Progress, apparently, can be measured in several small steps when it comes to King games in this Canadian city.
Nine previous trips here had gone for naught with the Kings failing to earn even a single point. That barrier collapsed--more or less--with a 3-3 overtime tie against Vancouver on Sunday night at the Canucks' brand new home, GM Place, before a sellout crowd of 19,024.
You have to go back to April 12, 1992, to find the last King victory in Vancouver no matter the building. No victories and no ties.
It was the Kings' third consecutive overtime game and, more importantly, the tie kept them as the only unbeaten team in the Western Conference. They are 2-0-2, and the Canucks are 1-1-2.
The Kings and Canucks had a wild 7-7 overtime game last Thursday at the Forum in which the teams combined for 96 shots on goal. Compared to that, Sunday night's encore was a defensive struggle.
Even though Wayne Gretzky was held pointless, the Kings received balanced scoring with goals from three different players, Yanic Perreault, Rick Tocchet and Tony Granato.
Granato's goal, his first of the season, was unassisted and came at 8:32 of the second period to tie the game at 3-3. Granato used a bit of misdirection behind the Canucks' net, catching goaltender Kirk McLean a bit off guard with a wrap-around inside the post.
This figured to be the Kings' best opportunity in quite some time to get past the mental road block. Vancouver played the previous night and looked extremely shaky in a 7-6 victory at San Jose.
Coming into Sunday night's game, the Canucks had allowed 18 goals in three games.
"It was a little better defensively," Canuck Coach Rick Ley said. "We were more deserving of two points tonight and we worked a lot harder."
Said King Coach Larry Robinson: "I would have liked a 3-1 win but that's a pretty darn good club. They have a tremendous amount of firepower and for us to keep them in check as well as we did, I'm quite pleased."
Said King goaltender Byron Dafoe, who stopped 33 shots: "It feels good. A lot of people didn't pick us to do well and it's nice to prove them wrong."
Although the Kings were outshot, 36-22, they had to take some measure of comfort in the fact that they held the Canucks to less than 40 shots.
Vancouver had 46 on Thursday.
On Sunday night, the Kings managed to keep star right wing Pavel Bure pointless. He scored twice in Thursday's game.
Even though the Kings contained Bure, there was still the matter of Alexander Mogilny, who scored once and had an assist. Mogilny, acquired from Buffalo in the summer, has been on a formidable streak lately with five goals and four assists in his last three games.
The team was hit with its third abuse-of-official penalty of the season but this one came as surprise with left wing Eric Lacroix drawing a three-game suspension. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 21 against Pittsburgh, the same day defenseman Michel Petit returns from his 10-game suspension. Enforcer Troy Crowder was the first King to be suspended, also a 10-gamer, and he returned to action on Sunday. Lacroix, as it turned out, was suspended by NHL senior vice president Brian Burke for failing to get out of the way of referee Mike McGeough on Thursday in the Kings' 7-7 tie against Vancouver. McGeough, skating backward, tripped and fell over Lacroix's leg. Lacroix apologized to him and later to Burke but it didn't matter.
"I'm surprised from the standpoint that I didn't expect it," King General Manager Sam McMaster said. "It's like getting three speeding tickets by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This one was an accident. I don't criticize the league or our team. It's not like we chase the refs, yelling and screaming." Said Lacroix: "I know I'm not the most polite guy but I make my living at being a pain in the butt. But there's a line between that and hitting a ref and I said to him [Burke] that I'm a lot brighter than that." Apparently, it looked worse on the tape sent in by the game supervisor. "I said, 'Wow it does look awful,' " Lacroix said. "But it was not intentional. How many times have I hit our own guys by accident? I almost knocked out Dan Quinn and I hit Gretz."