Dallas Drake scored twice in a 2:32 span of the first period and the Blues gave Murray a satisfying 3-1 victory over the Kings on Thursday night in his return to Staples Center.
“It was very important,” Drake said. “He coached here for seven years and he’s got great memories here. He turned that franchise around and made them real competitive. Now he’s starting a new tradition with us, so it was gratifying for us to get a win for him. We all knew deep down that this meant a lot to him.”
Bill Guerin also scored and David Backes and Jay McClement each had two assists. Manny Legace made 34 saves against the team he broke in with in 1998-99.
Murray, whose 215 regular-season wins as Kings coach are the most in franchise history, guided the team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons with them. He was fired last March 21 after a 5-0 home loss the night before to Colorado dropped the team’s record to 38-27-5. But he harbours no resentment.
“There were so many great memories and relationships with people, but the day I got the chance to be the head coach of the Kings was the best day,” said Murray, a former NHL assistant who was coaching a high school team in Minnesota when the Kings hired him. “I was in the coaching business for a long time. And then when someone tells you you’re going to be an NHL head coach, it’s a pretty special feeling.”
The Blues hired Murray on Dec. 11 after firing Mike Kitchen, and are 11-4-4 under their new coach – including wins over Anaheim, Buffalo and New Jersey. They are 3-0 against the Kings with Murray behind the bench, outscoring them 14-8.
“It’s a special game, no question about it,” Murray said. “But no matter what other people think, I still consider that whole group to be friends. I probably don’t feel as good about beating them as I would other teams. I mean, you feel for everybody in their room, and they play so darn hard to turn it around.”
Ironically, on the night of Murray’s return to Los Angeles, he found his former team at the bottom of the Western Conference standings under Marc Crawford – who guided Colorado to a Stanley Cup title in 1996.
“Our guys played a great game with lots of spirit and spunk,” Crawford said. “We were much more deserving of a better result, but we just have to stick with it.”
The crowd of 16,544 saluted Murray when his face was shown on the video board above centre ice during a timeout in the first period. At the bottom of the screen were the words: “Thank you Andy for seven years of tireless effort and dedication to the Kings.”
“I didn’t see it,” Murray said. “I wish I had, because I would have acknowledged the fans. So I apologize for that. But our team wasn’t playing real well at that point, so I was probably asking them to play a little harder.”
The Kings, who have surrendered plenty of soft goals this season, gave up two more in the first period to fall behind 2-0. Defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky gave up the puck to Backes behind the net, and McClement took a weak backhander from the slot that Drake redirected through Barry Brust’s legs at 12:16.
The Blues’ captain added his fifth goal of the season at 14:48 when Backes’ 40-foot wrist shot from above the left circle deflected off Drake’s skate and between Brust’s legs. It was Drake’s eighth career two-goal game, first since Dec. 2, 2003 – also against the Kings in a 4-1 victory at St. Louis.
“I just sat in front and my linemates were carrying the puck out of the corner and made two great plays,” Drake said. “I was just in the right spot at the right time.”
The Kings were short-handed for four of the final six minutes after Raitis Ivanans cut Dennis Wideman above the left eye with a high stick. Ivanans scored Los Angeles’ only goal.
The victory was the Blues’ ninth on the road, one more than all of last season, when they finished with the worst record in the NHL and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1979. They played without right-wing Dan Hinote and defenceman Jay McKee, both of whom were injured in Saturday’s 6-5 win against the Kings at St. Louis.
Notes: They Kings are 16-27-6 in their first 49 games under Crawford. They were 23-22-4 in their final 49 games with Murray, who replaced Larry Robinson before the 1999-00 campaign and was 21-21 with seven ties in his first 49 games with Los Angeles. … Luc Robitaille, benched for three consecutive games by Murray in December 2005, will become the fifth player to have his uniform number retired by the Kings in a lavish ceremony before Saturday’s game against Phoenix. No. 20 will be unveiled along the west wall at Staples Center next to those of Marcel Dionne, Rogie Vachon, Dave Taylor and current Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky.