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'Miracle on Manchester' remains one of greatest comebacks in NHL history

Players recall Kings' rally against Oilers on April 10, 1982

by Stan Fischler / Special Contributor

"It ain't over 'til it's over." -- Yogi Berra, New York Yankees catcher and philosopher

Nothing about the Stanley Cup Playoff game between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers on April 10, 1982, made sense.

Even after it ended in overtime, hockey sages still were scratching their heads.

The events that took place in The Forum on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, California, strained credulity.

And that's an understatement.

Edmonton was heavily favored because its lineup was sprinkled with future Hockey Hall of Famers such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr, to name just a few.

The Oilers' superiority on paper also seemed obvious on the ice. By the end of the second period, Edmonton had cruised to a 5-0 lead. Except for the diehard Los Angeles rooters, fans were getting up and leaving the arena. No point staying for the slaughter.

Video: Fischler recalls the Miracle on Manchester

"It was an embarrassment," Kings forward Charlie Simmer said. "Even our owner (Jerry Buss) got up and left."

Adding insult to injury, the majestic Oilers began laughing at their victims as goals piled on goals. Defenseman Jay Wells, among other Kings, was boiling over what he heard.

"As I skated past the Edmonton bench," Wells snapped, "the Oilers were mocking us. Their coach, Glen Sather, was smirking too. That put a fire in our tail."

An Edmonton win would put the visiting Oilers only one victory from advancing to the Smythe Division Final. Just about everyone figured the visitors' victory was in the bag.

"Edmonton didn't even let up early in the third period," Simmer recalled to author Chuck O'Donnell in his book "The Game I'll Never Forget." "They were still getting great chances in the third period."

Under the circumstances, it would have been natural for the Kings to quit. Their goalie, Mario Lessard, had already given up five goals on 25 shots.

As big-league puck-stoppers were rated in those days, Lessard was not exactly a household name. His opposite at the other end of the rink was the legendary Fuhr.

On top of that, the Oilers had beaten Lessard a few other times, but those shots hit the goal post or crossbar.

Then it happened.

The Kings' top unit -- the "Triple Crown Line" of Simmer, Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor -- swung into action.

Dionne and defenseman Larry Murphy combined to set up Wells for a shot past Fuhr 2:46 into the third period. The 5-1 score hardly caused a ripple among the fans, but the Kings were enthused.

"We felt that we just had to put it together," Wells said.

With more than 17 minutes to illuminate more red lights, the Kings seized the moment and were awarded a power play just short of the six-minute mark.

Faster than you could say Wayne Gretzky, the Kings struck again, this time a mere seven seconds into the man-advantage when defensemen Mark Hardy and Jerry Korab combined to set up Doug Smith.

The scoreboard read 5-2 for Edmonton, stirring more interest among the spectators, as well as Los Angeles left wing Daryl Evans.

"By this time, we figured the score at least was respectable," Evans remembered.

But the Oilers tightened up, and for the next nine minutes, the Los Angeles counterattacks were defused by the likes of Edmonton defensemen Coffey, Kevin Lowe and Charlie Huddy.

Finally -- with the game's end on the horizon -- Simmer beat Fuhr, trimming the Oilers lead to 5-3. The goal suddenly roused the spectators to a mix of high glee and high anxiety because less than six minutes remained in the period.

"By this time," center Bernie Nicholls told Hockey News author Ryan Kennedy for his "Miracle on Manchester" article, "the place started to go crazy."

In comebacks such as these, the underdogs occasionally will catch a break, and then all bets are off. This happened with exactly five minutes remaining.

Edmonton center Garry Unger was called for a major penalty while Los Angeles defenseman Dave Lewis simultaneously was sent off with a minor.

After the dust cleared, Los Angeles would have a power play for the final three minutes of the period, and that meant Unger had to remain in the penalty box for the entire 180 seconds no matter how many Kings goals were scored.

"When you get momentum going," Nicholls said, "it's crazy what happens."

Now strange things were happening to the Kings; they became a team possessed. Hardy -- considered one of the more underrated defensemen of his era -- began performing like a latter-day Bobby Orr.

Whoa, Nellie! With 3:01 remaining, Hardy beat Fuhr, and the Forum seemed to be trembling on its Inglewood foundations. The Oilers' once seemingly insurmountable lead now was trimmed to a single goal.

"The people who did stay with us were now seeing an unbelievable game," Hardy said.

Simmer: "Even though the Forum was half-empty, it was the loudest I ever heard it in the eight seasons that I played there. The fans couldn't believe that this team that looked dead in the second period was suddenly back in the game."

The total joy that enveloped the Forum was well and good, but now, Fuhr was focused as never before and shut down the home team's power play for the next 2:56.

As the clock wound down to the one-minute mark, the desperate Kings pulled Lessard for an extra attacker, further pressing the offensive.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six -- all the Oilers needed from the overhead clock was to tick off five more seconds and victory belonged to them.

Meanwhile, Kings right wing Jim Fox took the puck from Gretzky and passed it back to Hardy at the point.

"Jimmy did a little dipsy-doodling with the puck," Hardy remembered, "and got it back to me. I got the shot off and then there was a rebound, and [Steve] Bozek was there. I knew there wasn't much time left."

Five seconds, to be exact.

"I wanted to put it on net," said Bozek, a 22-year-old rookie left wing, "and it went through Fuhr's legs."

Nicholls: "All hell broke loose in the building."

With the score 5-5, each team repaired to its dressing room. Percolating with excitement, the Kings couldn't wait to resume play in the sudden-death overtime.

"We wanted to finish what we had started," Simmer said.

But it was Messier who almost finished the Kings. On a play that inspired Lessard to leave his crease and play the puck, the Los Angeles goalie collided with Anderson in a maneuver that nearly backfired. Seeing an empty net, Messier corralled the puck and instantly hurled a backhand toward the net, but it skittered wide of the gaping crease.

Evans would later say that the Messier miss "seemed as if it happened in slow motion." Like others in the arena, Evans now had a feeling that Lady Luck was on L.A.'s side.

Lined up for a face-off in the Oilers zone, the Kings had a no-name line out for the draw. Almost three minutes were gone in OT when Smith, a rookie center, took the draw.

Smith had another rookie on his wing, Evans -- Daryl scored a mere two goals in 14 regular-season games in 1981-82 -- and Doug cleanly won the face-off, sending it to his linemate.

Video: Memories: The Kings rally for an epic comeback

Nicholls: "Daryl could shoot the puck and even though they had a Hall of Famer in goal, our guy put it right under the bar; a perfect shot. No one could have stopped it."

In his post-mortem, Fuhr said he was prepared for the drive but just got beaten "with a good shot."

Remarkably, the Kings had come back from down five goals and won the game. Over the years, seasoned hockey observers looked back on the comeback classic with unbridled awe.

"This was one of the greatest rallies in playoff history," said Simmer, who later would become a hockey TV analyst.

Nobody who was there ever would argue the point. Hey, they didn't call it "The Miracle on Manchester" for nothing!

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