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L.A. extends Montreal's winless streak to nine games

3/9/2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Almost 10 years after facing each other in
the Stanley Cup finals, the Los Angeles Kings and Montreal
Canadiens are on the outside looking in.

Both teams are grasping at straws, watching their window of
opportunity for a playoff berth shrink with every game. Los Angeles
climbed within eight points of a playoff spot in the Western
Conference on Saturday night with a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens,
who are seven points out in the East.

Ryan Flinn got his first NHL goal, Eric Belanger also scored and
Jamie Storr made 27 saves, helping extend Montreal's winless streak
to nine games.

Storr came within three-tenths of a second of his 16th career
shutout -- and the first ever by the Kings against Montreal in 128
regular-season meetings. Richard Zednik scored his 27th of the
season during a goalmouth scramble.

"The end result -- winning and getting two points -- is more
important than individual satisfaction," Storr said. "They had
some good chances at the end. Zednik didn't have much to shoot at,
but he put the puck in."

The Kings officially became the most injury-affected squad in
the franchise's 36-year history. They broke the club record for
man-games lost in a season with 381 -- one more than in 1995-96.

The record-breaker was center Chris Schmidt, who was scratched
because of a groin strain. Eight other players are on injured
reserve, four with concussions.

The Canadiens are 0-8-1 since beating Edmonton 3-2 on Feb. 15 at
Montreal. The longest winless streak in franchise history is 12
games, set in 1925-26 (0-12-0) and equaled in 1935-36 (0-8-4). They
have won the Stanley Cup 20 times since then.

"We're at a point where we just have to fins the pleasure of
playing hockey again," said defenseman Patrice Brisebois, the last
player left from Montreal's 1993 championship team. "It's very
tense in the locker room. It's not fun to play right now."

The Canadiens' fifth straight road loss dropped their record
away from Montreal to 10-22-3, including five overtime defeats.
They have to win two of their five remaining road games to avoid
tying the franchise record, set four seasons ago.

Montreal has not scored more than three goals in any of its last
17 games and is 3-for-58 on the power play during that stretch. The
Canadiens are 0-23-0 when trailing after two periods, including
three overtime losses.

"It's the same as it's been lately. We haven't been scoring
goals when we've been getting the chances," Montreal coach Claude
Julien said. "Our confidence level is very low right now and we
need a win to pick up us."

Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, who won the Hart Trophy as the
league's MVP last season, was benched in favor of rookie Mathieu
Garon after Thursday's overtime loss at San Jose made Theodore
1-10-1 with a 3.06 goals-against average since Jan. 28. Garon made
28 saves in his fifth start this season.

Flinn, who built a reputation in the minors as an enforcer with
888 penalty minutes over the previous three seasons and piled up 56
minutes in his first 14 NHL games, opened the scoring at 2:40 of
the first period.

Flinn was left unchecked at the left of the crease and easily
converted Brad Norton's centering pass from the right corner. The
fun continued for the 22-year-old native of Halifax, Nova Scotia,
during the first intermission when he was interviewed on the
national "Hockey Night in Canada" telecast.

"Brad slipped a great pass across the crease. All I had to do
was tap it in," Flinn said. "When you're a kid, you dream about
scoring your first NHL goal. It's great to get it, but it's even
sweeter that we got the two points."

Belanger added his 12th goal with 7:40 to play, beating Garon
with a short backhander after Mikko Eloranta intercepted an
attempted clearing pass by Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov.

The Canadiens had a golden opportunity to tie it about 5 1-2
minutes into the second period when Kings center Bryan Smolinski
overskated the puck about 10 feet in front of Storr _ who suddenly
was looking down the barrel of Niklas Sundstrom's stick. But
Sundstrom's shot was wide of the right post, leaving him scoreless
in his last 11 games.

Game notes
The last time every Canadian-based team made the playoffs
was 1983, when there were seven teams north of the boarder. The
last time all of the NHL's original six teams qualified for the
postseason was 1996. ... Kings C Ian Laperriere, who was born in
Montreal, has played 14 career games against the Canadiens without
a goal. Jose Theodore stopped him on a penalty shot last season.
... Kings D Mathieu Schneider, who made his NHL debut with the
Canadiens in 1987-88 and helped them beat Los Angeles for the Cup
in '93, played in his 900th career game.

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