Kings 4, Sharks 0
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—Luc Robitaille hugged his kids and kissed his wife, lingering in the crowded hallway until everyone had a memory. Then he headed for the Los Angeles Kings’ locker room for the final time—and with eyes rimmed in tears, he hesitated at the door.
But the indecision was fleeting. One of the greatest goal-scorers in NHL history is ready for retirement after 19 seasons, and his grateful teammates sent Lucky Luc into life after hockey with a season-ending 4-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Monday night.
Robitaille announced his retirement plans last week, and the franchise’s leading goal-scorer played his final home game amid much fanfare Saturday. But the finality of his decision didn’t sink in until he arrived in San Jose, when he realized his usual game-day mental preparation would never be needed again.
“It really hit me this morning, in the morning skate, when I was getting myself ready to play,” said Robitaille, the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history. “Halfway through, I realized it was my last. … It was really fun to play this one.”
Robitaille’s family, parents and agent were in the crowd, and the sold-out Shark Tank was suitably appreciative for a longtime opponent. The crowd gave a lengthy standing ovation during a pregame tribute on the arena’s overhead scoreboard, along with a long chant of “Luuuuuc!” that was repeated in the final minutes.
Robitaille changed sticks at every stoppage or line change during the game to create as many souvenirs as possible, and his teammates seemed determined to feed the puck into his famed wheelhouse on nearly every shift.
But it didn’t change Robitaille’s scoring luck: The 12-time 30-goal scorer went into retirement on a 12-game scoreless streak since his 668th and final goal on March 14.
“These guys were trying so hard to get me one,” he said with a grin. “I said to (Sharks goalie Evgeni) Nabokov, ‘Give me the five-hole!”’
After the final buzzer, Robitaille was stunned and touched again. One by one, the Sharks lined up to shake Robitaille’s hand—from Nabokov to Steve Bernier, the latest rookie wing from Quebec with a powerful shot—while his Kings teammates banged their sticks on the line in approval.
Robitaille waved to his fans and family amid another ovation before leading the Kings off the ice.
“What the Sharks did, it shocked the heck out of me,” Robitaille said. “We’ve always been rivals, but I think they know how much I love this game, and how much I’ve given to it.”
The Kings didn’t let him down, either. Jason LaBarbera stopped 31 shots for his first NHL shutout, while Pavol Demitra, Mike Cammalleri and Mattias Norstrom each had a goal and an assist for the Kings, who snapped the Sharks’ eight-game winning streak.
“I’ve never been around a guy who loves the game as much as he does,” LaBarbera said. “I’ve been through a pretty tough year, and he’s always been around to talk any time I needed it. That’s the way he should go out: On top.”
The game meant nothing to San Jose, already headed to the playoffs as the West’s fifth seed with 99 points, the second-highest total in franchise history. After falling behind early, the Sharks were content to enjoy a night for Robitaille, a beloved Los Angeles star for 14 years in a career also spent with Pittsburgh, Detroit and the New York Rangers.
“I think I played against him,” said Sharks coach Ron Wilson, whose NHL career overlapped with Robitaille for two seasons. “That’s a good feeling. I’m young enough now that I played against Luc Robitaille. He’s a great player with a phenomenal career. He’s always been a great ambassador for the game, and he’s probably stepping down at the right time.”
Nabokov made 25 saves for the Sharks, who already clinched a first-round date with Nashville thanks to eight consecutive victories culminating in Saturday’s 6-3 win over Anaheim. They played with little urgency after scoring 28 goals in their last six games, conserving their energy for the playoff opener this weekend.
But lengthy scoring streaks ended for Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, and the Sharks stars must wait until the New York Rangers’ home game against Ottawa on Tuesday night to know whether they’ll beat Jaromir Jagr for two NHL scoring titles.
Thornton leads the overall scoring race with 125 points to Jagr’s 122, while Cheechoo tops the race for the Maurice Richard trophy with 56 goals, two more than Jagr.
“We need to get back on track,” said Cheechoo, who won’t be monitoring the Rangers game on his day off. “We really didn’t put forth the effort tonight. It was unfortunate, but it happens.”
Cammalleri’s first goal in 10 games put Los Angeles up 3-0 early in the third. The Kings hadn’t scored three goals in any of their previous nine games, and that scoring slump was one big reason they finished in 10th place in the Western Conference after being 27-14-2 on Jan. 5.
Jeremy Roenick had two assists on the night, finishing the lowest-scoring full season in his NHL career with just 22 points. … C Alyn McCauley returned to the Sharks’ lineup after a five-game absence with an undisclosed injury. … Norstrom snapped a personal 29-game goal drought with a long slap shot in the final minutes.