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HELENE ELLIOTT / ON THE NHL

Los Angeles Kings have a chance to make history

The Los Angeles Kings' postseason resume is somewhat lacking, with only one trip beyond the second round. Yet there are similarities between the 1993 team that went to the finals and the current bunch.

May 05, 2012|Helene Elliott

What if the Kings had chosen a certain center from Flin Flon of the Western Hockey League with the 16th pick of the 1969 NHL draft instead of a defenseman from Estevan of the same league?

If they had passed on Dale Hoganson and taken Bobby Clarke, who was drafted 17th by the Philadelphia Flyers, would the Kings still be chasing their first Stanley Cup championship or would their run within one victory of the Western Conference finals be another link in a chain of postseason excellence?

It's impossible to know what might have happened if the Kings had drafted Clarke, who won two Cup titles and made Philadelphia a hockey stronghold during his Hall of Fame career. But it's clear that aside from a few memorable playoff moments the Kings' postseason tradition and trophy case are nearly barren.

They're best remembered for standout teams in the early 1970s under Coach Bob Pulford, their 1982 "Miracle on Manchester" first-round upset of the Edmonton Oilers, and their 1993 Cup finals loss to Montreal, their only venture beyond the second round.

They're scaling what could become their fourth peak after upsetting the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and building a 3-0 lead over No. 2 St. Louis before Sunday's game at Staples Center.

"Watching them and seeing the excitement back in L.A. for hockey and the Kings is fun. It brings back a lot of memories of the '93 team," said Tony Granato, then an energetic winger and now a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach.

"This team could easily win it with how they're playing. I know there's still a long ways and you've got to win the hardest nine games of your life, but with what they've shown and how they've done it, they're very impressive."

Mike Donnelly, also part of that finals team and now a Kings scout, finds similarities to 1993 in the hero-every-game pattern.

"You can see our group of guys bonding together. I can see it, the way they are competing," Donnelly said.

And they've done it without a winning pattern to follow.

When General Manager Dean Lombardi was running the relatively new San Jose Sharks he hired former Montreal Canadien John Ferguson to scout and bring a winning aura by wearing his Stanley Cup rings.

"And then when I went to Philadelphia and you just feel it. You see the Cups, you see former players walking around with rings in the practice facility and the pictures on the wall," Lombardi said.

"You can't define it, but you sense something different. When a player comes in there you can sense that history and there's an expectation, or whatever you want to call it. Detroit has that. The Yankees have that. All your great franchises. The Lakers have it down the hall.

"When you go to Montreal do you feel it? It's there. Something in the soul."

The Kings had reason to expect playoff success in 1975 after a 105-point season, still a club record. They faced the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had amassed only 78 points, and opened the best-of-three series by winning in overtime at home. They lost in overtime at Toronto and then had to play the next day at home. They didn't return until a few hours before the game and lost, 2-1.

"It was a fantastic season," TV announcer Bob Miller said. "I know Pulford left the building in tears because he knew that we had an excellent team and the two out of three allows a bad team to have a couple of good games and go on."

Pulford guided the Kings past Atlanta in 1976 and 1977 but lost to Boston both times. He left for Chicago in 1977. "Those were years as I recall when the Kings outdrew the Lakers because we really did have tremendous teams, but something always happened in the playoffs," Miller said.

They didn't win another playoff series until 1982, when Daryl Evans' heroics led them past the upstart Oilers in a best-of-five format. But they were eliminated by Vancouver in the next round and missed the playoffs the next two seasons.

Evans said Coach Don Perry's inexperience might have been behind the team's failure to sustain its success.

"We were a young team and poised to move forward and then the wheels fell off the next year, instead of taking that next step," Evans said. "If you look at that roster from '81-82, there were so many young guys that the team should have been able to keep a core together."

The Kings didn't win another playoff series until 1989, when they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to oust the defending champion Oilers. They also reached the second round in 1990 and 1991 but lost to Edmonton each time.

Their 1993 success was shocking. Luc Robitaille had a standout season with 63 goals and 125 points and they had a promising trio of young defensemen in Rob Blake, Darryl Sydor and Alex Zhitnik, but Wayne Gretzky was hobbled by a bad back and they finished third in the Smythe division.

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