NHL Playoffs: The Tale of Two King-Size Comebacks

When hockey fans think of the sport’s most illustrious teams and NHL history’s most storied franchises, very few people are likely to think of the Los Angeles Kings.  Indeed, the Kings have only been to the Stanley Cup Finals one time (lost 4 games to 1 to the Canadiens in 1993), have only won their Division one time (in 1991), and have only been to the playoffs in 6 of the past 17 seasons (winning only one series in that time).

However, the Los Angeles Kings do hold a unique place in the annals of NHL Playoff history; and they added an unfortunate page to that respective history last week.

In 2011, the Kings rode their 98-point season to a #7 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs—only the team’s second trip to the Playoffs since 2002—and a best of 7-series against their fellow Californians, the San Jose Sharks.  Sadly, the Sharks swam circles around the Kings, and the loss makes L.A.’s all-time record in playoff series a less-than-impressive 11-24.  In what could be seen as a microcosm of the Kings’ 2011 season, L.A. collapsed in Game 3 after taking a 4-zip lead on San Jose, losing 6-5 in overtime.  After jumping out to a 4-goal lead in the first minute of the 2nd period of Game 3, the Kings let up 3-straight goals to the Sharks, added another goal of their own, but then allowed San Jose the tying 2 goals before losing to the Sharks three minutes in to overtime.  Clearly, for the Kings it was a shattering loss of epic proportions, but for the Sharks, it was a miracle comeback so historic that it had shades of a surprisingly similar, legendary comeback that happened in the NHL Playoffs 29 years and 9 days earlier: the Miracle on Manchester.

On April 10th 1982, on Manchester Boulevard in Los Angeles, the L.A. Kings (in their old-school purple and gold jerseys) did battle with the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers in Game 3 (in a best of 5-series) in the first round of the 1982 NHL Playoffs.  At the time, only the top four teams from each division made the playoffs: that season, The Great One and the Oilers won their Division, and the #1 seed, with 111 points; conversely, the Kings entered the series 4th in the Division, with only 63 points to show from their season.

After two periods of action, Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr, and the Oilers held an impossible-to-overcome, 5-nil lead over Marcel Dionne and the Kings.  But then, shockingly, a slap shot from 30 feet out, a power play goal, a defensive miscue, a quick wrist shot, and quick reflexes by a King rookie, and the Kings had tied the game at 5, with the fifth goal coming only seconds before the end of regulation.  In overtime, another rookie for the Kings—Daryl Evans—became the hero by making the comeback complete, firing the game-winner over Grant Fuhr’s glove hand for a 6-5 overtime victory that has since become famed as the Miracle on Manchester.

Twenty-nine years and nine days after Daryl Evans’s overtime winner for the Kings capped one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history, things came full-circle for the Kings last week as the San Jose Sharks played the role of legendary comeback makers, with L.A. assuming the role of King-sized down-and-outers.

Although the Los Angeles Kings will be (once again) watching from home as the Stanley Cup is lifted by someone else at the end of this year’s Playoffs, but even thirty years removed from the comeback that has become the stuff of Playoff legend, the Kings can always look to next year as an opportunity to return to that time of success, when they scored six unanswered goals on one of the league’s best teams, and one of the sport’s best players.

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