Robitaille's homecoming is a happy one for Kings


MONTREAL -- Rarely does a hometown boy make good and annoy his hometown at the same time.

But Luc Robitaille was driven by the spirits of Canadiens past, the heroes of his youth, when he scored two power-play goals for the Los Angeles Kings in their 4-1 victory over Montreal in the opener of the Stanley Cup finals last night.

"I saw Henri Richard and Steve Shutt today, two Canadiens I watched play when I was a boy here, and I said to myself, 'There's a lot of legends watching, and I don't want them to say that he can't play.'

"Besides, all the money I've spent buying tickets to the game for family and friends, I have to win to make a bigger bonus."

Wayne Gretzky stuck a hand into every goal in this game, including the Canadiens' lone score in the first period against the sensational Kelly Hrudey. The Kings goalie has taken a muddy reputation and polished it until the shine is glaring.

Basking in the cozy glow of his empty-net goal and three assists, Gretzky could laugh when he described how Hrudey sarcastically told him "nice shot" when The Great One goofed while playing defense.

He allowed a pass by Montreal's Ed Ronan to deflect off his stick several feet outside the crease and slip past Hrudey inside the left post.

That tied matters 1-1 and wrapped up a frustrating period for the Kings, who could have had two or three goals.

"I was pretty embarrassed," Gretzky said. "I didn't just tip it. I fired it.I've done that maybe three, four times in my career -- but never as hard a shot as that. I wanted to redeem myself."

Gretzky had quiet assists on Robitaille's goals, but he was opportunistic when teammate Tony Granato forced defenseman Patrice Brisebois into a turnover behind the Montreal net. Gretzky spotted Jari Kurri alone in front, and the winger drilled in Gretzky's pass out.

Some will use the excuse that the Canadiens hadn't played since May 24 when they disposed of the New York Islanders in five games in the Wales Conference finals, while the Kings battled Toronto to seven games before winning the Campbell Conference.

But Canadiens coach Jacques Demers was having none of that. "It's too easy to find excuses," he said. "If you make mistakes, L.A. capitalizes. We made more tonight than we have in our four previous games."

Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy didn't play poorly. He was forced to make 19 saves in the second period just to keep his team down 2-1 by the intermission. But his counterpart at the other end continues to play better than anybody expected.

"I don't know how to describe it," Gretzky said, "but Kelly Hrudey just gets better with every game in the playoffs. He had been part of a rotation early in the playoffs, and then in the Vancouver series he stood up and said, 'I'm going to be the goalie.'

"We have a lot of experience in our dressing room, and you can sense our team is like sharks smelling blood."

The Kings have won seven playoff road games, one short of a postseason record shared by four teams, including last year's champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

"When I was 8 years old and had my first chance to play at the Montreal Forum," Robitaille said, "it was like I was in heaven."

Three more Kings victories and Robitaille will be back in those divine clouds.


' CANADIENS VS. KINGS (Kings lead series, 1-0) Last night Kings 4, Canadiens 1

Tomorrow at Montreal 7:30

Saturday at Los Angeles 8:40

Monday at Los Angeles 9:10

June 9* at Montreal 7:30

June 12* at Los Angeles 8:40

June 15* at Montreal 7:30

* if necessary

' TV: ESPN, all games

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