Last time Kings were in Cup Finals, it was Melrose's place

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose laughs Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Barry Melrose laughs during a news conference. (June 24, 2008) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

The old video is irresistible, both as evidence that the Los Angeles Kings really did play in the Stanley Cup Finals before this week and as evidence that Barry Melrose really did wear his hair that way in public.

"I'm very lucky that I haven't changed a bit, haven't aged, look exactly the same as I did 20 years ago," the ESPN analyst joked Monday.

Melrose still has distinctive hair, but nothing as remarkable as the classic mullet he sported behind the Kings' bench in the spring of 1993.

If that means some good-natured ribbing, so be it. More importantly, the sudden interest in that 1992-93 team has been a kick for the men who were part of it, none more so than their then- 36-year-old, first-year NHL coach.

"I'm amazed at how much that series has been talked about," Melrose said. "It's been fun rehashing it . . . It brings back memories of how much fun it was, of how close we were."

Of course, as Melrose noted, when a franchise has been to the Finals once in its history, it is easier to stand out. But that was a memorable team, featuring the likes of Luc Robitaille, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey and . . . oh, right, Wayne Gretzky.

"It was a great group of guys," Melrose said.

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The Kings lost to the Canadiens in five games, a series best remembered for a penalty against Marty McSorley for using an illegally curved stick late in Game 2.

L.A. led 1-0 in games and 2-1 on the scoreboard before that penalty gave the Canadiens a late power play that they used to tie the score. Then they won in overtime to tie the series, won Games 3 and 4 in OT, then closed out the Kings to secure what remains the most recent Cup for a team based in Canada.

McSorley held a lengthy news conference Sunday to discuss the old story with L.A.-area journalists, saying he still has the controversial stick and accusing the Canadiens of sneaking the Kings' portable stick rack into their dressing room at the Montreal Forum to examine those that might be illegal ahead of time.

"Marty is taking a lot of heat over that," Melrose said, "but we would never have been there without Marty."

Melrose lasted only two more seasons with the Kings and moved on to ESPN, where he has been most of the time since -- except for a strange interlude as Tampa Bay's coach in 2008. He was fired after 16 games.

Any potential interest in another coaching job? "I am done with that," he said, "unless I get hit by a coaching bus on the way to the arena. I'd be happy to do this for the rest of my life."

Still, Melrose said his is a strange role, given that ESPN has not carried live NHL games since 2004. He'll be on-site during the Finals for pregame and postgame reports but is limited to the studio most of the season.

"It is unique," he said. "The Worldwide Leader doesn't have hockey. I think we've done a great job of covering it this year . . . Would I love to have the NHL on ESPN? Yeah, but it's not. We have to make the best of it."

Melrose, who remains close to Robitaille, now president of business operations for the Kings, said the franchise's surprising run as a No. 8 seed has been good for the NHL, given the size of the L.A. market. He also picked the Kings to defeat the Devils for the Cup.

Said Melrose: "It's a great time to be a King right now."

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