Kings buckle under Avalanche pressure

Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2001

DENVER -- It took longer than anyone expected, but the Colorado Avalanche finally shook the Los Angeles Kings.

Chris Drury and Ville Nieminen scored two of Colorado's four third-period goals as the Avalanche advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 5-1 victory over Los Angeles in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The Avs won the best-of-seven series 4-3.

''You can call it happiness, you can call it relief, call it what you want,'' Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. ''The only thing I know is that we are moving on.''

Rob Blake, traded from Los Angeles to Colorado in February, also scored for the Avs, who are heading to the conference finals for the third straight year. They will face the St. Louis Blues at home in Game 1 on Saturday.

''They took us as far as possible -- third period, Game 7,'' Blake said. ''For that I'm happy, but I'm also happy we're moving on. That's the best scenario.''

The Kings ended a phenomenal playoff run that included rallying from a 2-0 series deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. They were down 3-1 against Colorado before tying the series with consecutive 1-0 victories.

''I would hate to think they had more at stake than we did,'' Los Angeles coach Andy Murray said. ''Our guys desperately wanted to win. We just played a Colorado team that was better than we were tonight. We weren't good enough.''

The Avalanche had been eliminated in Game 7 each of the past three seasons, and Los Angeles had them on edge again as the teams went into the third tied 1-1.

The situation was perfect for Drury, who will forever be known as a Little League hero from Trumbull, Conn., but is equally clutch on the ice.

Drury gave Colorado the lead for good when he took a pass from Peter Forsberg and beat Los Angeles goalie Felix Potvin from the slot at 3:03. It was Drury's seventh goal of the postseason and the eighth game-winner in his three-year playoff career.

''The coaches have to have confidence in you to have you on the ice in those situations, late in tight games,'' Drury said. ''And then to be out there with such great players as Forsberg doing a great job. It's certainly not me taking it end-to-end for these goals. It's a combination of everyone doing their job. I happen to be in the right place at the right time.''

Nieminen followed 3:19 later with a long slap shot that went over Potvin's left shoulder and rattled the crossbar before hitting the net. The score came while Kings defenseman Mathieu Schneider was in the penalty box for interference.

''It will be tough getting over this,'' Los Angeles forward Luc Robitaille said. ''It is tougher every year when you think you have a chance. I thought we had a chance to go all the way.''

Shjon Podein added his first goal of the playoffs with 8:53 left as the Avalanche gave goalie Patrick Roy some well-deserved breathing room.

Roy had stopped 77 of 79 shots over the last three games but lost twice. He finished with 25 saves and snapped a four-game Game 7 losing streak.

''Both goalies played great, but to give Patty no goals in the past two games, it was nice to get him five tonight,'' Drury said.

Potvin, who had stopped 58 straight shots entering the game, made 31 saves.

The Kings pulled Potvin with 5:56 remaining, and Milan Hejduk scored into an empty net 2:12 later.

Desperately seeking scoring, Colorado came out aggressive, peppering Potvin with seven shots in the first five minutes.

Potvin held his ground until Blake drilled a slap shot from the slot over his left shoulder for a power-play goal with 1:31 left in the first period, ending Colorado's scoreless streak at 182 minutes, 57 seconds. The Avalanche had not scored since the second period of Game 4.

Blake's fourth goal of the playoffs came less than a minute after Kings center Steve Kelly was called for cross-checking. Colorado had been 3-for-33 on the power play in the first six games of the series.

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