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MIRACLE ON MANCHESTER: 25-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

Tuesday, 04.10.2007 / 12:27 AM / Features
Los Angeles Kings
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MIRACLE ON MANCHESTER: 25-YEAR ANNIVERSARY
Everyone loves an underdog. It all started when David struck down Goliath. The world is captivated with people or teams winning against all odds.

Nothing could mirror this image like the 1982 Los Angeles Kings. Known as “The Miracle on Manchester,” it was just that…a miracle. The Kings had squeaked into the 1982 post-season earning the final Smythe Division playoff berth with a 24-41-15 record. For their regular season efforts, the Kings got the unlikely task of taking on the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers. A roster loaded with talent, including names like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson – a veritable dynasty in the making.

What transpired, however, in the third period of Game 3 on April 10, 1982, at the Forum will forever be considered the most exciting hour in Kings history.  Los Angles and Edmonton were locked at one game apiece in a best-of-five series, a surprise in itself considering that the Oilers were such prohibitive favorites going into the playoffs. The 1982 Smythe Division champions, Edmonton owned the NHL’s second-best regular-season record that year, and Gretzky had taken the league’s scoring title into a whole new realm with 212 points in 80 games. This was a mismatch that had only to go through the formality of playing this series before the Oilers would achieve what seemed to be their fate – the Stanley Cup.

Well, it was Edmonton’s fate to win the Stanley Cup five times, but not in 1982. Edmonton completely dominated the first two periods of the game, and so much so that then-Kings owner, Jerry Buss, left his ice-level seats and headed for Palm Springs. The only people who hadn’t given up were the Kings players who were about to embark on the greatest comeback in Stanley Cup playoff history.

“A lot of players were laughing at us and Gretzky was pointing at the scoreboard,” said former Kings Head Coach Don Perry, who coached the Kings from 1982-84. “The only thing we talked about between the second and third periods was the fact that they were laughing at us. We wanted to play hard in the third and earn back some respect.”

It seemed as though a combination of the Kings fans booing, and the Oilers players laughing and taunting, really inspired the Kings to their eventual triumph.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind about the game was Dave Lumley of the Oilers laughing at us when it was 5-0,” said former Kings forward and current broadcaster Jim Fox.

“As you look back on it, I think part of the comeback was due to us responding with some pride,” said Dave Taylor, a member of the Kings Hall of Fame. “I remember the Oilers players booing us when we had power plays early in the game. We weren’t doing much with the man advantage so the fans were booing, then the Oilers started as well. We talked about that at the intermission. We said ‘Let’s at least try to have a good period and win the period.’ I don’t think we ever talked about actually winning the game, but you also never know. We just wanted to maybe chip away at the lead and win some respect heading into Game 4.”

Win the game, is exactly what the Kings did. Showing the heart of a champion, the Kings began to chip away at the five-goal deficit. First it was defenseman Jay Wells, wristing a shot from the blue line past Fuhr at 2:46. Next up was Kings center Doug Smith, who made it 5-2 at 5:58.

Things got a bit interesting at 14:38 when Charlie Simmer poked one home to make it a two-goal lead, 5-3.

And then, destiny took over.

Edmonton’s Garry Unger took a major penalty midway through the period and that allowed the Kings to keep up the pressure. With less than five minutes remaining, the idea of victory finally began to emerge.

“I really recall Mark Hardy’s goal,” said Fox. “Hardy’s shot was from about 45 feet out along the ice and it wasn’t a hard shot, he just wristed it past Fuhr who was screened. The puck seemed to float past all the bodies along the way and just snuck in.”

The goal came at 15:59 of the third period and sent the crowd – or at least the people who had stuck around – into a frenzy.

“I still can’t believe it,” said ex-Edmonton/Kings defenseman Charlie Huddy. “We just let it slip away. The Kings kept coming and coming and we couldn’t get it going again.”

Down by a goal with just minutes remaining, the Kings kept the pressure on until Steve Bozek banged a rebound through Fuhr’s pads with just five seconds remaining in the game. The building erupted as the Kings left the ice to prepare for overtime.

“The goal was just a reaction,” said Bozek. “Fuhr had kicked the puck out and it came right to me on my backhand and I beat him. I’d have to say it was the most exciting goal I’ve scored in the NHL.”

Current Kings radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson remembered: “What stands out most is the feeling that was in the Forum during the 15-minute intermission. The Kings had just done the unthinkable…five consecutive goals in the third period. I started looking around the building and just about everyone was standing and reacting in disbelief as to what they just witnessed. There was a distinct feeling, a buzz from the crowd, and it was as if everyone was thinking the same thing…‘My God, did I really just see what I saw?’ As the overtime began, I remember saying to myself, ‘There is no way the Kings can lose this game after the remarkable comeback.’”

The storybook ending was about to occur, and it would be written by an unknown rookie named Daryl Evans.

Small in stature, Evans had the biggest slap shot on the club, and it paid off. Sitting at the right point, Evans quietly “waited in the weeds” as Smith won a key face-off and slid the puck back to Evans. In one quick instance, the puck slipped past Fuhr and it was pandemonium. Evans sprinted the length of the ice, collapsed at the other end and was swallowed by his Kings teammates.

“I remember Daryl Evans dancing down the ice after the overtime winner,” said former Kings athletic trainer Pete Demers. “That win was great for the pride of the team and organization.”

That celebration by Evans, who continues to work for the team, was recently selected by ESPN as one of the 10 best hockey celebrations ever.

“As you sit back now, 25 years later, and look back, you realize that it was something special. That thrill of scoring the goal is something you probably experience only once in a lifetime. It’s so unexpected,” Evans said.

“I remember coming out after I was announced as the first star of the game. It seemed like I was skating on air. I was in a state I had never been in and probably will never be in again.”