Minutes before Wayne Gretzky scored the biggest goal in franchise history, as the Kings and Maple Leafs were taking the ice for overtime in Game 6 of the Campbell Conference finals, King owner Bruce McNall turned to a friend, actor James Woods, and admitted his fear.
"He said to me, 'Look at that glint in Wayne's eyes. He's going to do it.' And before we knew it--he did it," McNall said.
Gretzky needed 1:41 into overtime to breathe life into the Kings' Stanley Cup aspirations, giving the Kings a 5-4 victory over Toronto on Thursday night. His power-play goal tied the best-of-seven series at 3-3 and sent it back to Toronto for Game 7 on Saturday night. Gretzky put the sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum into a joyous eruption when he redirected a pass from Luc Robitaille, who threaded it through the crease off Toronto defenseman Bob Rouse's stick.
Sitting at the left edge of the crease, Gretzky never hesitated as he beat Toronto goaltender Felix Potvin up high. It was his only point of the night, but it was the most important point of the playoffs.
"I knew I had to go upstairs," Gretzky said. "I was afraid the guy would spread his pads and he did. . . . I thought something good was going to happen. But I didn't dream it would be a big overtime goal. There's no question it was one of the biggest goals for me. "
Said McNall, whose team is one victory away from playing Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals: "It's a dream come true."
The Kings would not have staved off playoff elimination if not for the efforts of Gretzky and Robitaille. Robitaille, who scored once and had three assists, dug the puck out of the right corner and skated out to make the pass after Tomas Sandstrom had carried it into the zone.
The Kings scored four power-play goals on five attempts and had the man advantage on the game-winner in overtime after Glenn Anderson went off for boarding Rob Blake at 19:47 of regulation.
"It's my fault," Anderson said. "I put myself and my teammates in that predicament. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't even go into the corner."
Said Blake: "I wasn't hurt, but I was scared. It was a penalty that should have been called at the time. A hit from behind is always more dangerous."
The Maple Leafs had shown amazing fortitude by rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period to send the game to overtime, the second consecutive game the teams have needed to go past regulation.
Left wing Wendel Clark was the sole architect of the comeback as he scored both third-period goals to make it 4-4 after three periods, completing his hat trick. The two goals showed his versatility. On his second goal of the night, which pulled the Maple Leafs within one, Clark shifted and shot in one motion, beating King goaltender Kelly Hrudey with a 40-footer down low on the glove side at 11:08.
Then Clark's game-tying goal came with only 1:21 remaining in regulation when the Maple Leafs broke out of their zone after Potvin made a save on Tony Granato. With the play in the Kings' zone, center Doug Gilmour found Clark in the slot, and he beat Hrudey on the glove side.
The Kings took a 4-2 lead with three power-play goals in the second period, including two in a span of 2:22. Scoring them were two defensemen, Marty McSorley at 8:00 and Darryl Sydor at 10:22, and Robitaille at 16:27.
This offensive explosion turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 Kings' lead. Clark had given the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead at 3:57 of the second period, converting on a breakaway off a pass from Mike Foligno.
Then the Kings' power play, often ineffective during the playoffs, came to life. Heading into Thursday's game, they were four for 27 against the Maple Leafs and 15 for 100 through 17 playoff games.
All series, the Kings have spoken about the need to shoot high on Potvin, the same thing the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings said in their playoff series against the Maple Leafs.
McSorley followed through on the rhetoric, beating Potvin up high with a one-timed 15-footer off a pinpoint pass from Sandstrom in the left corner. Sandstrom had chased down a loose puck and hit McSorley. Foligno had created the man advantage when he went off for interfering with Dave Taylor.
The next opportunity came when defenseman Jamie Macoun went off for slashing Sandstrom at 10:05. This time, the Kings needed only 17 seconds to score as Sydor threw a shot at the net from the left circle near the boards. Jari Kurri helped make the play as he muscled a backhander out of the left corner, which skipped past Robitaille to Sydor, who made it 3-2 with his third goal of the playoffs.
Then Robitaille ended his scoring drought when Foligno went off for high-sticking Gary Shuchuk at 15:24. It was his first goal in seven games as he had not scored since Game 5 against Vancouver.
Sandstrom started the play when he picked off a clear-out pass by Peter Zezel. Defenseman Rob Blake shot from the right wing just inside the blue line and his shot hit Toronto defenseman Dave Ellett.
Robitaille, however, was in front of the net. He put it past Potvin and celebrated by jumping up and down. That goal made the Kings' power play three for four through two periods.
Though the Kings outshot the Maple Leafs, 13-8, in the opening period and had most of the territorial edge, the crowd didn't get into a frenzied playoff frame of mind until Granato's goal at 10:32, tying the score, 1-1.
* GREAT FINISH: Gretzky plays a hunch, goes in front of net and gets a pass from Robitaille to get Kings even. C12
* FELIX POTVIN: Kings find a way to go around talented Toronto goaltender--upstairs and to the right. C12