“History is written by the victors.” – Winston Churchill.
Few fans remember what Doug Gilmour did on May 29th, 1993. Most hockey fans, especially Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs fans remember what Wayne Gretzky did. The Great One scored three goals and added an assist in Game 7 of the Campbell Conference Final to send the Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup Final. According to the greatest hockey player of all-time, it was his best performance in the National Hockey League.
“The best NHL game I played, in my mind, I think was Game 7 in Toronto,” Gretzky said.
The Kings won the back-and-forth game, 5-4 but what if the Maple Leafs had won? Would Gretzky still consider it the best game of his NHL career? Would Gilmour consider it the best game he ever played? After all, results matter and the only thing most athletes care about is whether their team won or lost.
With the help of Sportlogiq’s industry leading technology, we can now view that game in more detail than ever before. And while Gretzky’s heroics in the game are undeniable, Gilmour put up numbers that are simply jaw-dropping. The best player to ever do it and, at the time, one of the best players in the world. Game 7 of this series between the Kings and Maple Leafs was a heavyweight boxing match between two superstars who punched and counterpunched until the final whistle.
In this article, we’ll look at the incredible games played by Gretzky, who turned almost every scoring chance he had into a goal and Gilmour, who almost single handedly willed the Maple Leafs to victory with an incredible blend of puck pursuit and playmaking.
Let’s start with the first goal of the game which came on a Maple Leafs powerplay. Gilmour makes a costly mistake inside the Kings blueline, turning the puck over, leading to an odd-man rush for the Kings.
An incredible play by Gretzky to take the Marty McSorley pass off his skate before depositing it into the back of the net for the shorthanded goal.
1-0 Kings (Gretzky – McSorley, Kurri)
The Kings took a 2-0 lead late in the 1st period on a shift that perfectly captures the kind of night it would be for Gretzky and Gilmour. Gilmour carried the puck into the offensive zone and put a weak shot on goal. He then won a puck battle behind the net, setting up another shot on Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey. As the Kings tried to exit the zone, Gilmour won another puck battle to maintain offensive zone possession for the Maple Leafs. Seconds later, he found Dave Andreychuk in the slot with a great pass from behind the net. Andreychuk fired the puck wide, the Kings recovered the puck and took it up ice where Gretzky found Tomas Sandstrom in the slot for the second goal of the game.
Gilmour, an absolute force for a majority of his time on the ice during this shift and Gretzky, the opportunist who made the Leafs pay with a single, well-timed pass.
2-0 Kings (Sandstrom – Gretzky, McSorley)
However, Gilmour’s tenacity would pay off early in the 2nd period. Less than a minute and a half in, Gilmour makes a quick pass at the Kings blue line to Andreychuk who circles the Kings net before finding Wendel Clark in the slot.
2-1 Kings (Clark – Andreychuk, Gilmour)
Six minutes later, another example of Gilmour’s brilliance in this game.
Gilmour wins a face-off, wins a puck battle in the corner and then threads a pass to Glenn Anderson in the slot for the game-tying goal. Gilmour won more face-offs than anyone in the game and also won a total of 13 puck battles – most of any player. How impressive is that? To give some added context, only one player has won won more puck battles in a playoff game in the last three years – Tomas Hertl, who won 15 in a playoff game last season. This shift is a great example of the mix of determination and skill that made Gilmour a top player in the NHL at the time.
2-2 (Anderson – Gilmour, Lefebvre)
With the game now tied at two, Gretzky wasted little time counterpunching, scoring less than three minutes later.
3-2 Kings (Gretzky – Sandstrom, Blake)
Give the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history space to fire a clapper from point blank range – it’s going in. Gretzky is often remembered for his brilliant playmaking ability but on this night, he reminded everyone he’s also the greatest goal scorer in NHL history, scoring more often than not when he put a shot on goal.
The Kings took a 3-2 lead into the 3rd period but Gilmour wasn’t done. For the second straight period, Gilmour helped set up a goal less than ninety seconds in.
3-3 (Clark – Gilmour, Foligno)
Gilmour’s assist, from Gretzky’s office, tied the score at three. This was Gilmour’s third assist in a game in which he was, by far, the best playmaker on the ice. Gilmour led all players in zone entries, offensive zone puck possession, puck touches, pass completions, slot pass completions and assists.
What jumps off the page here is the sheer number of passes Gilmour completed in the offensive zone, especially in relation to Gretzky and everyone else who played in the game. Gilmour completed almost four times as many passes in the offensive zone as anybody else.
That’s insane and gives us a good indication of just how involved Gilmour was in the attack and generating scoring chances for the Maple Leafs.
It really is remarkable when you also consider the game was played quite differently in the early 90’s. There was less emphasis on holding onto the puck. From the data and video I’ve looked at, teams dumped the puck in more often and seemed to throw pucks to the net looking for rebounds more than they do today. So, for Gilmour to complete as many passes in the attacking end as his did, certainly in relation to his contemporaries but also in general, is astounding.
Some added context, there wasn’t a forward in last seasons playoffs who connected on as many O-zone passes, in a regulation time game, as Gilmour did in that game back in 1993.
Anyways, back to the action. With the score tied at three, we get our first goal of the game that neither Gilmour nor Gretzky were in on. And this is the play that, had it gone slightly differently, could have changed the outcome of the game and the way the performances in it are remembered to this day.
With less than five minutes to play, Gilmour sets up Andreychuk at the right face-off dot for a shot off-the-rush. Andreychuk fires high, missing glove-side on Hrudey.
If that shot goes in, Gilmour has four assists, and the Maple Leafs have a 4-3 lead with just over four minutes to play. Instead, the Kings move the puck up the ice and seconds later, Mike Donnelly scores to give the Kings the lead.
4-3 Kings (Donnelly – Zhitnik, Granato)
Less than one minute later, Gretzky scores the eventual game-winning goal, banking a pass off of Dave Ellett’s skate and past Felix Potvin.
5-3 Kings (Gretzky – Conacher)
A fluky goal, sure but the fact remains that Gretzky was alone on this rush, literally the only Kings player in the offensive zone, occupied by all five Maple Leafs skaters, and he found a way to score a goal. Kings up by two with 3:14 to play.
Not that Gretzky’s hat-trick goal was Ellett’s fault but the Leafs defenceman was able to get one back with just over a minute left, scoring to pull Toronto to within one but that’s as close as the Leafs would get.
FINAL: 5-4 Kings
Gretzky skated off the ice in Toronto with another legendary performance under his belt that is rightfully lionized to this day. I’m not sure that Gilmour’s name has ever been mentioned when people look back at that game despite the fact that he was so dominant in so many ways. Goals are the most important thing in hockey and Gretzky scored three. Gilmour did everything else better than everyone else but came up short in the end.
Both players played over 20 minutes in the game. Gilmour played close to 30 minutes, seeing more ice than Gretzky on the powerplay while not as much on the penalty kill.
Head-to-head, the superstars were on the ice at even-strength for just over nine minutes. As expected, the Kings and Leafs played each other pretty tight in those minutes with Gretzky and Gilmour leading the charge.
So, there you have it. The game Wayne Gretzky calls the best he ever played in the NHL. I can understand why, despite the fact Gretzky actually scored five or more points in a playoff game ten times in his career. Gretzky was 32-years old at the time and hadn’t had a great playoff series, by his standards. He was the captain of an underdog team playing a decisive seventh game in his hometown of Toronto for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. You finish that game with three goals and four points and your team wins – that has to be just about as good as it gets.
I remember watching that game as a kid and I watched it a couple more times recently before putting this story together. After going through the numbers and analyzing the game through a different lens, I’ll remember the game for the incredible results put forth by Gretzky and the incredible effort given by Gilmour.
What Gretzky accomplished that night, in a game of that magnitude, at that stage in his career is nothing short of remarkable. As for Gilmour, even though his team lost, his performance was every bit as impressive.
The sniper and the playmaker. Or, as history ultimately remembers it, the victor and the vanquished.