Three decades since Bill Ranford backstopped Oilers to playoff win against Kings

Back in April 1992, Ranford was the Oilers starting goalie, going head-to-head against current Hockey Night in Canada commentator Kelly Hrudey

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As the Edmonton Oilers prepare to meet the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 30 years, Bill Ranford can see both sides

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Today, Ranford is the Kings goalie coach, now in his 16th season at that job with his two Stanley Cup rings in 2012 and 2014.

But back in April 1992, Ranford was the Oilers starting goalie, going head-to-head against current Hockey Night in Canada commentator Kelly Hrudey.

Ranford also was seeing a symphony of familiar faces on the Kings; not just Wayne Gretzky, and Marty McSorley from the Oilers 1988 Stanley Cup winner that Ranford was a part of, but Jari Kurri and Charlie Huddy from the glorious 1990 Cup run where Ranford was playoff MVP.

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Paul Coffey was also part of that Kings ’92 team. He went to LA in a massive late-season three-team trade.

The Oilers had Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen, Kelly Buchberger and current Oiler assistant coach Dave Manson, and a dynamite top line with Bernie Nicholls, Vinnie Damphousse and Joe Murphy.

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They got as far as the Western Conference final that spring before losing to Chicago, then missed the playoffs four straight years before getting back in 1997.

“Thirty years ago since LA and Edmonton met in the playoffs? Yeah, that’s crazy. Really hard to believe,” said Ranford, who was only 25 in 1992. “We were starting to lose more and more core players, the big-name guys back then. It gave opportunity for other guys to step up. We were a new, young troop trying to make a name for ourselves.

“We had Bernie, Vinnie and Murph as I recall. They were leading the way for us.”

The Kings were a strong team that would get to the ’93 Cup final against Montreal and in ’92 they had Hall of Famers in waiting Luc Robitalle and Rob Blake, Tony Granato and a host of ex-Oilers, with Gretzky driving the bus after being with them since 1988.

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What are Coffey’s memories of that playoff? He jokingly claimed amnesia.

“I only remember the wins,” kidded Coffey, who played well with seven points in the six-game series. “Not good enough.

“Was it odd playing against the old Oilers in ’92? Not really,” said Ranford. “Reality had set in. Peter (Pocklington) had run into financial trouble and when there’s assets to be moved, you move them.”

Playing 449 Oilers games — most of any goalie – and coaching for 16 years in Los Angeles is juicy irony in the context of this playoff.

Once an Oiler, always an Oiler, of course, but Ranford proudly wears the black and silver of the Kings his sleeve now.

“It’s really quite amazing that it’s been this long since the two teams played each other,” said Ranford, now 55.

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While 40-year-old Mike Smith will be the main man in the Oiler net for this series, Ranford retired at only 33, after 15 NHL seasons. He was traded in 1996 to Boston for Mariusz Czerkawski, Sean Brown and a first-round draft pick, with Ranford balking at staying after they Oilers had dealt for Curtis Joseph.

Ranford considered himself a top dog and being anything else was difficult. He played for the Bruins, Washington, Tampa and Detroit before finishing up as an Oiler in 2000, signing as a free-agent to be Tommy Salo’s back-up.

“My body was fine when I retired but when you’re No. 1 for most of your career then you’re not, that’s tough mentally. Glen had offered me a two-year extension with the Oilers (1996) but I really struggled in the No. 2 position,” said Ranford.

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He wound up the Kings goalie coach in a roundabout way.

“The year I retired, I interviewed for the Canucks job with (head coach) Marc Crawford and didn’t get it because I didn’t have any experience. Then three or four years later, I started to work in the Western Hockey League a bit, working at that. When Marc got hired in LA I was one of his first calls,” said Ranford.

“I’m so lucky. I won twice in Edmonton (as a player) and twice in LA (as a coach). I’m always going to have that Oiler blood in me. I still have lots of friends in Edmonton and the city was unbelieveable to me but I’ve been with this Kings’ organization for 16 years. Longer than my NHL playing career by one.”

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