade," said Gretzky. "We'll see what they say tomorrow."

How did the Kings—written off by nearly everyone last week—come back? For one, goalie Kelly Hrudey kicked the flu that had kept him out of Game 1 and limited his effectiveness until Game 5. His counterpart on the Oilers, Grant Fuhr, who had sparkled in the early going, stealing Games 1 and 3 for Edmonton, could not sustain his early brilliance. In Games 5 through 7, it was Hrudey's turn to confound and amaze his opponents.

Hrudey's most memorable moment in the seventh game came in the final minute of the second period. Edmonton's Craig Simpson—who had brashly predicted as the Oilers skated out for pregame warmups, "I got the game-winner tonight"—broke in alone on Hrudey, who fell on his back kicking out Simpson's first shot. In one fluid motion, Simpson pounced on his own rebound and wristed it high. From a supine position, Hrudey threw up his right arm and miraculously stopped the sure goal with his forearm, after which he smothered the puck.

That was only one of the frustrating moments for the Oilers—the fastest-skating team in the league—who were unable to get out of second gear all night. Some of the credit for this goes to Kings coach Robbie Ftorek, who instructed his forwards to fall back quickly on defense and clog the neutral zone—that area between the blue lines where the Oilers gear up their attack. Credit also Kings center Steve Kasper, who as a Boston Bruin had gained renown for his ability to frustrate Gretzky. On Saturday it was Kasper's assignment to check Messier, and while Edmonton's captain did assist on all three goals, Kasper was in his sweater so often that Messier could never take off on one of his rink-length rushes.

Great goaltending and enterprising D were not all that the new Kings seemed to borrow from the old Oilers. Edmonton's playoff teams of recent vintage always seemed to get important goals from obscure and unexpected sources. Last week it was a cast of unlikely Kings wearing the mantle of hero.

There was Mike Allison, a plumber's plumber, carrying Oiler defenseman Randy Gregg 15 yards along the end-boards before lunging toward the net and sweeping the puck between Fuhr's skates to tie Game 6, 1-1. Last summer it had been Allison, upon hearing that Gretzky would be a teammate, who said, "They finally got someone who can skate with me." He was joking. Of his game-tying goal, Allison said, "It wasn't anything pretty." He was right. It was just clutch.

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