The Miracle on Manchester is the nickname given to a National Hockey League (NHL) playoff game between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers that took place on April 10, 1982. The game was played at (and received its name from) The Forum, the Kings' home arena, which was situated on Manchester Boulevard in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. The Kings completed the largest comeback in NHL playoff history, stunning the Oilers en route to a 3-2 series victory and a berth in the second round.
The contest itself was the third in a five-game first-round playoff series between the Kings and Oilers. Under the playoff structure that existed at the time, the top four teams from each division qualified for the playoffs, with the first seed facing the fourth seed and the second and third seeds pairing off in the first round. In 1981-82, Edmonton handily won the division, while Los Angeles finished in fourth place.
The Edmonton club included a veritable constellation of young stars – forwards Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Glenn Anderson; defensemen Paul Coffey and Kevin Lowe; and goaltenders Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog. Still, there was no star on the Oiler team or in the NHL who shone brighter than 21-year-old Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky set NHL records for goals, assists, and points in 1981-82, posting an amazing 92 goals, 120 assists, and 212 points, and winning the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player for the third consecutive season. Gretzky proved his offensive supremacy by out-scoring his nearest rival for the scoring lead, Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders, by 65 points.
The Oilers’ incredible offensive attack was led by Gretzky, Anderson (105 points), Coffey (89 points, leading all NHL defensemen), Messier (88 points), Kurri (86 points), and Dave Lumley (74 points). The defense was anchored by Lowe, team captain Lee Fogolin, Garry Lariviere, Doug Hicks, and Charlie Huddy. In the net, Edmonton was rock-solid with starter Fuhr, who was one of four Oilers on the Campbell Conference All-Star team, and backup Moog, a future All-Star in his own right.
For all of their ability, the Oilers were a predominantly young team. As such, they were boisterous, brash, and often undisciplined. Edmonton was one of the first teams to employ a wide-open, free-flowing style of hockey that emphasized speed and creativity, but it was also a scheme that produced a certain number of turnovers and errors. Going into the playoffs, the Oilers were the overwhelming favorites to represent the Campbell Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, and were expected to provide a strong challenge to the defending Cup champion Islanders.
For the Kings, the 1981-82 season was a disappointing struggle. After a very impressive 99-point season in 1980-81, they suffered through one of the worst one-year declines in NHL history, plummeting down to just 63 points (24 wins, 41 losses, and 13 ties) in 1981-82. The team's fall from grace precipitated a coaching change, as Don Perry replaced Parker MacDonald on January 11, 1982. Of the 16 playoff qualifiers in the NHL, Los Angeles had the poorest record, having only broken into the post-season because the last-place team in the Smythe Division, the Colorado Rockies, had the worst record in the entire league. The Kings' total of 314 goals was lower than the league average of 321; they also allowed 369 goals, more than all but two teams in the NHL in 1981-82.
The Kings were led offensively by the 30-year-old diminutive dynamo Marcel Dionne, who scored 50 goals and 67 assists, good for 117 points and eighth in the NHL in scoring. Dave Taylor, Dionne's right winger on the Triple Crown Line as well as the Kings' sole representative in the All-Star Game, was second on the team with 106 points. Dionne's normal left wing, Charlie Simmer, missed 30 games due to injury and tallied only 39 points. Other offensive notables for the Kings included sophomore forward Jim Fox (68 points) and rookie forward Steve Bozek (56 points), as well as sophomore defenseman Larry Murphy (66 points). This youthful presence in the Los Angeles lineup was further solidified by freshman forwards Bernie Nicholls (32 points in only 22 games), Doug Smith (30 points as an 18-year-old), and Daryl Evans (8 points in 14 games).
The high number of goals scored against the Kings was in part a reflection of an outmoded defensive mentality. The 1980s were a decade that witnessed an increasingly speedy game, one which seemed to pass the Kings' old, rangy, "stay-at-home" blueliners of the 1970s by. In addition, Los Angeles' goaltending suffered a tremendous decline; starting goaltender Mario Lessard, an All-Star in 1980-81, went from allowing 3.25 goals per game all the way to 4.36 per game, one of the worst figures in the league. Backup goaltender Doug Keans fared little better, at 4.30 goals allowed per game.
The Kings were expected to be easy prey for the Oilers in the first round, as their weaknesses in goal and slow defense were seen as offering little resistance to the Oilers' speed and scoring prowess. During the 1981-82 regular season, the Kings and Oilers met eight times, with Edmonton winning five of those matchups, losing only once, and tying the other two. The Oilers outscored the Kings in the eight games, 51 goals to 27. Two of the five Oiler wins were by lopsided margins of 11-4 and 10-3; both of those games were played in Edmonton.
The series began in Edmonton's Northlands Coliseum, where the Oilers boasted a record of 31-5-4 during the regular season. Combining that mark with the Kings' season road record of 5-26-9 formed an obvious expectation of the Oilers taking the first two games.
Before the series, Los Angeles coach Don Perry elected to utilize his team's youth and offensive speed to try to simply outscore the Oilers rather than shut them down, as the latter strategy proved futile for the Kings and most other NHL teams. As a result, the first game saw the two teams combine for 18 goals, unleashing a scoring frenzy never before seen in the NHL playoffs. Simmer scored at 14 minutes and 58 seconds into the third period to put Los Angeles into the lead for good, and the Kings started off on the right foot with a shocking 10-8 victory.
Game 2 was a much tighter, more traditional affair, as the Kings and Oilers took a 2-2 tie into the locker room after regulation time had expired. In the first overtime period, Gretzky took possession of the puck after it was sent around the boards in the Kings' zone, then cradled the puck for a couple of seconds, faked a pass, and took a shot from 40 feet out that went through a screen and past Lessard into the Kings' net at 6:20 of overtime. The 3-2 victory for Edmonton tied the series at one game apiece.
The Kings' fans were enthusiastic enough at the start of the game, but as in Game 2, the Oilers struck first. The Kings had just finished killing a penalty to Dave Taylor when Kings forward Dan Bonar jumped on a loose puck in the Oiler zone and took a shot on goal. Fuhr made the save, and the Oilers counterattacked. A pass found Messier on the left wing, and Messier took a slap shot from about 25 feet out that went off Lessard's glove and into the net to give Edmonton a 1-0 lead.
The second goal of the game was the most spectacular. While on the power play near the end of the first period, the Kings made another offensive rush at Fuhr, with Dionne taking a centering pass and sending a wrist shot toward the Oiler net. Fuhr made the save, and the rebound went to Gretzky. Gretzky then proceeded to carry the puck from his own end to the Kings' end, skating down the middle of the ice and in alone on two Kings, Korab and Evans. Gretzky faked to the outside and then shifted quickly back inside, turning Korab inside out. Gretzky then skated toward the left side, where rookie Evans was holding his position by conceding space to Gretzky. Gretzky saw enough room for an opportunity to shoot, but had his stick lifted from behind by Simmer, who was backchecking. Nevertheless, Gretzky was able to get his stick back down to ice level long enough to fire a sharp-angled shot that beat Lessard on the short side for a short-handed goal to put the Oilers up 2-0.
As the second period started, the Kings were still on the power play, but the Oilers were able to mount another rush, again with Gretzky showing the way. Gretzky took the puck in the Oiler zone, skated through center ice and dished the puck on the right wing to Fogolin. Fogolin skated down the wing and sent a seemingly harmless snap shot toward Lessard. But the Kings' goaltender misplayed the sharp angle of the shot, and it went by Mario on the short side. The Oilers had scored two short-handed goals on the same Kings' power play, and had firmly taken control of the game with a 3-0 lead.
Later in the second period, both teams were playing with three skaters per side due to penalties. The Oilers' defenseman Risto Siltanen gingerly skated the puck through center ice and into the Kings' zone. The Oilers maintained control with sharp passing, but after an Oiler shot went wide of the net, the Kings' defender Mark Hardy appeared to have control of the puck. But Gretzky swooped in behind the net and deftly stole the puck away. Wayne then sent a quick pass over to Siltanen who one-timed a wicked shot toward the net that seemed to zoom past Lessard into the net, but it ricocheted against the end boards and around to the left side of the Kings' zone. The goal light was turned on by the goal judge, so play was stopped as the referees convened. It was determined that Siltanen's shot went through the net, and replays later confirmed it. The Oilers had increased their lead to 4-0.
The Oilers were on the power play, with four skaters against the Kings' three, when they went on the attack again. The Oilers obtained possession in the Kings' zone off the face-off, and as they had on their fourth goal, masterfully kept possession while moving the puck. The Oilers kept the puck on the outside until they saw an opening. Anderson took a pass to the right of the Kings' net and saw Gretzky sneak in behind Lessard and Kings' defenseman Rick Chartraw at the left side of the goal crease. Anderson sent a hard pass that went through Chartraw's legs and perfectly onto the stick of Gretzky, and all Wayne had to do was deflect the puck into the net to give the Oilers a power play goal and a seemingly insurmountable 5-0 lead, and the score stayed that way as the second period came to a close.
The Forum crowd had quieted considerably as the game turned into a rout. The Oilers had lived up to their brash reputation; Dave Lewis and Wayne Gretzky confirmed in later interviews that the Oiler players were laughing at and mocking the Kings in the second period while the Kings were trying to set up offense on the power play. The Kings went into the locker room during the second intermission obviously chagrined, but convinced that the young Oilers would continue to play wide-open instead of sitting back defensively to protect their lead. Dionne later said that the Kings' prime focus would be on "little things" in the third period; trying to make one play at a time to gradually make an attempt to get back into the game but more importantly, salvage some pride and send a message for Game 4.
Early in the third period, with both teams at four skaters per side, the Kings gained possession of the puck in the neutral zone and tried an attack on the Oiler net. The Kings had a two-on-one with Dionne and Larry Murphy, but Dionne's setup pass was missed by Murphy, and the puck went toward the right wing boards. The Kings were able to regain control the puck, and tried to set up another attack in the Oiler zone, when Dionne again obtained possession of the puck at the right point. Marcel sent a pass toward the left wing, where the puck ricocheted softly off of the boards and on to the stick of Jay Wells. Wells skated in from the left point, noticed Taylor was obstructing the sight line of Oiler goalie Fuhr, and took a shot from 30 feet out that went through the legs of Taylor and into the right side of the net past Fuhr at 2:46 to put the Kings on the scoreboard, and awaken the slumbering crowd. The score now stood at 5-1.
Less than three minutes later, the Kings went on another power play as the Oilers continuted their undisciplined play. The Kings won the face-off, and sent the puck back to Hardy, who threw a shot at the net from the left point. Fuhr made the save, but the rebound went directly in front of the net, toward Oiler defenseman Kevin Lowe. Lowe tried to quickly gain possession of the puck and clear it out of danger, but the puck was caught between his skates, and Lowe couldn't spot it. Kings' forward Doug Smith saw the puck, however; and Smith quickly stepped toward Lowe, reached between the defender's skates, and took a shot that went directly under the crossbar and into the Oiler net. It was a power play goal, and the Kings had narrowed the gap to 5-2.
Both teams were again playing at four skaters per side when the Oilers went to gain possession of the puck behind their own net. The attempted Oiler clearing pass, however, was intercepted on the right wing by Kings' forward Dean Hopkins, who took a stride forward and dished off the puck to Charlie Simmer. Simmer skated around an Oiler defender, then cut back toward the net. While falling down, Simmer tried to jam the puck into the right side of the net, but Fuhr's left foot blocked the puck. Oiler defenseman Randy Gregg, skating into the play, tried to use his stick to tie up the stick of Simmer, but he inavertedly hit Fuhr's leg. Fuhr was knocked back enough to allow the puck to slide over the goal line, and the freakish goal brought the Kings to within two, at 5-3. This was the goal that really got the crowd back into the game and made the Kings believe they could actually pull the game out.
With only five minutes to play, veteran Oilers forward Garry Unger – who had played the previous season with the Kings but spent most of his career as the St. Louis Blues best player – brought his stick blade up into the face of Dave Lewis behind the Kings' net. Lewis' face was cut, so Unger was assessed an automatic five-minute major penalty for high sticking. Since Lewis was also penalized two minutes for roughing in the ensuing moments following the high stick, both teams would be four skaters per side for two minutes. After the two minutes were up, the Kings would have the last three minutes with a man advantage, as the major to Unger would still be running.
During the four-on-four situation, Kings forward Steve Bozek gained possession of the puck at center ice. Bozek skated into the Oiler zone on the left wing, then quickly moved to his right, toward the center. He then dropped a pass back to Hardy, who was behind Bozek and skating the opposite way (toward the left wing). The criss-cross left the Oilers out of position for a split second, and Hardy used the small window of time to cut in past Gretzky and take a wrist shot back against the grain, toward the right side of the net. Fuhr, surprised at the quick shot, tried to slide to his left to keep the puck out ... but he was unsuccessful. The puck was in the net, the Kings' crowd went wild, and the Kings were now trailing by the slimmest of margins, 5-4.
Soon after the Hardy goal, the Kings' three-minute power play began. There was an anxious moment for the Kings, as Oiler forward Pat Hughes gained a loose puck at center ice and had a clean breakaway. Hughes skated in alone on King goalie Lessard and took a low shot, but Lessard was able to block it. There was a small rebound for Hughes, but by the time Hughes regained the puck, he was too close to Lessard and didn't have time to shoot. All Hughes could do was knock the puck into Lessard's waiting glove, and Lessard covered the puck to stop play. The Kings had dodged a bullet, and the hopeful crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
The Kings had trouble setting up the puck in the Oiler zone on the major power play, and game time was dwindling away. Finally, with a minute left, the Kings pulled goalie Lessard for an extra attacker to essentially give them a two-skater advantage over the Oilers. With forty-five seconds to go, Dionne gained clear possession of the puck to the right of the Oiler net. Dionne stickhandled for 20 to 25 seconds, desperately looking for an open lane to pass or shoot. At last, Dionne sent the puck to Simmer and headed to the front of the net. Simmer sent Dionne a perfect return pass, and Dionne took a quick wrist shot on net, but the shot was kicked aside by Fuhr. The rebound slid over to the right-wing boards, where Gretzky tried to gain control of it. But Jim Fox quickly moved in to harass Gretzky, frantically waving his stick along the ice to knock the puck away, and moving his body between Gretzky and the puck to gain control of the disc.
With the last ten seconds clicking away, Fox sent the puck back to Hardy, who was farther away from the net, but was positioned perfectly in the center of the Oiler zone. Hardy took the pass and sent a low shot toward the net. Fuhr managed to make the save, but could not control the rebound, and the puck squirted out in front of the net. The Oilers were doing their best to contain the dangerous Dionne, and they kept him away from the loose puck. Unfortunately for the Oilers, Kings' left wing Bozek had drifted from his normal position and was moving toward the front of the net himself. The Oilers, being two men short, were not positioned to defend Bozek, and watched in horror as the puck slid perfectly toward the King rookie's stick. Bozek immediately took a quick backhanded shot toward the net. Fuhr did not have enough time to react and adjust his position for Bozek's shot, and was helpless as the puck sailed between his pads and into the net. With only five seconds to go, the Kings had completed a miraculous and historic comeback. The game was tied, 5-5.
The Kings' crowd was electrified at the scoring of the tying goal; the roar from the stands would continue for several minutes. The Kings on the ice formed a joyous group around Bozek, all of them tired, but ecstatic. The Oiler players on the ice, by contrast, were in disbelief, and lying down on the ice. Goaltender Fuhr had dropped to one knee and hung his head in disappointment. All that was left of regulation time was a faceoff at center ice. The last five seconds quickly elapsed, and the teams headed to their respective locker rooms to prepare for their second consecutive overtime game.
In overtime, the Kings almost met with immediate disaster. A bouncing puck was shot in from center ice toward Kings' goalie Lessard, and Mario had trouble handling it cleanly. The puck began to slide out in front of the Kings' net. Lessard, fearing that the Oilers would regain possession of the puck, decided to leave his goal crease and chase the puck down. Mario went into a slide, but in doing so, he collided with Oiler Glen Anderson about 40 feet in front of the Kings' net and the puck moved even farther out of his reach. By this time, Mark Messier had skated into the Kings' zone and took the puck on his backhand. With Lessard out of the net, Messier had a golden opportunity to score the winning goal into the open net. The Kings' Mark Hardy scrambled to get in front of the net as Messier unleashed a backhand shot. Unfortunately for Messier, the puck rolled off the end of his stick blade, and the shot sailed harmlessly to the right of the Kings' net. The Kings quickly covered the puck behind their own net. Lessard had quickly skated back to his net as the Kings were covering the puck, and he leaned on the crossbar with his head down, obviously upset at himself over the terrible misplay.
Later in the overtime period, the Kings had a scoring chance, as Doug Smith entered the Oiler zone with an open lane on the right wing. He took a hard shot, but Fuhr was in perfect position to catch the puck with his glove. Grant was a little shaky, but caught and controlled the puck long enough for play to be stopped. The ensuing face-off to restart play would take place in the Oiler zone to Fuhr's left. Kings' Head Coach Don Perry sent out an all-rookie forward line for the face-off -- Bozek on left wing, Smith at center, and Daryl Evans on right wing. Smith won the face-off from Messier, gently drawing the puck back. As the puck slid back, Evans skated in behind Smith and immediately started swinging his stick back in preparation for a slap shot. As Evans brought his stick down upon the slowly moving puck, the blade made perfect contact. The shot was swiftly headed toward the upper portion of the Oiler net. Fuhr brought his glove up to make the save, but the shot was moving too fast, and Grant was a fraction of a second too late. The puck rocketed into the net, and came to rest in the Oiler goal at exactly two minutes and 35 seconds of overtime, winning the game for the Kings, 6-5.
The Forum crowd erupted once again with a deafening roar. Evans excitedly skated as fast as he could toward the other side of the rink, pausing only to jump in celebration. The rest of the Kings skated toward Evans and mobbed him near the boards behind the Kings' net. A joyous pile of gold and purple jerseys formed as the Kings savored the moment with embraces, high-fives, and youthful hollering. After a couple of minutes, the Kings' coaches and staff stepped onto the ice to celebrate with the players. The Oilers quickly and solemnly made their way off the ice with their heads down and their blue and orange jerseys forming a quiet line along the left side of the ice. There was no further laughing from the young Oiler players; they had learned valuable lessons regarding momentum and humility that would, in time, serve them very well.
There was still one more game to be played in the Forum; Game 4. Once again, the game was close. The Oilers took a 3-1 lead at 14:44 of the second period when Glenn Anderson scored. Despite a third period goal by the Kings' Mike Murphy, there were no miracles in this game. The Oilers held on to defeat the Kings, 3-2, and send the series back to Canada for decisive Game 5. In a rare occurrence, both teams had to board the same plane heading back to Edmonton, with the Oilers sitting in the back and the Kings in the front.
Back on home ice for Game 5, the Oilers again appeared to have the advantage. But the Kings, realizing that they had matched Edmonton goal-for-goal thus far in the series, were confident and loose as the game got underway. The underdogs from Los Angeles forged ahead 2-0 on a goal by Simmer. The stunned Edmonton fans looked on as two King rookies grabbed the spotlight: new playoff hero Daryl Evans, who scored a pair of goals, and Bernie Nicholls, who scored at 6:49 of the second period to put the Kings in front to stay. The Kings won going away, by a score of 7-4. The first place Oilers had been eliminated from the playoffs.
A total of 50 goals were scored by both teams in the five-game series, a new NHL record. The Kings also set a record for most goals by one team in a five-game series, with 27. Other NHL records that fell included the most goals by both teams in one game (18, in Game 1) and the biggest series upset in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the Kings had finished 48 points behind Edmonton in the regular season.
Despite the major upset against the Oilers, the Kings were eliminated in the next round by the Vancouver Canucks, 4 games to 1.
In the 1982-83 NHL season, the Oilers learned from their prior mistakes and ended up competing in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Islanders, but were swept in four games. But the Oilers had only begun their winning ways, and won the Stanley Cup in four of the next five seasons in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988; and they won one more in 1990 when the core dynasty roster was beginning to shift apart into different directions.
The "Miracle on Manchester" would prove to be The Kings' only bright spot during the mid 1980's. The next two seasons continued the losing record trend that began in 1981 and were disastrous as they missed the playoffs completely. They met the Oilers in the playoffs again in 1985 and 1987, but this time the match ups were no contest and the Kings were easily defeated. It wasn't until Wayne Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles in 1988 that the franchise was turned around.
MIRACLE PART II DARYL EVANS HAS ACHIEVED TWO UNLIKELY GOALS, BOTH WHILE WITH THE KINGS: HIS 1982 PLAYOFF SCORE, AND HIS 13-YEAR CAREER AS THE TEAM'S RADIO ANALYST
Jan 27, 2012; If Daryl Evans didn't believe in miracles like the one he finished off at the Forum in Inglewood some 30 years ago, he definitely...