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Leaving on a Jet Plane...with the Edmonton Oilers

How the 1981-82 LA Kings came back against all odds to knock the Edmonton Oilers out of playoffs, while also sharing a charter along the way

by Mike Commito @mikecommito / LAKings.com

No one had given the LA Kings much of a chance in their first-round series against the Edmonton Oilers in 1982.

The Oilers had finished 48 points ahead of the Kings in the Smythe Division standings and boasted the greatest player in the game, Wayne Gretzky, who was coming off 92 goals and his first 200-point campaign that season. It was expected to be a quick series. 

But the Kings never got the memo. In the first game, the Kings and Oilers burnt out the goal lights at the Northlands Coliseum, as the two teams traded 18 goals in the highest scoring playoff matchup in NHL history. 

"That was a real barn burner," hard-nosed defenseman Jay Wells recollected. "I got tossed out early into the first period, but I watched it. It was a nail-biter. It just went back and forth, back and forth. They'd score and then we'd score. I thought it was never going to end," he added.

Veteran winger Mike Murphy remembered that no lead was safe for either team. "Pucks just seemed to be going in from everywhere," he said. 

For some of the Kings' younger players, who were playing in their first post-season, it was quite the introduction to playoff hockey.

"Obviously Edmonton could score. For them to score 8 goals wasn't a shocker for anybody. They did that on a nightly basis," recalled Bernie Nicholls, who scored the final goal, an empty-netter, that game.

"The way it finished I think an eye opener for a lot of people, including the guys on our team who gained a lot of confidence from it," noted fellow rookie Daryl Evans. 

Both teams tightened up the next game, with the Oilers tying the series with a 3-2 victory in overtime. Despite outgunning the Oilers and then taking them to sudden death in the first two games, many expected the Kings would be playing their final games of the season at the Forum.

The Kings, however, didn't see it that way. "We played with the mentality we had nothing to lose," Murphy explained. 

Returning home to Los Angeles with the split, Murphy believed the Kings had the momentum, but that quickly changed once the puck dropped for the third contest. "We were ready to play but just couldn't get out of the way of ourselves. Probably over tired and over prepared. We had to take a log off the fire but we just couldn't do it," he described. 

When the Kings retired to the dressing room for the second intermission, they were down 5-0. By that point, many patrons had already cleared out, including the team's owner Dr. Jerry Buss. It was reported he had left because he was feeling under the weather, not because he was upset by the Kings' play, but after the game, Dave Taylor joked with reporters that "I wouldn't feel well either if my team was down 5-0."

While Buss recuperated at home, the Kings rebounded. Less than three minutes into the final frame, Wells got his team on the board. "It was a fluke shot from the point. I didn't aim it, I just threw it at the net and it had eyes," he admitted.

Wells believes his lucky shot had a galvanizing impact on the team. "It sparked everybody that they're not invincible, we finally got a puck past Fuhr. Then another one went in and another one went in and the excitement started to grow. It started to build," he reminisced. 

The Kings ended up scoring five goals that period to force overtime. Less than three minutes into the extra frame, rookie Daryl Evans wired a shot past Grant Fuhr, completing a legendary comeback that would forever be known as the Miracle on Manchester.

"You just never know, you're never out of a game until it's over. You just keep fighting away and special things can happen as they did that night in Inglewood," Evans proclaimed.

It was a comeback that no one could have anticipated, perhaps even by some within the Kings' organization. With many thinking the Oilers were going to eliminate the Kings in Los Angeles, the team had supposedly made no travel arrangements should the series need a fifth and deciding game.

The Oilers, on the other hand, would need to return to Edmonton regardless, either to return home to prepare for their next round opponent or to host the Kings for the final matchup. 

So, when the fourth game went in Oilers' favor, knotting the series at two games apiece, the Kings were woefully unprepared to get to Edmonton. Unable to charter their own plane or book a commercial flight, the Kings ended up sharing an aircraft with the Oilers.

"I don't think there was a lot of preparation, both teams didn't think we'd be going back to Edmonton for game five. I think it was a little last minute preparation," suggested Evans. "That might have been the quietest flight I've ever been on," he added. 

When Jay Wells hopped on the plane, he was disgruntled to see the Oilers had already boarded. "I remember one thing, they got on the plane first, they took the back seats so I was really mad about that," Wells divulged. 

Meanwhile, Bernie Nicholls saw the humor in the bizarre situation. "That was hilarious. They never dreamed we'd be going back. They never got a plane for us," Nicholls said. 

"If you can imagine, you just battled in the playoffs and the winner of the next game goes on and there's both teams sitting together on a plane. Never dreamed that would ever happen," he laughed. Nicholls remembers thinking that he thought the Oilers might pull some strings to keep the Kings mired at customs all night, but that never happened.  

Wells remembers that the coaches were sitting between the two teams. "The coaches were sort of the blockers. I think that was probably harder on the coaches because they sat all together in two or three rows. I'm sure there were some brain-picking conversations going on, trying to get an edge," he recollected.

Despite it being a hard-fought series and both teams flying together to the final showdown, it was an uneventful flight. "Everybody behaved," Murphy assured.

For Nicholls, the silent journey spoke volumes. "No one had any bragging rights. We were tied. It's not like one team [had an overwhelming lead] or that the Oilers were going to win. I think they had some doubt in their minds," he explained. "That's the great thing about sports. Any team can beat anybody at a given time."

Whether the seeds of doubt had been planted in the minds of the Oilers is unclear, but the results from Game 5 speak for themselves. By the first intermission, the Kings were leading 3-2. They took over the contest in the second period, scoring three more goals to put the game out of reach.

After the Kings' Dan Bonar scored his second of the night early into the final frame, Edmonton scored two more goals, but the damage had already been done. The Oilers lost 7-4 and were eliminated from the post-season. No one could have predicted that the lowly Kings would vanquish the Clarence Campbell champions.

"It was ironic that as high-scoring as the Oilers were that year, in the five game series, we win the 10-8 game, we win the 6-5 game in overtime and we win the last game 7-4 and they win two games 3-2. It was ironic that it played out that way, that we outgunned them at their game," Evans exclaimed. 

For Evans, the outcome of that series helped shape the Oilers. "I think it was a great eye opener for them. It was probably the greatest lesson for that team and eventually helped them become the champions they became in the years that followed," he posited.

The lessons for the Kings were just as important: It 'aint over until it's over... and always book your travel in advance. 

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