May 27, 1993. This is NOT the date the Toronto Maple Leafs were denied a Stanley Cup appearance. I'm an acknowledged Leaf fan, not your average "asshole" Leaf fan, I'm a diehard, all-encompassing, 365 days a year Leaf fan (I know...it's a disease for which there is no cure).
Even I can now say, it's time to stop blaming Kerry Fraser.
As all good hockey fans know, the play in question happened in overtime of game six of the '93 Western Confernce Finals with Toronto ahead 3 games to 2. In the first minute of OT, Wayne Gretzky's follow-through on a shot clipped Doug Gilmour. Even though Gilmour was bleeding and would require eight stitches, there was no penalty on the play. Fraser claimed he was blocked out of view of what happened and so were his linesmen. He recalls asking Gilmour at the moment what had happened, Gilmour said he was hit with Gretzky's follow-through. This fact of course makes the criticism of Fraser missing the call a moot point. A high-stick on a follow-through of a shot is not a punishable offense. As much as us Leaf fans would like to say Gretzky should have received a five minute penalty and be tossed from the game...even if Fraser fully saw the play, there was no penalty to be called.
The fact that Gretzky scored the OT winner a minute later only adds salt to the wound. On top of this, Toronto still had a Game Seven at home a game in which the were almost single-handedly beaten by Gretzky who scored a hat-trick and an assist. Wayne himself calls game seven the best game he ever played in his NHL career. If Leaf fans really want to find a villain it's Bob McKenzie.
A day before the infamous game six, McKenzie, who wrote for the Toronto Star penned an article with the headline; "Gretzky playing as if he's got a piano on his back."
The article stated, "The plain truth is Gretzky hasn't been much, if any better through this series. Luc Robitaille, for that matter showed the most signs last night of maybe being ready to break out, picking up one assist and generating four shots on goal. Now just one loss away from elimination, the Kings could desperately use some old-fashioned Gretzky pyrotechnics to light up the Leafs in Game 6 at the Great Western Forum and send it back here for Game 7 at the Gardens on Saturday night."
And those "Gretzky pyrotechnics" did return with his game six overtime winner. The Great One was far from done yet as illustrated in an article by Steve Springer of the Los Angeles Times.
"Saturday afternoon before Game 7 of the finals, [Wayne Gretzky] was finishing a cup of tea before heading to Maple Leaf Gardens. He looked across the table at his agent, Mike Barnett, and said: "The piano man still has a tune to play."
After his game seven performance which led the Kings to the Cup final, Rick Sandowski of the LA Times wrote," The Kings ought to send a thank you card to columnist Bob McKenzie, who after Game 5 of the Campbell Conference final wrote that Wayne Gretzky was playing" like he has piano on his back" Gretzky responded by scoring in overtime to give the Kings a 5-4 win in game 6 and leading them to Saturday's win with three goals and an assist. "It really motivated me, " Gretzky said Sunday. "I was disappointed that he had only seen me play one game out of 17. (The article) fueled the fire. It made me mad."
Clearly, Gretzky was fired up by the comments of McKenzie. Motivated enough to play the best game of his NHL career.