It wasn't World War III, but neither was it just another hockey game for the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night at the Forum.
As it wore on, layer after layer of meaning was stripped from the game, leaving, finally, a husk that meant pride to the Kings. After two fruitless seasons, the Kings beat the Canucks for only the second time in 13 games.
The 4-0 win before a sedate crowd of 9,010, was meant to strike a blow for professional pride amid the Pat Quinn dispute involving both teams.
And if the game took the Kings (19-21-4) a full 13 points away from the blighted Canucks (12-27-5) in the Smythe Division standings, then let it stand for that, too.
For Mike Murphy, it was his first win since taking over as coach, in place of Quinn, who was expelled from the National Hockey League last Friday pending the results of an investigation regarding his signing a contract to join the Canucks next season. Murphy's first loss was to Buffalo last Saturday night.
"It takes the pressure off me immediately, but that's only personal pressure, it has no substance to it," Murphy said.
For King goaltender Rollie Melanson, who stopped 27 shots, the shutout was only his second in 203 games in the NHL. But if he was elated, and he was, it was for the team effort in front of him that allowed the shutout.
"If you ever had to say there was a team effort, this was it," he said. "A lot of people think we're going into the tank because of what's happened (with Quinn). But we showed a lot of character."
For Phil Sykes, who is usually referred to as "our unsung hero" by the King coaching staff, this game, and the two goals he scored in it, signaled a rejuvenation after an injury to his left wrist. Sykes missed the first 13 games of the season following surgery to repair tendons in the wrist, and since Nov. 21, a span of 22 games, he had not scored a goal.
"It's nice to get the monkey off my back," he said. "When I wasn't scoring, I felt like I was letting the club down. It's not what I expect from myself."
Playing without tape on the wrist for the first time since the surgery, Sykes said he felt an "unexplainable freedom."
Liberation came in the third period, which the Kings entered with a 1-0 lead. Sykes proceeded to score both his goals, 42 seconds apart, to help the Kings fling the Vancouver monkey from their backs.
Sykes is one of the Kings' hardest workers, and his first goal in the third period was the result of an excellent individual effort. He took the puck to the net, chased it around the net and flicked a shot toward the goal.
Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur made the initial save, but Sykes scored on the rebound at 2:50.
His second goal, at 3:32, was the result of team effort, the kind the Kings have been searching for lately. Bob Bourne passed the puck across the ice to Mark Hardy, who faked a shot and shoveled a pass to Sykes. Sykes scored to give the Kings a 3-0 lead.
Marcel Dionne's goal at 7:59 made it just that much more difficult for Vancouver. The goal was evidence that the Kings had found a reservoir of energy that wasn't going to be tapped out.
That burst of energy came from the Kings' almost desperate need to win the game, for all the reasons.
'We know the whole league is watching us--we're not stupid," Murphy said. "We're not afraid of the situation."
For defenseman Jay Wells, it was a matter of personal pride.
"We haven't beaten them for a couple of years," he said, alluding to the Kings' record against Vancouver of 1-5-2 last season and 0-3-1 in their previous four games this season. "Deep down inside myself, I was doing it for the pride."
The game started as a well-behaved affair. The Kings, mindful of the Canucks' tendency to start fast, build a lead and force the Kings to scramble to catch up, took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Dean Kennedy's shot from the blue line at 10:19 of the first period.
At the halfway point of the period, both teams had played strong defensively, and the Kings, especially, were forechecking well.
King Notes King defenseman Craig Redmond played his first game since he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. . . . Wednesday night's game was Dave (Tiger) Williams' 900th in the NHL. . . . Vancouver Coach Tom Watt, asked if the ordeal of the NHL investigation into the Pat Quinn controvesy was taking a toll on him physically, said: "I'm fit, I'm fit, man. I ran eight miles today."