Kings' run evokes memories of '93 for broadcasters
By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent
LOS ANGELES -- One morning last year, Bob Miller got in his car and steered it toward a special place in time.
From his home in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles, Miller made his way to Inglewood, a working-class suburb near Los Angeles International airport. He drove to the corner of Manchester Boulevard and Prairie Avenue, and the Great Western Forum came into view.
Miller, the longtime television play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Kings, was there to tape a program to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local station. It was filmed in the parking lot, but during a break Miller walked inside the building where, 19 years ago, he voiced the most magical games in the history of the franchise.
The scoreboard was removed long ago, but the seats were still orange and school-bus yellow, and the offices looked the same when Miller walked through the Greek-motif arena that housed the Kings from their inception in 1967 to 1999.
"Some of the same photos were on the walls -- hockey photos, photos of basketball, celebrities who had concerts there," Miller said. "Those were still on the wall.
"[Twenty-seven] years I worked in that building. It was the only arena that I'd known … It brought back a lot of memories of working in that building for that many years, and some of the great games."
That includes the spring of 1993, when Wayne Gretzky led an underdog Kings team to within sight of the Stanley Cup, a five-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens. It is the closest the Kings have gotten to the Cup in their 44-year history until this season.
Miller and Jim Fox, who joined Miller as Kings' color commentator in 1990, have an appreciative perspective of the journey, having verbally documented the team in both eras.
The difference is Gretzky. His arrival in 1988 put Los Angeles on the hockey map, and 1993 was his crowning achievement as a King. He called his hat trick in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs to complete a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit, the greatest single game of his career.
"I don't think they expected us to make that kind of a run," Miller said. "Wayne had had an incentive, I think, in that game because he grew up in that area and he knew everybody in Toronto thought they were going to beat the Kings."
The Toronto series still sticks out for Fox, who was only three years removed as a Kings player. The Maple Leafs' prime antagonists were Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, who scored a hat trick in Game 6 and two goals in Game 7.
However, Fox remembers a different aspect.
"It's the most physical series I've ever seen," Fox said. "It started in Game 1. The Leafs were winning, [Marty] McSorley hitting Gilmour and then Clark going after McSorley. There was just so much physical contact in that series. I remember Tim Watters getting hit with a puck in the face -- the dental work and stitches and this side of his mouth was just torn apart. You just play."
Miller remembers flying directly from Toronto to Montreal because there were only two days until the start of the Final, and from afar he could sense the buzz in Southern California.
"I talked to people who said people were talking about it in the street and bars and restaurants," Miller said. "We had more coverage on TV on the road than I've ever seen before and newspapers by the time we got to the Finals.
"After we won Game 7 to qualify for the Finals, I must have done 20 radio interviews with stations across the country."
The media frenzy was heightened because the Kings played Canadian teams in all four rounds -- Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. But when Miller went to the hotel in Montreal to pick up his credential, he had a very un-Canadian-like episode.
"There's a woman in the elevator and she says to me -- this is in Montreal -- 'Can you tell me what is the Stanley Cup?'" Miller said. "I'm looking around for Alan Funt because I know I'm on 'Candid Camera.' Nobody asks that question in Montreal. As we get down to the bottom of the elevator, the doors open and there's the display of the Stanley Cup and all the trophies."
Both broadcasters equate this year to 1993 in that the Kings were not expected to go this deep and they started every series on the road. But that's where the similarities end for Fox, who goes back to No. 99.
"I see more differences than parallels because the nature of a Gretzky team is that you think you have a chance to win every year," Fox said. "I'm not singling him out but, let's face it, when he's on your team … you feel you have a chance."
L.A. had a golden chance at a 2-0 series lead on Montreal when it was ahead 2-1, with fewer than two minutes remaining in Game 2. But what happened next scars Kings fans to this day. Montreal coach Jacques Demers, in a desperation move, had referees measure the curve on McSorley's stick and it was found to be illegal, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Montreal pulled goalie Patrick Roy for a six-on-four advantage and Eric Desjardins scored to tie it at 2-2. Desjardins then got the overtime goal to become the first defenseman to score a hat trick in a Final game. The Kings would lose the next two games in overtime.
But "even coming back at 1-1, on the plane, knowing it could have been 2-0, I think everybody still had that feeling that we're OK," Miller said. "We're in the games. And of course, the two overtime losses, we played well enough to win those games."
Montreal won Game 5 to capture its 24th Stanley Cup. The Kings fell off a cliff.
Los Angeles didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs again until 1998 and was swept by the St. Louis Blues. It won one playoff series from 1994 to 2011. Miller can't help but laugh.
"When it's over, you think 'Well, we're on our way now,'" he said of the '93 Final. "I really felt that we've got a team that can compete for years and years and we'll be back here. We haven't been back for 19 years."