The last time the Kings played the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs was the 1998 Western Conference Quarterfinals.
For the Kings, it was their first playoff appearance since the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. And after a 1996-97 season which saw them accumulate 67 points, few people would’ve predicted the Kings to have such a turn-around season in 1997-98.
But they did, thanks to guys like Jozef Stumpel (led the team with 79 points), Glen Murray (led the team with 29 goals) and Norris Trophy-winning Rob Blake (led all NHL defensemen with 23 goals).
The team was balanced up and down the lineup with cagey veterans like Luc Robitaille, Garry Galley, Russ Courtnall, Ray Ferraro and Stephane Fiset and up-and-coming players like Ian Laperriere, Sean O’Donnell, Mattias Norstrom and Jamie Storr.
“It took a group that for the most part that wasn’t a lot of big names,” Storr said. “It wasn’t just one player. We all had good, solid years and were all competitive. We had depth.”
The Kings (87 points) finished the season second in the Pacific Division and fifth in the Western Conference. The Blues were the fourth seed (98 points). St. Louis took the first two games on home ice. Game 1 was an 8-3 blow out.
“That goal horn gives me nightmares still today,” Murray said.
“There were a lot of all-stars on that team and we were definitely the underdog,” Storr said. “You’re playing against great players like Al MacInnis, Brett Hull and Pierre Turgeon. I mean, Grant Fuhr was their goalie. Things were different back then because there was more of a difference between teams, unlike today in the salary cap era.”
Game 2 was closer, but the Blues won that game as well, 2-1.
The series shifted back to Los Angeles for Game 3 at the Great Western Forum and the Kings came out flying, taking a 3-0 lead in the third period. The sellout crowd of 16,005 was going nuts.
Then “IT” happened…Every Kings fan knows what “IT” means. The infamous hit on Storr by Geoff Courtnall, Russ’ brother.
“I went out to play the puck and Geoff buried his shoulder into me and my head hit the post and I got a concussion,” Storr said.
After the hit O’Donnell came to Storr’s defense and went after Geoff. The result: a major power play for the Blues. A power play that saw them score four goals, stunning the Kings faithful. St. Louis held on and beat the Kings, 4-3.
“I remember and still try to forget it ever happened,” Murray said. “We were done after that.”
For Russ Courtnall, playing his brother was tough enough in the playoffs. Then he had to deal with this.
“It was brutal and it totally changed the series,” Russ said. “I remember walking into the locker room after the game and all eyes were on me. It wasn’t a good feeling. But that’s one of the reasons my brother was so good in the playoffs. He scored key goals and rattled the other team always.
“My wife was sitting with Jamie’s wife with five minutes left and she said, ‘you must be so excited Jamie is going to get his first shutout.’ She felt awful for saying it, she was just pumped for Jamie and that we were winning at the time. Man…that hit on Jamie.”
The Blues carried the momentum into Game 4, winning 2-1 and sweeping the series.
A tough one to swallow for the Kings, who had such a promising season, really coming from nowhere.
The hit may still burn deep in the hearts of Kings fans, but Storr looks at the play a little more objectively now.
“At the end of the day it was a good, hard play. He was just playing hockey,” Storr said. “There was a definite momentum change. If it didn’t happen would we have won the game? Probably. Would we have wont the series? Probably not. That’s what happens in hockey.”