As legendary New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, once famously stated, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Kings overcame a 5-0 deficit to defeat the Oilers in the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
The beauty of sports, especially during the playoffs, is that anything can happen. Sports oftentimes provides dramatic theatre that is even better than most reality TV shows. And 40 years ago, the Los Angeles Kings would make history in one of the greatest comebacks in NHL playoff history—known as the “Miracle on Manchester.”
On April 10, 1982, game three of the Smythe Division semi-final series between the Los Angeles Kings and the favoured Edmonton Oilers was held at The Forum in Los Angeles (address is 3900 West Manchester Blvd). The Oilers finished first in the Smythe Division with 111 points and a record of 48-17-15. In contrast, Los Angeles finished fourth in the Smythe Division with 63 points and a record of 24-41-15, 48 points behind the Oilers. Many predicted, like the Oilers themselves, that they would win the series easily. Given the high-calibre talent on the Oilers’ roster: Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and goalie, Grant Fuhr this made sense.
The series began at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton on April 7, 1982. The Kings won the first game by a score of 10 to 8—so much for tight-checking playoff defence. Edmonton evened the series in game two the next day, winning by a score of three to two in overtime. That set the stage for game three in Los Angeles. The Oilers would dominate for two periods, leading by a score of five to zero. The game, from the Oilers’ perspective, was over. Even the then-owner of the Kings, Jerry Buss, had seen enough—leaving the game after the second period. But as legendary New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, once famously stated, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Over the years, several members of the Los Angeles Kings who played in the “Miracle on Manchester,” remembered the disrespect they received from the Edmonton Oilers—when the score was 5-0. Defenceman, Jay Wells, recalled the looks of derision and mocking from the Oilers—were a motivator for the Kings. “As I skated past the Edmonton bench, the Oilers were mocking us,” he told NHL.com. “Their coach, Glen Sather, was smirking too. That put a fire in our tail.”
In the third period, the Kings made an incredible comeback on goals by Jay Wells, Doug Smith, Charlie Simmer and Mark Hardy. The score was now 5-4 with the Kings scoring four goals in a span of 13 minutes and 13 seconds. The number “13” was apropos, as it was a very “unlucky” period for Edmonton. Then with 10 seconds left in the third period, the play was in the Oilers’ zone—with the Kings’ goalie on the bench for an extra attacker (6-on-4 situation as Oilers were also killing a five-minute major penalty assessed to Garry Unger). Wayne Gretzky, with a chance to get the puck out of the zone, had the puck stripped by the Kings’ Jim Fox. He then passed the puck back to a defenceman, Mark Hardy, at the point. Hardy shot the puck, with Grant Fuhr making the save. Kings’ forward, Steve Bozek, backhanded the rebound between Fuhr’s legs—sending the game into overtime. Another Kings’ forward, Bernie Nicholls, told NHL.com, after Bozek’s tying goal, “All hell broke loose in the building.”
In the opening minute of overtime, Kings’ goalie, Mario Lessard, came out of his crease to stop a breakaway by the Oilers’ Glenn Anderson. Mark Messier then got possession of the puck with a wide-open net. It was game over. But Messier missed the net on a backhander. Then two minutes later, there was a faceoff in the Oilers’ zone to the left of Grant Fuhr. The Kings’ Doug Smith won the faceoff, with the puck drawn back perfectly to the rookie, Daryl Evans. He positioned himself and fired a hard slapshot above Fuhr’s right shoulder to seal the victory at 2:35. The Forum erupted in euphoria. Evans told the Edmonton Journal after scoring the overtime winner: “I saw the puck laying there and I broke for it. I had a vague idea where the net was, and I just shot and prayed. It was an unreal feeling when the puck went in. I went downtown for a skate to celebrate.”
The “Miracle on Manchester” was an improbable moment, being the largest comeback in NHL playoff history. The Edmonton media were not kind to the Oilers after losing game three to the Kings. The next day the Edmonton Journal contained the headline, “Oh Oilers, you choked!” In the same article, Wayne Gretzky spoke about the loss; he was critical of his team’s inability to hold a five-goal lead. “Stupid hockey,” he said. “It could only happen to us the way we’ve played so stupid in this series. Wasn’t it bad enough we had to kill so many penalties in the first two periods without being stupid enough to take even more in the third period. Were we stupid enough to think we wouldn’t catch up. It did! This time it wasn’t so much panic as playing stupid.”
The Oilers won game four by a score of three to two on April 12 (the game was also played at the Forum). Then it was back to Edmonton the following evening for the fifth and deciding game. Kings forward, Dave Taylor, in a television segment called LA Kings Stories, remembered the Kings and Oilers flew to Edmonton on the same commercial plane. Retired Los Angeles Kings play-by-play broadcaster, Bob Miller, recalled a humourous encounter when the team arrived at their hotel: “I remember walking in [sic] the hotel in Edmonton at 5:30 in the morning. And an elderly [housekeeper] was in the lobby. And she was shaking her fist at the Kings and she said, ‘You didn’t treat my boys very well in Los Angeles.’ And Mark Hardy said, ‘Lady, it’s 5:30 in the morning. Go home and go to bed!’”
In game five, the Kings won 7-4 to clinch the series—a stunning upset. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Kings were unable to build on the “Miracle on Manchester” and subsequent series upset victory over the Oilers. The Kings lost to the Vancouver Canucks in the second round in five games.
But 40 years ago, the “Miracle on Manchester” was a moment for the ages. The moment also showed that sports can be exciting and dramatic—with unpredictable circumstances and outcomes. It was a painful and humbling lesson for the Oilers to never underestimate your opponent. The best team on paper does not always win. The Oilers experienced another painful playoff loss when they were swept 4-0 by the New York Islanders in the 1983 cup final. Edmonton learned from those playoff setbacks; as they built their foundation that won five Stanley Cups in the subsequent years (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990).
Bob Miller said the Kings’ victory over the Oilers was so satisfying because he believed the Oilers gave the Kings no respect. “They were the most arrogant team I have ever been around,” he said. “And that was so wonderful to be able to go down there and just rub it into them; that the heavily-favoured team got beat by a team they gave no respect to. I ran down to the locker room. I was looking for a phone to call my wife, the only phone I could find was outside the Oilers’ dressing room. And the Oilers’ wives and girlfriends, they’re all in tears—they’re all crying. And I’m on the phone saying to my wife, ‘What a great game!’ I loved it!”