The Montreal Canadiens were the NHL’s great dynasty of all time, most recently in the late 1970s when they won four straight Stanley Cups (1976-79) and then tacked on one more in 1986. No one would ever mistake the Los Angeles Kings for a dynasty. But Wayne Gretzky was most certainly a dynasty unto himself, having first led the Edmonton Oilers to the status of the league’s dominant team in the late 1980s, and was now in his fifth year in Los Angeles.
In the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, the league’s greatest franchise and its greatest player met in their own version of a dynastic clash.
Montreal and Los Angeles each finished third in their respective divisions during the season. The Canadiens got superlative goaltending from 27-year-old Patrick Roy, but lacked a clear offensive star. Los Angeles got more than its share of offense from Luc Robatille, but Gretzky missed 37 games with injuries and the defense was subpar.
Gretzky was healthy for the playoffs and nothing matters more than goaltending in postseason play, and both teams played their way into the Finals. Los Angeles took Game 1 behind a goal and three assists from Gretzky, but from that point on it was all Montreal.
Montreal went through a hiccup to start the playoffs, losing the first two games to the Quebec Nordiques (a franchise that Roy would lead to greatness three years later after they moved to Colorado and re-named themselves the Avalanche). The Canadiens promptly went on an eight-game winning streak, to eliminate Quebec and then sweep the Buffalo Sabres.
A five-game dispatching of the New York Islanders completed a run to the Finals made easy by the fact the Wales Conference (the East) saw its best teams—the Boston Bruins and the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins lose in upsets prior to facing Montreal.
Los Angeles got by the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks to start the postseason. The Kings, as they had all season, relied on their offense. In two six-game series, Los Angeles gave up five or more goals five times and four goals two more times, but still managed to advance.
The Kings then won a great seven-game battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs, taking an overtime Game 6 to stay alive and then winning Game 7, each by a 5-4 count.
Gretzky was the story in the first game of the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. He scored a goal, dished three assists and led Los Angeles to a 4-1 win. But it turned out to be the last Kings win of the season.
Montreal won three consecutive overtime games. Eric Desjardins scored a hat trick in Game 2, the final one wrapping up a 3-2 win. It was 4-3 in Game 3 behind 30 saves from Roy. The Canadien goalie then carried his team in Game 4, turning back 40 shots in a 3-2 win. Montreal went home for Game 5 with a chance to clinch.
Outstanding team defense was the story in the fifth game. Los Angeles got only 19 shots on goal and that’s not enough against anyone, much less Patrick Roy. Robatille finished with just one goal for the entire Finals, and Gretzky was inconsequential after the opener. Montreal won 4-1 and won the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals.