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Toughies Have Unique NHL Ritual

By Bob Christ
Of the Journal
    One of the most revered traditions in sports is the handshake ceremony after each Stanley Cup playoff series, when the bloodied warriors on each team line up to offer congratulations to their foes for a job well done. Sportsmanship at its greatest.
    It's just seems incomprehensible, though, how guys who had just been knocking the pus out of each other can all of a sudden start hobnobbing. For me, it's not uncommon to hold a grudge against someone who takes 3 minutes to heat a pile of rice in the office microwave.
    So, is this on-ice glad-handing genuine?
    Brian Propp, a five-time All-Star who played 15 years in the league, said that in the NHL, with all the money the players make and the respect they have for each other, the cordial feelings are legit.
    But there's also no doubt he'd love a chance to cross-check Chris Chelios into the path of a Zamboni to get even for a hit he took 19 years ago in the playoffs against Montreal.
    "He tried to kill me," Propp said in a recent phone interview. "He elbowed me from behind. I'm usually very friendly, but that was inexcusable, pretty nasty. And at the end of the series, he didn't even show up to shake hands.
    "Go look up 'cheap shot' on YouTube and you'll find Chris Chelios right at the top."
    Actually, you have to scroll down a little.
    It was with fisticuffs in mind that earlier this postseason I awaited after-series fireworks between Devils goalie Martin Brodeur and Rangers forward Sean Avery, who met in the first round. Avery obnoxiously spent much of his ice time in Jersey's crease in an attempt to impair Brodeur's vision.
    After all was done, I waited for Brodeur to erupt. Instead he took the mealy way out by not acknowledging Avery in the receiving line. Boooo! Hisss! I didn't pay my April cable bill to see that.
    Something else you don't see every day is a full-scale brawl, but former L.A. Kings forward Daryl Evans, who's now in the team's broadcast booth, said it happened during his youth in western Canada.
    "I was with a minor bantam team in a tournament in Kamloops (British Columbia) and the handshake ceremony got a little ugly," Evans laughed. "There were a couple of sucker punches— not toward me, though. And because you are a team, well, sometimes one hothead can get things rolling."
    Rob Blake, a current Kings defenseman who won a ring playing for Colorado in 2001, said the ceremony that hurt the most had nothing to do with grudges— but with blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Wild while with the Avalanche in 2003.
    "Probably the worst was against Minneosta— just being on the ice for the (winning) goal and then you have to shake hands," he said. "But you just wish them luck. ... It's funny, but by time you make the NHL, most guys have been traded so you know some of them. You shake and move on. Sometimes someone will say, 'I didn't realize you played so hard.' ''
    Anyhow, the next chance we'll get to witness such a ceremony comes today when Pittsburgh looks to oust Philadelphia. The Penguins hold a 3-1 series lead.
    It could be good theater considering two players went off for fighting, there were three roughing infractions, two slashing penalties, another for call for charging and a 10-minute misconduct— all in the final 23 seconds of Thursday's Game 4.
    GREATEST COMEBACK: There has been no bigger upset in Stanley Cup history than when the Kings ousted the pre-dynasty Edmonton Oilers 3-2 in round one in 1982.
    Edmonton, which won the season series 5-1-2, had just finished the regular season with 111 points to Los Angeles' 63. That was the season Wayne Gretzky had an NHL-record 92 goals.
    There have been greater point differentials between playoff combatants, but never had the underdog prevailed.
    In was in Game 3, with the series tied 1-1, that the Kings had the most sensational comeback in playoff history.
    Through two periods in the L.A. Forum the Oilers led 5-0 and appeared to be imposing their will.
    "Our whole mind-set was that we were going to try to win the (third) period and end the game on a positive note," said the Kings' Evans, a rookie that season who had two goals and two assists in the team's 10-8 win in Game 1.
    "Then things kind of snowballed and we got closer and closer."
    It was 5-4 in the frantic waning seconds when Steve Bozek, another L.A. rookie, tied the game with 5 seconds left in regulation.
    "It was destiny," Evans said. "We were not to be denied. In overtime I got the puck and put a shot past (goalie) Grant Fuhr to win it."
    That gave the Kings a 2-1 series lead, but when Edmonton won the next game, the series shifted back to Edmonton for the pivotal Game 5.
    Both teams took the same flight to Alberta, which is virtually unheard of these days.
    "Since no one expected us to see a Game 5, no arrangements had been made," Evans said. "It was a real quiet flight."
    The next night the Kings ousted the Oilers 7-4 in a series upset that has never been matched.
    "There was a little shock on both sides," Evans said. "(L.A.) veterans had tears in their eyes."
    But he lamented the fact that the Kings didn't cash in on their success.
    "We didn't really take it to the next level— that was disappointing," Evans said. "I think the Oilers learned more from losing that series than had they beat us."
    So true, according to Fuhr, who's now the Phoenix Coyotes' goalie coach.
    "We kind of thought we had the world by the tail at that time," he said in a phone interview. "That series woke everybody up. The next year we made it to the Finals, where the Islanders ran over us in four games. But we knew what we had to do to be successful."
    From 1984-1990, Fuhr and the rest of the Oilers won five Cups in seven seasons.
    STUNNING REVERSAL: FYI, if Philadelphia does somehow recover from a 3-0 hole to beat Pittsburgh and then go on to win the Cup, it will mark the first time in history a team had the worst record one season and won the title the next.
    The Flyers had 56 points last season, 11 shy of the next worst team. Philadelphia had 95 points this year to qualify as the sixth seed in the East.