It’s hard to pinpoint Wayne Gretzky’s single greatest game considering he rewrote almost every NHL offensive record during his amazing career. However, if there was one performance that stands out above the rest in the career of the league’s all-time leading scorer, it was probably the seventh and final game of the Stanley Cup semi-final series between Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 29th 1993. However, there are millions of fans who believe the series never should have reached seven games.
The Maple Leafs hadn’t been in a Stanley Cup Final since last winning the Cup way back in 1967, but were just one win away from advancing as they held a three to two series lead. It had been one of the most exciting tilts in years with excellent goaltending, big hits, toe-to-toe fights and endless drama. Most Maple Leafs’ fans thought this would be the year the team finally made it back to the Final where they would meet their arch enemy the Montreal Canadiens.
The Leafs held Gretzky in check during most of the series and Kings’ fans were afraid ‘The Great One’ had lost his scoring touch and leadership skills. But before game six in Los Angeles on May 27th, Gretzky, the Kings’ captain, promised his teammates if they won it he would personally make sure they also took game seven back in Toronto two days later.
The Kings held a 4-3 lead late in game six but Toronto captain Wendel Clark made it 4-4 after Toronto netminder Felix Potvin was pulled for an extra attacker with about a minute to go. It was one of the most dramatic goals in Leafs’ history and Clark’s third of the night. It appeared the hockey gods had finally shone on Toronto as they now had the opportunity to end the series in overtime right then and there.
The Leafs never do anything easy though and forward Glenn Anderson was assessed a boarding penalty with just seconds to go in the game. This meant the Kings would start the overtime session on the power play if they didn’t score in the dying seconds of regulation time.
Shortly after overtime faced off, Gretzky’s stick struck Toronto’s leading scorer Doug Gilmour in the face, drawing blood. Leafs’ fans were adamant Gretzky should receive a five-minute major penalty and a game-misconduct but referee Kerry Fraser didn’t make a call. Most Toronto fans immediately knew it was curtains for their team at that moment and they weren’t wrong. Gretzky, who arguably should have been in the showers by then, scored the winning goal just seconds later forcing a game seven. It was now do or die for both teams in at historic Maple Leaf Gardens in downtown Toronto.
Gretzky was determined to lead Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history and that didn’t bode well for the Leafs and their fans. He opened the scoring midway through the first period with a shorthanded goal on a two-on-one with teammate Marty McSorley. The Kings then doubled their lead at the 17:30 mark of the opening period when Gretzky set up Tomas Sandstrom.
The Leafs weren’t finished yet though as Clark narrowed the margin to 2-1 early in the middle stanza and Anderson tied it 2-2 six minutes later. The Leafs had momentum on their side but Kings’ coach Barry Melrose called a timeout to rally his troops. Toronto continued to dominate though, but couldn’t take the lead. Gretzky then fired a slap shot past Potvin to give the Kings a 3-2 edge after two periods.
It didn’t take the Leafs long to pull level again as Clark scored in the second minute of the third period for his fifth goal in the last two games. It remained 3-3 as both teams missed several glorious scoring chances but Los Angeles jumped out in front 4-3 on a rebound goal by Mike Donnelly with 3:51 remaining in regulation time. It looked like it was going to be tough for Toronto to come back again and then appeared impossible just 37 seconds later when Gretzky took the puck into the Leafs zone and circled behind the net with it.
There were no other Kings in sight as Leafs’ defenseman Dave Ellett stood guard in front of his net. Gretzky then centered the puck and watched it deflect off of Ellett’s skate and into the net behind a helpless and startled Potvin. The Kings looked certain to be headed to the Final with a 5-3 lead late in the game while The Great One had notched three goals and an assist and had scored four of the Kings’ last six goals in the series.
To their credit though, Toronto never gave up and Ellett scored to make it 5-4 with 1:07 to go in the contest. The Leafs pulled Potvin and threw everything they could at King’s goalie Kelly Hrudey in search of the equalizer. But it simply wasn’t meant to be for Toronto as Gretzky had fulfilled his promise to his teammates by almost single-handedly winning game seven for them. His hat trick was also the last one scored in the seventh game of an NHL series.
Gretzky’s 1993 postseason luck ran out with that game in Toronto as Montreal took the Stanley Cup by beating the Kings four games to one. Gretzky would later tell the media he felt his game-seven performance at Maple Leaf Gardens was the best of his career due to the importance and sheer magnitude of the contest. And who’s to argue?