As the Los Angeles Kings begin setting like the sun in the West, the resurrection of Wayne Gretzky at least provides a ray of hope.
Gretzky, playing his third straight game after missing 39 due to a back injury, set up a pair of goals Sunday night, including Tony Granato's second power-play tally of the game with 7:59 remaining to snap a tie and the Kings' 10-game winless streak with a 5-4 triumph over the host Chicago Blackhawks."He had two points and could have had six or seven," Kings rookie Coach Barry Melrose said. "He doesn't have his touch back yet."
Gretzky's play-making abilities don't appear to have suffered any. Skating at center ice, he slid a perfect lead pass to spring Granato in alone, and the native of nearby suburban Downers Grove beat Ed Belfour on a wrist shot by the glove side to snap a 4-4 tie.
"Tonight we had all 20 guys show up," said Granato, who grew up a Blackhawks fan. "Hopefully this will get us out of the funk we've been in."
Seven of the game's nine goals came on power plays.
The Blackhawks received one final man advantage when the Kings were called for too many men on the ice. But goalie Robb Stauber preserved the victory by robbing Jeremy Roenick with 1:30 left.
"It was a total team effort," Melrose said. "Yeah, it's a relief. It should help our team, take the pressure off the guys, especially to win in this building."
Gretzky, who has two goals and four assists in three games back, originally was scheduled to sit out Sunday's game as part of his monitored comeback. But he felt he owed it to his team, which had been 0-8-2 in its previous 10 games after a surprisingly strong start.
"The doctors talked about me not playing tonight," Gretzky said. "They felt it was a good game to rest. I felt fine Wednesday and Friday, and the last thing you want to do when your not winning is to bail out on your teammates."
The Blackhawks lost for the second time in as many nights and are 0-2-1 in their past three games, although Coach Darryl Sutter didn't get down on his team.
"Five-on-five I thought we played pretty well," Sutter said. "We took too many penalties and were unable to kill them. We made some mistakes...probably more mental than physical."
Luc Robitaille notched his 31st goal of the season with 2:28 left in the second period to put the Kings in front 4-3. Granato centered a pass from behind the net that Robitaiole flipped by Belfour for the first even-strength goal of the night - and that coming only three seconds after a Chicago penalty had expired.
Chicago's Steve Larmer tied the score 4:46 into the third period on a perfect set-up from Roenick, who fought off a check along the left-wing boards, then turned and hit Larmer streaking down the slot.
Jets 3, Penguins 2
At Winnipeg, Manitoba, rookie Teemu Selanne scored his 34th goal and set up the winner.
Senators 3, Sharks 2
At Ottawa, Ontario, Bob Kudelski recorded the first hat trick for the expansion Senators.
Sabres 5, Flames 3
At Buffalo, N.Y., Pat LaFontaine completed his first hat trick this season with the tie-breaking score.
Canadiens 7, Whalers 5
At Hartford, Conn., Brian Bellows and Kirk Muller each scored twice.
Flyers 4, Oilers 0
At Philadelphia, Swedish rookie Tommy Soderstrom stopped 29 shots for his first career shutout.