Thursday, April 14, 2011

The First Battle of California, 1969

This year's first-round matchup of San Jose versus Los Angeles marks only the third time ever that a playoff series involved two California based franchises. The last time was only two years ago when the Anaheim Ducks upset San Jose four games to two in a first round series. The first time two California teams met in the playoffs was way back in 1969 when the Oakland Seals met the L.A. Kings.
The 1968/69 season saw Oakland finish in second place in the NHL's West Division with a record of 29-36-11 and 69 points. They ended up 19 points behind first place St.Louis, yet were still 8 points up on Philadelphia in third. Los Angeles grabbed the final Western playoff spot with a measley 58 points. In the opening game, the Kings snuck out a victory a mere 19 seconds into overtime on Ted Irvine's first goal of the playoffs. Oakland had knocked King starter Gerry Desjardins out of the game with two goals on eight shots in the first period. Oakland fought to send the game to extra time on a goal by Gene Ubriaco with under three minutes remaining. Wayne Rutledge would get the victory over Seals Gary Smith before a "crowd" of 5,400.
Oakland bounced back in game two the very next night before an even slightly smaller crowd with a 4-2 (empty net) win. The favoured Seals won convincingly in Los Angeles, taking game three 5-2. On this occaison they knocked out starter Rutledge halfway through the third and Gary Smith stopped 31 of 33 shots. Just over 9,100 attended the Fabulous Forum for this match. The teams split the next two, as L.A. won 4-2 at home in front of 6,100 and Oakland went up three games to two winning back home 4-1.
Before the fifth game, Seals coach Fred Glover complained about his team's "spasmodic effort". In the fifth game Smith stopped 36 of 37 shots outduelling Desjardins and Bob Dillabough potted a pair in front of 7,700. Oakland's erratic play continued into game six as the first period saw the teams split six goals and the Seals collect 16 shots on goal. They would have only 9 shots over the final 40 minutes including 2 in the third. Bill Flett's goal with under five minutes left in the second stood up as the winner as this time Desjardins got the best of Smith. Hockey was still trying to take root on the West coast as evidenced by a half full Forum of 7,800 spectators.
Game seven back in Oakland a somewhat respectable 9,300 were in attendance. Los Angeles led 2-1 after one on a pair of goals from Ted Irvine and after two they held a 3-2 lead. Kings Howie Menard clinched the 5-3 L.A. victory with just over two minutes remaining. Irvine ended up with five goals in the series. Oakland outscored L.A. 25-23 overall and were led by veteran Earl Ingarfield who had 10 points in the series.
The Kings of course were swept by St.Louis in the semi-finals and Oakland would never again win an NHL playoff game. The following year they were swept in the first round by Pittsburgh and never made the post-season again.

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