Always in stitches, Kings' Granato is nothing for Canadiens to laugh about HOCKEY

June 03, 1993|By Frank Brown | Frank Brown,New York Daily News

MONTREAL -- A diagonal line of black thread, dried blood and healing skin wanders from the top of Tony Granato's upper lip to the bottom of his left nostril. You may rest assured that if it were not there, the 12-stitch gash would be someplace else on Granato's face, because the Los Angeles Kings wing always is sticking that face where others believe it does not belong.

From the appearance of things, it does not hurt him to smile. Granato smiled Tuesday night and he smiled yesterday because he played in the Stanley Cup finals and helped his team win, 4-1. Talk all you want about Wayne Gretzky's three assists and the two shots Luc Robitaille sent past Montreal goalie Patrick Roy. If Tony Granato does not bring his game face to the Forum, maybe the Kings don't win as easily.

Maybe they do not win at all.

Granato was not even the ugliest sight on the Kings' bench. Just eight seconds into Game 1 Tuesday, defenseman Darryl Sydor caught a clearing attempt square in the choppers. Sydor cracked some teeth, stopped by the trainer's room for four shots of painkiller and 34 stitches, then went back out there because he could, after all, still skate and still see.

Sydor's mishap cost Granato the informal team lead in playoff embroidery. Defenseman Tim Watters had held first place with a rather gruesome injury earlier in the playoffs, then Granato got his new look in Game 7 at Toronto Saturday night.He was going for the puck and some guy's stick came up and got him. No big deal. To Granato, the only big deal is winning.

And this is what Granato did to help his team win Tuesday night:

By getting fouled four times, he got the Kings their first four power plays of the game. If they don't get the power plays, maybe Robitaille doesn't get the two goals.

By buzzing and forechecking, as he always does, Granato was right behind the Canadiens' net when Roy and defenseman Patrice Brisebois flubbed a hurried puck exchange. And if Granato isn't there, to chop at the puck, maybe Gretzky doesn't feed Jari Kurri for the 3-1 goal that crushes Montreal's comeback notions 1:51 into the third period.

Canadiens coach Jacques Demers claimed Gretzky "toyed with us" in Game 1. It says here Granato was just as important. Gretzky also put a puck in his own net. Gretzky also took a hooking penalty that wiped out a Kings power play at the end of the second period.

So the Great One has been greater than he was Tuesday, a thought that should fill the Canadiens with terror. Granato was as good as he always was, which should trigger just as much fear as this best-of-seven resumes.

Other Kings are bigger than 5 feet 10, bulkier than 180 pounds. Other Kings seem to survive games better than Granato, seem able to go home with some color in their cheeks instead of some stitches.

When Granato smiled Tuesday night, you wondered if that mere act required more energy than he had. His father, Don, stood nearby. His sister, Cammi -- one of the top women hockey players in the world -- was there, too, having traveled from Downers Grove, Ill., to watch Tony's first Stanley Cup game.

"Last year in Chicago, I had a chance to see Game 3 of the [Blackhawks] finals against Pittsburgh," Granato said. "I was sitting in the stands, wishing I could be out there. And now, a year later, I am."

He goes out again tonight, all stitches and heart, to play bigger than any Canadien. He will taunt them into fouls, harry them into turnovers. He will nip at their heels like a hound, because that is what he does every night. If he doesn't do that through frozen February games in Hartford or windswept nights in Winnipeg, a bigger man might take his job and the job is not near done.

They might want to stock up on thread in the medical room tonight. It's always a good idea when Granato has a game to play.

STANLEY CUP FINALS

CANADIENS VS. KINGS

(Kings lead series, 1-0)

Game 1 Kings 4, Canadiens 1

Tonight at Montreal 7:30

Saturday at Los Angeles 8:40

Monday at Los Angeles 9:10

Wed.* at Montreal 7:30

June 12* at Los Angeles 8:40

June 15* at Montreal 7:30

* if necessary

TV: ESPN

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