Famed Maple Leaf Gardens was the site 28 years ago when the LA Kings created one of their greatest moments. Kings legend Dave Taylor spoke about it.
This past Saturday marked the anniversary of one of the greatest moments in LA Kings history. On May 29, 1993, the Kings, coming off a controversial overtime victory to force Game 7, were one win away from punching their first ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. However, they needed to win at famed Maple Leaf Gardens against a Toronto team looking to make its own history.
Having already advanced to the 1993 Final, the Montreal Canadiens were awaiting their next opponent. For many, a Canadiens-Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Final would have been ideal — a hockey purist’s dream, if you will. After all, it would be a championship matchup between hockey’s two most storied franchises. However, while the Canadiens had garnered plenty of championship success, a trip to the 1993 Final would have marked the Leafs’ first appearance since 1967, when they won their last Stanley Cup — against none other than the Canadiens.
The Kings, however, had other ideas in mind.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Kings legend Dave Taylor, who reflected on the Kings-Leafs classic series.
“Oh boy. Well, that was quite a series,” Taylor said with a chuckle. “I thought it was a real, real competitive series and a battle. What I always remember is, I think all of Canada wanted Toronto to win because the Montreal Canadiens had already won over on their side. So, whoever was going to play in the Finals was going to play against the Canadiens, and I think all of Canada, and certainly, all of Toronto, wanted a Toronto-Montreal Final.”
The 1992-93 season marked the Leafs’ most successful campaign in the post-expansion era. Their 44 wins and 99 points were the most they collected in a single season since 1977-78 — the last time they reached the conference final. That series, however, was brief as the Leafs got swept in four straight games by the aforementioned Canadiens. The 1993 playoffs, however, marked a new lease on life for the blue-and-white.
A roster ladened with veterans such as Wendel Clark and Dave Andreychuk to Stanley Cup winners Doug Gilmour and Glenn Anderson, the Leafs appeared to have what it took to win hockey’s Holiest prize. The once-hapless franchise was also led by veteran head coach Pat Burns and an outstanding rookie goaltender in Felix Potvin.
For the Kings, while they may have had their backs against the wall as far as support north of the border went, veterans like Taylor, a former captain, Kelly Hrudey, a clutch goaltender, and Jari Kurri, a five-time Stanley Cup champion, all had what it took to lead their team to victory. The Kings were also led by the great Wayne Gretzky, although, by the spring of 1993, skeptics believed that his best days were behind him.
After missing the first half of the regular season with a back injury, Gretzky appeared to be back in form once he was returned to the lineup. However, against the Leafs in the playoffs, Gretzky had just one goal.
When the Kings faced elimination, however, the Great One responded in spectacular fashion.
“We were down in the series and we battled back and ended up going to Toronto for Game 7,” Taylor added. “And Wayne Gretzky had an outstanding game. He had a hat-trick and scored the winning goal, then we were going on to Montreal.”
Of course, before his monumental night in Game 7, Gretzky scored in overtime in Game 6 to force the deciding contest. However, No. 99’s overtime winner came with controversy as just moments earlier, he inadvertently high-sticked Doug Gilmour, which was not called. Nevertheless, the Leafs had a glorious chance to make their mark, to win this classic series on home ice. Thanks to Gretzky’s heroics and Taylor’s leadership, though, it was not to be for the blue-and-white.
“I just remember that was a hard-fought physical series,” Taylor recalled. “There were fights, good goaltending on both sides, and it was a real battle.”
Of course, while Gretzky already had four Stanley Cups to his name, 1993 marked just the first time that Dave Taylor would reach the Cup Final.
“As far as in my career, getting to play in the Stanley Cup Finals and to start at the Montreal Forum– and they actually brought the Stanley Cup out to center ice when we were warming up — and it was pretty impressive there, to be in Montreal,” reflected the former Kings captain. “But, sort of the same thing growing up in Ontario and playing at Maple Leaf Gardens and having the opportunity to win Game 7 to go to the Stanley Cup Final is the highlight of my career.”
“We had some special guys: [Tony] Granato, Corey Millen, the guys I played with, [Tomas] Sandstrom was awesome, Jari Kurri and to see Dave Taylor play so well and Pat Conacher, it’s just hard to explain but it was just so much fun to be a part of that group and we had a lot of fun as a team,” he noted then.
Unfortunately for Taylor and the Kings, their efforts in 1993 did not result in a Stanley Cup victory as they were defeated by the Canadiens in five games. Fortunately for Taylor, he would get to win hockey’s Holiest prize in 2019 with the St. Louis Blues as the club’s Vice President of Hockey Operations.
“Oh, it was a pretty cool feeling,” a beaming Taylor said of winning the Stanley Cup. “I’ve been involved in the game at the NHL level for 42 years, and to finally be there in Boston and watch [then-Blues captain] Alex Pietrangelo hoist the Cup was pretty special. And Doug Armstrong, the general manager, was pretty good to me. I was actually with the team the whole Finals series. So, I think it was close to three weeks that I was gone from home. We traveled back and forth from Boston to St. Louis for the games and then I stayed in St. Louis for the parade and my wife came out and we thoroughly enjoyed that as well.”
While it was long before this writer was born, I can bet that Baseball Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher had only run sprints and not marathons when he coined the phrase, “Nice guys finish last.”
Over the years, I have spoken to many people who have met Dave Taylor, and, unsurprisingly, not a single one of them had even a slightly unpleasant thing to say about the man. Heck, of all of the former Kings to win the Stanley Cup, I cannot recall fans being happier for any player, coach, or executive than they were for Dave Taylor in 2019 — and understandably so.
A consummate gentleman through and through, Mr. Taylor’s hard work, determination, and loyalty came in the reward of hoisting hockey’s Holiest prize, but that’s not to say that the hockey-lifer didn’t enjoy the journey along the way.
From celebrating the Miracle on Manchester in 1982 to helping the Kings oust the defending champions in 1989 and again in 1990 to the highlight of his playing career, defeating the Maple Leafs in 1993 to advance to his first Stanley Cup Final, Taylor’s journey in hockey is one only a select few have experienced and even more could only dream of.
As fans look forward to a better season from their LA Kings next season, they will always have some wonderful playoff memories from their team, including the magical postseason that was 1993. For that, they have, and will always have, among others, Dave Taylor to thank for that — just one of the many contributions he has made to the Kings organization.