There were times in the last two years when the Kings' owner, Jerry Buss, was feeling particularly depressed about his hockey team's poor play. At those times, he would walk into a screening room at his Beverly Hills mansion and take out a video cassette that always made him feel better.
After punching a few buttons on the video cassette recorder, Buss would be whisked back in time to April 10, 1982. The room would be filled with the sights and sounds of the most astonishing game in the Kings' 17-year history, perhaps the greatest comeback ever in Stanley Cup playoff history.
There, on the screen, were the downtrodden Kings, trailing the Edmonton Oilers, 5-0, going into the third period in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series. If he hit the fast forward button, there were those same King players, spilling onto the ice and celebrating a 6-5 overtime win.
That emotional display proved to be a prelude to an even bigger celebration two games later when, implausibly, the Kings won the series.
"I'd watch it a lot, especially during the summers," Buss said recently. "I've had to rely on that tape heavily. It may be the only good moment I've had with the Kings until this season. It still brings chills, watching that game and thinking about the series."
There have been times the last two years when Buss wanted to punch the pause button and preserve that tingling sensation indefinitely, but the feeling only lasted until the tape ran out.
But now, all those memories from the Kings' remarkable series victory over the Oilers have been renewed. For the first time since the spring of 1982, the Kings are back in the NHL playoffs. They will meet the Oilers again in the best-of-five first-round series. Game 1 is scheduled Wednesday at Edmonton, exactly three years to the day of the Kings' amazing comeback victory.
Almost no one expects the Kings to stage a sequel and dethrone the Oilers, defending Stanley Cup champions and favored to repeat this spring. But then, the Kings were given an even slimmer chance of beating Edmonton in the 1981-82 playoffs.
That was the season in which Wayne Gretzky, then 21, broke every long-standing NHL single-season scoring record and the young, brash Oilers finished with the second-best record in the league. The Kings, you may recall, finished 48 points behind Edmonton in the Smythe Division standings and made the playoffs only because the hapless Colorado Rockies--now the hapless New Jersey Devils--were in the same division.
It wasn't just the disparity in records that made it an upset of epic proportions. It was the acrimony existing between the teams, and the unpredictable way the Kings won the series, that made it so memorable.
The Kings won Game 1 in Edmonton, 10-8, in a wild shootout that featured the most goals in playoff history. In one of the most dramatic moments in the series, King goaltender Mario Lessard stopped a shot by Gretzky on a breakaway that would have tied the score with 1 minute 12 seconds left.
Edmonton won the second game, 3-2, in overtime on a goal by Gretzky. Then there was the Kings' stirring 6-5 comeback win at the Forum in Game 3, Daryl Evans scoring the winning goal 2:35 into overtime. And, after the Oilers had posted a 3-2 win in Game 4 to send the series to a decisive fifth game, the Kings returned to Edmonton and pounded the Oilers, 7-4.
Also during that improbable 10-day period, there were sideshows and enough low-brow comedy to make even the days off interesting:
--Edmonton Coach Glen Sather scuffled outside the locker room with King publicity director Scott Carmichael, and traded insults with a radio reporter.
--King fans serenaded Gretzky with obscene chants, prompting Sather to criticize them for "classless" behavior.
--Gretzky uncharacteristically criticized Jay Wells for comments the King defenseman had made about Gretzky's toughness.
--King rookie Bernie Nicholls publicly questioned Gretzky's sexual preference.
"That whole series was almost indescribable," said Evans, who has spent most of the last three seasons with the Kings' minor-league team at New Haven, Conn. "Everything was so spontaneous. No one could have predicted a series like that. It was my rookie season, and just getting to the playoffs was an honor. It's definitely the greatest I've felt in my life. I'll never forget it."
Oiler players haven't forgotten the series, either. When a reporter approached Gretzky on the subject recently, it was as if he had been asked to relive a nightmare.
"Sure, we remember it," Gretzky said. "It's something we try to forget, but people won't let us forget it at all. Even after we made it to the finals the next year (losing to the Islanders in four straight) and won the Cup last year, people always remind us of the L.A. series."