- George Johnson, NHL
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In case you're wondering, Andy Murray is on record as saying he doesn't lay awake at night, pounding a hole in his pillow, racked by sobs and cursing the capricious, sadistic whims of fate.
He isn't into 'What if ...?', doesn't feel hexed, won't be caught up in the insidious, unattractive parlor game of self-pity. Those lapses into lamentation are without point, without purpose, and, to his way of thinking, totally beside the issue.
"You know, I honestly don't think about Jason Allison or Adam Deadmarsh or Ziggy Palffy at all unless I'm on the phone, getting an update on how they're doing,'' the Los Angeles Kings coach is saying, from his hotel room in Denver.
"We haven't used that as an excuse all year and we're not going to start now, just because it's convenient.
"The point is, seven games ago we were eight games over .500 with four consecutive games on home ice and controlled our own destiny. And we haven't
gotten it done. Period. When you don't make the playoffs, and it looks right now as if maybe we're not going to be there, there's got to be regret.''
Even taking into account the cruelly extraordinary extenuating circumstances the Kings have been forced to endure these past two seasons?
"Doesn't enter into it,'' replies Murray briskly.
The Kings certainly find their prospects as unremittingly bleak as a three-act Russian play today, five points adrift of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with four games left as they head into the Pepsi Center tonight to face the Colorado Avalanche.
Right now Andy Murray is battling not only the flu, but the rapidly-dwindling schedule.
Even agitating winger Sean Avery has admitted his team is basically playing for pride this last week of the regular season.
A quick glimpse at the names and number of games missed on their unprecedented injury list can give even the most cursory of hockey fans the overriding reason why:
• Defenseman Aaron Miller: 39 games lost, pinched nerve and eight games, wrist fracture.
• Defenseman Mattias Norstrom: seven games, chest contusion.
• Center Jozef Stumpel: 14 games, chest contusion.
• Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky:17 games, shoulder injury.
• Center Ziggy Palffy: 38 games, dislocated shoulder.
Factor in that neither rugged winger Adam Deadmarsh (post-concussion syndrome) and playmaking centerman Jason Allison (whiplash) haven't played,
nor will they play, a minute this season, and L.A. has already eclipsed their harrowing total of 563 of a year ago, and the league's unofficial record of 573 established by the '72-73 Boston Bruins.
The Kings are over 600 man-games lost, and mounting. And these aren't just any men, they're the make-or-break men at the Staples Center. Miller and
Visnovsky, two of their top three D-men. Allison, the spoke at the center of the offensive wheel. The explosiveness of Palffy. The grit of Deadmarsh.
It seems too harsh, too lopsided, for mere words. It'd almost be a sick joke, if it weren't so tragic. Beyond unfair, and past any human comprehension, really, that one team should be so debilitated by injury in back-to-back seasons. One year, you can mark it down to rotten luck. Two? There's got to be some sort of dark, destructive conspiracy at work, right?
"I just never wondered if (such a staggering injury toll) could happen again,'' admits Murray. "Because bottom line, I never thought about it in the first place. It happened. You deal with it. It's beyond your control.
"And as I said before, we had our fate in our own hands two weeks ago.
"In the four losses at home, we competed, just as we've competed all season. Like hell. We only gave up something like 87 shots in those games but we
didn't get the key save, we couldn't find that big goal, to get the win. We outplayed those four teams and I'm sure they'll tell you that, too. You're never happy when you lose, of course, but that kind of thing happens in sports.
"The way we played in Vancouver and Edmonton, though ...'' His voice trails off. "That is what I find unacceptable.''
The patience of Murray, nothing if not a patient man, ended shortly before Saturday afternoon's 3-2 OT loss to the playoff-bound Calgary Flames at the
Pengrowth Saddledome. Despite the precariousness of his team's situation, he decided to issue regular fixtures Alexander Frolov, Jaroslav Modry and
Martin Straka press-box passes. With Visnovsky suffering from flu and feisty Ian Laperriere bothered by a bruised wrist, Murray made five changes in his
lineup for yet another crucial test.
"And if I'd had another five different bodies, I would've put them in, too,'' he confessed with irritation.
"You can't keep giving people chances if they don't respond. This is a 'what-have-you-done-lately' business that we're in. And I thought the new guys gave us a lot more energy, a lot more determination, than we'd shown in the previous two games.''
But no matter who's in and who's out, time and opportunity are fast running out on the Kings again.
While it's a given that most of the rest of the hockey world will -- if the Kings can't pull of the improbable here -- choose to look upon the 2003-2004 L.A. season as a valiant, failed attempt in the face of unspeakable adversity, Andy Murray will find no solace in that. At least not now, this moment, when it's so close, so vivid, so frustrating.
"I respect what our guys have done,'' he says. "We've shown up and battled our butts off all year long. But that's what makes it so tough. To play that hard and not reach your objective?
"If you don't make it into the playoffs, you can never look back and be satisfied.''
No matter what?
He measured his three-word reply carefully. "No matter what.''
George Johnson of the Calgary Herald is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.