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The Rink Rat

Toronto's hard-bitten Doug Gilmour has sunk his fangs into the Kings on offense as well as defense

Clutching a bottle of water in one hand and a six-pack of high-glucose GatorLode in the other, Toronto Maple Leaf center Doug Gilmour tottered out of the Great Western Forum on Sunday night looking as if he had just wrecked a Harley. He was pallid, sunken-eyed and hollow-cheeked, and his recently stitched-up left eyebrow was doing a remarkable impression of a caterpillar.

The Los Angeles Kings have all but tap-danced on Gilmour's face in the Campbell Conference finals, which was tied at two games apiece after the Leafs' 4-2 win on Sunday. Gilmour has been treated to a slam-bang selection of Marty McSorley's greatest hits, he has gotten up close and personal with Tony Granato, and he will probably be picking shards of Tomas Sandstrom's stick out of his solar plexus for the rest of his natural life. Gilmour has hardly let any of it bother him. "He's not a big man, but he's got the heart of a lion," says Toronto enforcer Ken Baumgartner. "You can see it in his eyes. It's like he's saying, I'm going to go out and win this game. Who's with me?"

Apparently, the Maple Leafs are. In Game 4 Gilmour didn't score, but he set up a goal and, as usual, threw his 5'11" body around with little regard for his personal safety. He played the point on the power play, killed a rash of penalties in the second period and, with Toronto holding a 4-1 lead, skated rings around the Kings as the Leafs silenced the towel-waving, beach ball-batting, late-arriving, early-departing L.A. crowd.

For the Kings to reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in the franchise's 26-year history and face the Montreal Canadiens, who closed out the New York Islanders on Monday night in the Wales Conference finals, Los Angeles has to figure out a way to stop Gilmour from controlling the flow of every game. At week's end Gilmour led all playoff scorers with 29 points, one more than the Kings' Wayne Gretzky. "He's our quarterback," says Toronto defenseman Jamie Macoun. "Wayne is playing great, but no one is working any harder right now than Dougie Gilmour."

While the Great One was reduced to a supporting role in the first four games of the series, the spotlight shone on the incredible shrinking Gilmour, who has dropped at least 20 pounds from his training-camp weight of 175. "I play better when I'm lighter, believe it or not," he says. "It's gotten to the point that I almost hate to eat."

No wonder. To keep up his strength, he forces himself to chow down on carbohydrates as often as five times a day. He has had more pasta and potatoes than he can stand, and he swills can after 280-calorie can of GatorLode. Still, he dreads stepping onto the scale after games. He's afraid that too much of himself has evaporated and that the next time he needs a burst of energy in the third period or in overtime, it might not be there.

The stress shows in the deep lines that are etched around his eyes. His hair, which used to be jet black, is now flecked with gray. Nicknamed Killer by a former teammate because of a supposed resemblance to Charles Manson, Gilmour, 29, was once considered for a movie role as Jesse James. By the time this series is over, he may be better suited to play Jesse's old man.

The Kings are doing their best to hasten the aging process. "We're trying to keep punishing him, pounding him, hitting him and getting in his face," says L.A. forward Warren Rychel. "He's got to wear down sooner or later."

Don't bet on it. "When a guy takes a run at me, it's like a wake-up call," says Gilmour. "You've got to have a mean side. You've got to say, 'Hey, they're coming at me, I'm going to beat 'em.' "

That's what happened in Game 1 in Toronto. Each time the Kings attacked him, Gilmour made them pay. He had two goals and two assists and delivered numerous jarring hits in Toronto's 4-1 victory. He dominated the third period, especially one six-minute stretch, during which he scored, set up the other two Maple Leaf goals and leveled Los Angeles defenseman Alexei Zhitnik with a hip-check from hell. "That's the best six minutes I've ever seen anybody play," said Harry Neale, analyst for Hockey Night in Canada.

This isn't the first time that Gilmour has come up big in the playoffs. He was the leading scorer in the 1986 postseason when he lifted the underdog St. Louis Blues into the conference championship. Three years later he helped the Calgary Flames win the Stanley Cup. But never before has he been the center of attention the way he is now.

"There's no question about it," says Los Angeles coach Barry Melrose. "Doug Gilmour is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I don't think anyone could possibly argue with that."

Gilmour effectively took possession of the team in January 1992, when he arrived from Calgary in a 10-man deal, the biggest trade, and one of the most one-sided, in NHL history. This season he had a team-record 127 points on 32 goals and 95 assists while leading the Maple Leafs to third place in the Norris Division and a spot in the playoffs for the first time in three years. "He elevated his game to get us into the playoffs," Baumgartner says. "And he's elevated it even higher now that we're here."

Not satisfied merely with rekindling the love affair between Canada's largest city and its moribund hockey team, Gilmour went into overdrive, pushing the Leafs to victory in seven-game wars against the Detroit Red Wings and the Blues, double-shifting, playing as many as 40 minutes a game. "I've been saying Dougie's the best player in the league since October," says outspoken Canadian TV commentator Don Cherry. "This guy is already the best defensive forward in the NHL, and now he's the best offensive player in the playoffs, when it really counts. I've never seen anything like it."

A grateful Gilmour planted a big wet kiss on Cherry's cheek during an interview after Game 1. "I think he's very knowledgeable," says Gilmour, who grew up in Kingston, Ont., which also is Cherry's hometown. "Plus, he's an old friend of my family's."

Gilmour is just the sort of rock-'em, sock-'em Canadian-bred player Cherry loves. In Game 2, a 3-2 Los Angeles win, Gilmour tried to head-butt the 6'1", 225-pound McSorley, who had nailed him with a wicked forearm in the opener. "Doug's trying to do too much," said Toronto coach Pat Burns after Game 3, in which the Kings held Gilmour to one goal in a 4-2 victory. "He has to understand that he's our best player. He can't allow himself to be taken off his game by Marty McSorley. You can't have a 160-pound guy going around the rink trying to run over a guy like McSorley. You can't blame him for it. You certainly don't hate him for it. He's just got to settle down a little bit."

Burns is a former cop, and Gilmour's mom and dad both worked at a prison. The law-and-order coach and his star player usually see eye-to-eye. Now, however, Gilmour is resisting. His breakneck style has already carried the Leafs to their unexpected appearance in the conference finals, and who knows when they'll get a shot at the Cup again? Toronto is among the league's oldest teams, relying on Burns's guile and Gilmour's determination. "I'll relax later," Gilmour says.

McSorley may not believe it, but Gilmour's fuse isn't nearly as short as it used to be. Age and the experience that comes with having to cope with a host of off-the-ice difficulties have mellowed him. He was practically run out of St. Louis in 1988, amid a storm of bad publicity, after he was accused of having sex with his daughter's teenage babysitter. However, a grand jury refused to bring an indictment against Gilmour, who denies that the alleged incident took place. He found solace in Calgary but only for a while. Gilmour walked out on the Flames on New Year's Eve in 1991 shortly after losing an acrimonious arbitration hearing. "I heard exactly how important I was to the Calgary Flames," he says. "They said my skills were diminishing. I wanted to prove that's not true."

For the second time Cliff Fletcher gave him the chance to exorcise his demons. As general manager of the Flames, Fletcher had sent a bunch of forgettable players to the Blues to get the tarnished Gilmour. As general manager of the Leafs, he unloaded another batch of forgettables to get Gilmour, Macoun, forward Kent Manderville and two others. Fletcher's protègè, Calgary general manager Doug Risebrough, must wake up nights in a cold sweat.

"The trade rejuvenated my career," says Gilmour. It didn't rejuvenate his marriage, though. He and his wife, Robyne, separated last summer, and he spent this season living in a hotel next door to Maple Leaf Gardens. Robyne has retained custody of eight-year-old Maddison. "I love my daughter," Gilmour says. "I love my wife. That doesn't mean you can always be there. That doesn't mean you can always get along."

When you've lost your wife, when you have to work to keep in touch with your daughter, when your name has been dragged through the mud, when you've been accused of a crime that you insist you did not commit, how difficult can it be to go head-to-head with Marty McSorley and friends? "I know what the Kings are trying to do," says Gilmour about the pounding he is taking from the Kings. "It's no big deal."

McSorley disagrees. "I find that [statement] hard to believe," said McSorley after Game 3. "He's having a tough time out there, but he's a feisty little player. He's not afraid to dish it out, and he accepts what he gets. He's not scared to get involved."

"His confidence level is very high right now," says Rychel. "We can't let him have any room. If you give Dougie Gilmour time to make a play, he's going to make it."

That may not be why they call him Killer, but it ought to be.





As Gretzky discovered, Gilmour, who has lost 20 pounds since training camp, has been anything but a lightweight in the series.



Gilmour, a.k.a. Killer, has been sparring with McSorley (left), L.A.'s enforcer, since Game 1.