50 Years of LA Kings Hockey: Butch Goring and the Forgotten Playoff Series

Guess who’s back with an all new attack and that all new attack is the Mack. And by Mack, I mean the first real superstar in Los Angeles Kings history, the unforgettable Robert “Butch” Goring and the forgotten-in-time playoff series that he and his LA Kings had back in 1976 against the heavily-favored Boston Bruins. So, without any hesitation, let’s jump into our favorite time machine and go back in time to Los Angeles in the mid- to late-1970’s, (Disco baby! No wait, actually I’m not a fan of disco. Classic Rock baby! No wait, back then it was just called Rock. Never mind then!)

Born on October 22, 1949 in Saint Boniface, Manitoba, Canada, the man that would be simply known by his nickname “Butch” was drafted 50th overall by the LA Kings in 1969. The Kings, a two-year-old expansion team that was still suffering from the expected growing pains from being in a large ‘below the southern belt’ American market that, at that time, didn’t know much or care about the sport of hockey — except for the few of the original LA Kings’ die-hard fans that helped keep the team financially afloat of course. Even then, the Kings had some competitive success in the NHL playoffs after losing to fellow expansion team, the Minnesota North Stars (now Dallas Stars) in a tight and entertaining seven games — the 7th game was controversial within the Kings organization; feel free to check out my last article about that mess. The next year during the 1969 playoffs, the Kings beat their state rival Oakland Seals in seven games to win their first-ever playoff series in franchise history before being swept by the eventual Stanley Cup finalist St. Louis Blues in the next round.

After that, there wasn’t much to cheer about as the Kings didn’t return to the playoffs for another four years. But one thing that did happen and got the Kings fan base excited and full of hope was the debut of Butch Goring: the first-ever LA Kings superstar.

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And what wasn’t there to love about Butch? He had won the Calder Cup with the Kings’ minor-league affiliate, the Springfield (not Simpsons) Kings and was impressive almost immediately after his NHL debut during the 1969-70 season. Strong on the puck, an unbreakable spirit, effective in both the offensive and defensive end and with an inspiring work ethic, Butch quickly became the Kings’ most popular player — one who is still talked about by Kings fans who witnessed that era. But what made Butch a part of the Kings’ mythology and lore was to come during the 1975-76 season and the following playoffs, which sadly, many have forgotten about. Which is why we time traveled back here! So let’s fix this!

The Kings had returned to the postseason and made back-to-back appearances in 1974 and 1975, but disappointingly lost both of them in the first round. Even with a slightly-above-average 38-33-9 record during the 75-76 season, the Kings made the playoffs for the third season in a row, but this time things were different. Now, along with Butch Goring, the Kings had two more superstars (and future Hall-of-Famers) with goalie Rogie Vachon between the pipes and a young phenom scoring machine by the name of Marcel Dionne.

In the first round, the Kings battled the Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames and on paper, it seemed that series was a breeze for the Kings after they won in a two-game sweep, (yes, I said a two-game sweep as back then the first round had a best-of-three series format), but both games were hard-hitting and only one-goal games. What gave the Kings the edge was the brilliant goaltending of Vachon, the natural scoring touch of Dionne and the leadership and unbreakable determination of the inspirational Butch Goring.

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Then came the heavily-favored Boston Bruins in the second round and most were predicting a Boston sweep. They were wrong. In what was “supposed to be” an easy series for the mighty Bruins, turned almost into a nightmare for them as Butch led the charge for a very determined and organized (thanks to head coach and future Dean Lombardi father-in-law, Bob Pulford) LA Kings’ team. The Bruins won the first game 4-0 but took some hard knocks from the Kings and before they could blink an eye. The Kings were then ahead in the series 2-1 after winning Games 2 and 3, with the second game being won in overtime from a winning goal by the one and only Butch Goring. Angry, the Bruins fought back and won Game 4 with a 3-0 shutout and then Game 5 with a 7-1 shellacking of the Kings. With the Bruins only one win away from the Stanley Cup semi-finals (now Conference Final), it seemed the balance of NHL life was back with its status quo. They were wrong again because Butch had other ideas. Facing elimination, Butch almost willed the team back to life by going toe-to-toe with the big, bad Bruins and that helped the Kings take that Game 6 into overtime. And in a storyline that only the Hockey Gods can come up with, Butch came to the rescue again by scoring another overtime winner to take this series to a surprisingly shocking seventh game! To the “experts” and “pundits” of the game at that time, this series was not supposed to go like this. Unfortunately, the Kings ran out of gas during Game 7 and the Bruins won the game 4-0 and the seven-game series. The Bruins went limping into the semi-finals after their unexpected war against the Kings and burned out to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. The Kings on the other hand had gained some confidence and valuable playoff experience, while Butch Goring became a Kings legend.

Butch would go on to play nine seasons with the Kings, winning both the Bill Masterson and the Lady Byng Trophies in 1978 and having scoring seasons of 60, 73, 85, 73, 87 and then 60 points during his last four-and-a-half seasons with the club.

In a trade that made every LA Kings fan smack their foreheads with frustrating embarrassment, the Kings traded Butch to the New York Islanders in March of 1980 for Dave Lewis and Billy Harris. Butch then turned out to be the final piece of the Islanders puzzle, and they went on to become a dynasty by winning four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983 and returning to the Cup final in 1984. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP during the club’s 1981 Stanley Cup run and victory.

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So, before the Kings had won the Cup in 2012 and 2014, and before that Stanley Cup Final run with Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille in 1993 — heck, even before the ‘Miracle on Manchester’ in 1982 — there was the second-round seven-game series against the Boston Bruins in 1976. Sure, the Kings lost in the end — which is probably why it was forgotten with time — but they showed that they had pride, passion and power, especially from that player who wore number 19 in the Forum-Gold-and-Blue armor: the one and only Robert “Butch” Goring.

His incredible will power, unbreakable spirit and never-say-die performance — not just in that Boston playoff series, but definitely in that Boston playoff series — but throughout his entire career,  made Butch Goring the first-ever superstar of the Los Angeles Kings.

(photo credit to the Montreal Gazette)
(photo credit to the Montreal Gazette)

So, welcome back everyone to 2016. What a heck of series that was between the Kings and the Bruins, huh? Man, that Butch Goring was something else, I tell ya! But, he was just the beginning! For our next time travel trip, we will look into the careers of three players that put the LA Kings on the map. Three players that almost had a physic kinetic superpower between them that allowed them to have incredible chemistry on the ice. These guys were so great, they were even given a nickname for their line! I am of course talking about none other than Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer: the “Triple Crown Line”! So, charge up that time machine and be ready to go back to Los Angeles in the late ’70’s to early ’80’s.

STAY TUNED!!!

About Jeff Duarte

Born and raised in Canada and surrounded by the sport of hockey for as long as he can remember, there is nothing Jeff loves talking about more than the past, present and future of his beloved Los Angeles Kings.

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