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First Period Sets the Tone for Kings, 6-3 : NHL playoffs: Gretzky has one goal, two assists in victory over Canucks.


VANCOUVER, Canada — For the Kings, the first hint that the outcome might actually be different at Pacific Coliseum came in the first period, when they managed to score three goals, including one in the first 19 seconds.

Traditionally, the first 20 minutes have not been kind to the Kings in Vancouver. In five games since November--four in the regular season and the first game of this series--the Canucks outscored the Kings, 15-1, in the first period.

Wednesday, the Kings reversed their fortune in the first and used the momentum to alter the direction of the Smythe Division finals, defeating the Canucks, 6-3, in Game 2. This was their first victory in Vancouver in six games.

Even though the Canucks erased the Kings' early lead only 33 seconds after Mark Hardy opened the scoring at 19 seconds, the Kings felt they were showing progress.

"We did kind of blow it there," King defenseman Charlie Huddy said. "It's all right being tied, 1-1, instead of being down two or three goals. It was a big lift. We knew we had to be ready to go from the start."

Said King Coach Barry Melrose: "This team (the Canucks) plays so well with a lead. We knew if they got behind they would have to take a few more chances, which played into our hands."

The victory ties this best-of-seven series at 1-1, with the series heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Friday night and Game 4 on Sunday afternoon.

Wayne Gretzky led the Kings with a three-point performance on a second-period goal (his 99th in the playoffs during his career) and two first-period assists. Tony Granato's unassisted goal at 2:01 of the second was the game-winner. The other King goals came from Jari Kurri, Warren Rychel and Pat Conacher.

Greg Adams, Dixon Ward and Pavel Bure scored for the Canucks.

Bure's goal, which came at 11:45 of the second, easily was the most sensational of the playoffs. Defenseman Jiri Slegr, deep in the Canuck zone in the right corner, hit Bure at the red line with a pinpoint pass. Bure picked up speed and went in on a partial breakaway, holding off Hardy. Hardy continued to hook Bure all the way until he reached the top of the crease in front of goaltender Kelly Hrudey.

Seemingly thwarted, Bure spun around and went to his backhand with Hardy and Hrudey falling the other way out of the play. Bure, finding room, moved to his right, and put the puck in between Hrudey and the right post.

The sellout crowd of 16,150 gave Bure a prolonged standing ovation, and the spectacular goal cut the Kings' lead to 4-3.

"Nobody else would stop up like that and make the play," Hrudey said. "Mark Hardy did everything right--he took the body on him."

Ordinarily, that sort of goal would have deflated the Kings here. But they took the crowd and the Canucks out of the game with Gretzky's response late in the second period. Gretzky, determined to put on a show of his own, converted a centering pass from Luc Robitaille all alone at the left post with 2:21 remaining in the period. Robitaille, who picked up his first point of the series, slid a backhander across the slot from the right circle, a pass that eluded Vancouver defenseman Gerald Diduck.

Gretzky's goal gave the Kings a 5-3 lead and a measure of comfort heading into the third period. Earlier, before the Bure goal, Granato had given the Kings a two-goal lead with a 30-footer from the top of the right circle, beating Canuck goaltender Kirk McLean on the stick side just under the crossbar.

In Game 2, Granato was back to his feisty, infuriating self in addition to scoring the game-winner. He angered Canuck left wing Sergio Momesso and turned Momesso's minor penalty into a double minor. Momesso was already going off for holding Granato, but the two players exchanged words and Momesso spit at Granato after the encounter, drawing another minor--for unsportsmanlike conduct--and a 10-minute gross misconduct penalty.

Another change, of course, came in goal. Melrose has never been reluctant in the playoffs to switch goaltenders to give his team a lift, if for no other reason. Even though Robb Stauber didn't play poorly in Game 1, Melrose decided to go with Hrudey on a hunch.

Hrudey played with a sense of confidence on Wednesday. The Canucks scored twice in the first period on 11 shots but beat him only once in the final two periods. In all, Vancouver had 29 shots on goal.

Perhaps another key to the victory: For the first time since Game 4 of the Calgary series, the Kings held an opponent to fewer than 40 shots on goal.

"Really?" Hrudey asked. "I don't care if they get more than 40 shots as long as we keep scoring nine goals a game. Tonight's game was a classic game. It made my job easy."

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