Melrose, a 36-year-old former defense-man who spent two seasons as a player with the Maple Leafs, knows how to take care of himself. During Game 1, after Los Angeles defenseman Marty McSorley had laid out center Doug Gilmour, Toronto's best player, with a punishing check, Maple Leaf coach Pat Burns had to be restrained from rushing the King bench. Melrose egged him on by puffing out his cheeks in an impression of his corpulent counterpart. "Get a——haircut!" was Burns's weak comeback.
Melrose, instead, cut off criticism of his team—which had played miserably in a 4-1 loss in Game 1—by taking most of the heat upon himself. That was a good move, like most of the others that Melrose has made. Says Gretzky, "I think I play for the best coach in hockey."
He may be right. Especially when you consider how Melrose has handled the Kings' scary goaltending situation. Hrudey, who wears a samurai headband on the ice, struggled so terribly in midseason that he was replaced first with a rookie, Robb Stauber, and then, more embarrassing, with a 33-year-old minor league journeyman, Rick Knickle, who had never before played in an NHL game. "This was my most frustrating season," says the 32-year-old Hrudey, who finally worked his way back into the lineup when the other goalies faltered. "I knew I had it in me. The biggest obstacle was trying to get the respect back from my teammates."
Gretzky never lost his teammates' admiration, but they seem to have rediscovered their sense of awe. "That was one of the best games I've ever seen him play," said forward Luc Robitaille after Saturday's hat trick. Added defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, "Unbelievable. There's no one like Gretz."
In abandoning the modesty that has been his trademark for most of his 14-year NHL career, Gretzky has embraced the confidence and nonchalance the Kings have exuded in this postseason. It's the same sort of confidence the Los Angeles Raiders made fashionable in their NFL heyday. It's only bragging if you can't back it up, and at week's end the Kings were backing it up with authority.
"It took five years of hard work for me to win a championship with Edmonton," Gretzky says. "This is my fifth year with the Kings. Maybe it's our time."