This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup championship.
The Canadiens were one win away from their 24th Stanley Cup as they prepared for Game 5 of the final against Los Angeles Kings slated for June 9, 1993 at the Forum.
Below are the columns by Michael Farber and Red Fisher that were published in The Gazette setting the stage for Game 5.
(Gazette file photo)
Did someone say ‘inevitable’?
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 9, 1993
The Canadiens got off their Air Canada charter and passed through customs and when asked whether he had anything to declare, Jacques Demers said, “We haven’t won anything yet. We have a lot of respect for the Los Angeles Kings. They battle you all the time. Any team with Wayne Gretzky -.”
The next time the Canadiens travel, it will be by float.
There has been an inevitability in this one-step-at-an-overtime march to the Stanley Cup. Montreal is on the brink, and there is an overwhelming sense of rightness about this spring of 1993. Hockey is our town, and the Cup has been our Cup since the first one went to the MAAA 100 years ago. Now it is also our year.
The only parades Kirk Muller ever has seen were Santa Claus fests down Princess St. in Kingston when he was a boy. Muller would show up at the end of the parade to beat the cold but still catch St. Nick, maybe the only time Muller hasn’t given it at least 60 minutes. The very mention of a parade gives Muller a nervous tic, but after stammering about, he acknowledged Montreal needs one more victory to win the Stanley Cup.
This is a major admission, but don’t quote him on it.
“You hear about the 100 years and the seven-year thing (the Canadiens have not gone more than seven years since the end of World War II without winning a Cup; the last – hint, hint – was 1986) and you have to wonder a little if it isn’t our year,” Muller said.
“Not that it’s over, by any means. But there is a certain tradition involved with Montreal, and we really want to continue that. Certainly after getting up 3-1 we wouldn’t like to be known as the team that wound up going the longest without winning it.
“Going this far, we’ve been good. And we’ve been lucky. We haven’t been really aware of the overtime streak. Maybe it’ll hit us later. We’ll look at clips and say, `Wow.’ You have to be lucky to win in overtime, but you have to be good or else you won’t get in position to win.”
The Canadiens have won 15 of 19 playoff games, 12 of them by one goal.
The Canadiens have won the last 10 of their 11 overtime games.
Patrick Roy doesn’t have a shutout in the playoffs unless, of course, you count the 96:39 minutes of immaculate overtime he has played since Game 1 in Quebec. Roy, who has 58 saves, has kept his net empty for almost a game and two periods, critical minutes in which any goal would have meant a loss. You take those dribs and drabs of perfection any day. This is how thin the line is between disaster and near-parade: if Quebec hit the lottery in Game 3 overtime at the Forum, the Nordiques would have had a 3-0 lead and made Ste. Catherine St. safe for traffic all summer.
So it is with the Montreal magical mystery tour. Every night, an adventure. The They Shoot Up Goaltenders, Don’t They? Game 5 in Quebec when Roy miraculously returned from a bruised shoulder to win in overtime. Rocky III when Paul DiPietro finished off the Nordiques. Eric Desjardins’s Kitten Who Lost Its Mitten in the finale against Buffalo. Two overtime goals by Captain Carbo, who hadn’t scored against a goalie since Nov. 9. A too-many-men penalty – Montreal’s favorite – not being called against the Canadiens on Long Island. Marty McSorley and StickGate. John LeClair, the Beverly Hillbilly, with back-to-back overtime goals in Los Angeles. The OT streak in the Year of Living Dangerously, a mark Demers says will never be broken, although that discounts the overtime coming in Game 5 at the Forum tonight.
“Maybe there really is such a thing as fate, that we have to win the Cup this year,” Mike Keane said. “Personally I don’t believe that, but it’s starting to look that way.”
Things just keep breaking the Montreal way. Buffalo won its Stanley Cup when it beat the Bruins, and the Islanders won their Stanley Cup when they knocked off the two-time champion Penguins. In the soft afterglow of success, it is easy to suppose Montreal could have done its own heavy lifting against uninspired Pittsburgh, but it certainly was nice not having to test the theory.
“For me, I guess it was the Buffalo series,” Muller said. “Quebec was all intensity, and it was fantastic coming back to win four straight. But sweeping Buffalo after the way they had handled Boston, that convinced me we were legit. We knew we could play with anybody.”
“Looking back, I guess the third game against Quebec was the biggest one,” Carbonneau said. “In the second game in Quebec we hadn’t played the way we wanted to. We’d been shy in a sense. We got back to Montreal, and we knew we had a young team and not a big team, but we knew we had to put it all out there. That game proved something. And as the playoffs moved along, this team showed it could play any kind of game. I think we could have beaten Pittsburgh. All we had to do was keep doing what we are doing.”
Carbonneau remembers the 1986 parade, which lasted approximately four times longer than the 1993 overtimes. At first it was fun. Later it turned scary, a too-many-men-in the-street penalty.
“But I’m not talking about the parade,” Carbonneau said. “The only thing I worry about is the Kings. Whatever they need, we’re not going to give them.”
Demers was wrong, incidentally. The Canadiens have won something already – the unqualified admiration of a hockey town that sadly underestimated them.
There is also the not inconsiderable matter of three overtime games against the Kings.
In Los Angeles, there was a whiff of destiny in the air. OK, maybe it was just smog, but there is an aura about this team.
The Canadiens feel it, and as they breezed past the Canada Customs officers and into a crowd of maybe 150 that greeted them at Dorval, they knew they were home, if not home free.
There are still another 78 minutes and 16 seconds or whatever to be played tonight.
Only then can you use the P word.
That, as you recall, is one of the other customs around here.
Habs’ mobile defence takes puck, not body
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 9, 1993
What has it taken to get this Canadiens bunch to within one victory of its first Stanley Cup since 1986?
It starts with Patrick Roy, of course, who’s a certain winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy if the Canadiens win one more game.
It’s Kirk (Is Work) Muller, who’s skating with a slower step in this series with Los Angeles, but still is delivering every last droplet of what he has left.
It’s Benoit Brunet, who’s enjoying a splendid playoff, and Mike Keane, Long John LeClair, Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows. It’s an amalgam of many things, but listen to one-third (or more) of the Big Three, Serge Savard:
“The biggest reason we’ve been doing well up to now,” said the kindly ol’ general manager, “is that all the teams we played against under-estimated our defence. They didn’t realize how talented they are getting the puck out of our zone.
“When you look at a lineup with three or four guys over six feet and weighing more than 200 pounds,” says J.J. Daigneault, “it’s pretty intimidating. Teams don’t have that problem with us. They look at us – three or four guys who don’t weigh more than 180 pounds – and maybe they figure it’s gonna be easy. I don’t know …maybe they’re overconfident, or something.
“What they don’t realize,” said Daigneault, who’s enjoyed an exceptional post-season, “is that the game has changed a lot during the past few years. Forwards used to control the puck a lot more than they do today, because there wasn’t as much forechecking as there is today.
“So the bottom line today is that you need quick defencemen who have to be first on the puck. It’s great to be physical, and we can be physical, but you don’t need to do those things when you’re first on the puck.
“So far, at least, we’ve had some success because we’ve grown together, as a group. We’ve been able to control the game.
“At one time, a lot of people gave us a hard time because of our lack of physical play. What they didn’t understand and maybe still don’t is: why give a bodycheck when you’re in control of the puck?”
“Our strength,” he said, “is our mobility. It’s our capability of handling the puck well. We’re not dirty, but we can still give a bodycheck when it’s necessary.
“The point is: you’re gonna see less people in front of the net if you’re in control of the puck. Obviously, we’re not gonna do a flawless breakout every time, but the better we are at getting the puck out of our zone, the fewer players we’ll see hanging around in front of our net.”
Daigneault has been a force during the playoffs – in terms of leadership and in raising his game to another level.
The story is an old one, but general manager Savard generally is credited with pointing Daigneault in the right direction at a time when there were serious doubts that Daigneault was good enough for the NHL.
“I had the shortest stick on this hockey team,” said Daigneault. “I was used to playing with the short stick. Serge says to me: `Your stick is the biggest weapon you have. There’s no reason for it to be so small. It’s working against you.’
“I lengthened it three inches, so now my poke-checking is better. I’m taking pucks away from people.”
It seems that Daigneault spent most of the regular season getting used to the longer stick.
“I’m a lot more relaxed,” said Daigneault. “I remember when I was 19, I was shaking like a leaf before a game. That doesn’t help anybody. I keep telling Patrice that, and he’s getting the message.”
Patrice is Brisebois, the young defenceman who has grown and matured with the game this season. He’s Daigneault’s roommate on the road, his defence partner on the ice.
The firm of Daigneault and Brisebois was formed about halfway through the season. They’ve been partners for about one-half of the playoffs and, says Daigneault, Brisebois is getting better.
“The biggest reason he’s improving is that he’s playing with confidence,” said Daigneault.
Another reason could be that Brisebois has Daigneault for a partner.
LeClair is talk of St. Albans
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 9, 1993
These are three fascinating things you probably didn’t know about St. Albans, Vt. (pop, 10,000):
* The town 12 miles from the Canadian border was the site of the northernmost battle of the American Civil War.
* At 45 degrees, it is equidistant between the Equator and the North Pole.
* It has been mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest sundae, the world’s largest pancake and the world’s largest snowman.
“I think the only one left is the pancake,” John LeClair said.
The Canadiens’ streak of 10 straight overtime wins should make the Guinness book any day now and when it does, the name of John (By-a- Hair) LeClair will get prominent billing. LeClair has scored the last two overtime winners against the Los Angeles Kings, making him the most famous St. Albans native in history.
He is certainly bigger than boxing trainer Ollie Dunlap, although a while back, there was a female mayor – LeClair thinks her name was Smith – who was murdered and got an awful lot of ink.
There was a crowd down at the Sherwin-Williams store on Main St. (Robert LeClair, mgr.) yesterday to celebrate the two goals by the favorite son, who is sort of the maple syrup on the town’s record flapjack. LeClair is the only Vermont native ever to play in the National Hockey League, a former star at the University of Vermont 25 minutes down I-89 in Burlington. The sense of pride in a homeboy is as profound as anything in small-town Canada.
“St. Albans is a nice place,” said LeClair, who is a semester away from a degree in small business management. “Back in January, it made some list as one of the top 100 small towns in the United States.
“I’m quiet. Some people don’t think I talk enough, but I guess that stems from growing up in a small place. You get a little intimidated by the big cities. But mostly you keep quiet. You talk when you have something to say. Nobody just talks for the sake of talking.”
So LeClair is not exactly filibustering on the subject of his overtimes. They were self-explanatory. You saw it, write it. LeClair isn’t the most demonstrative of players. After winning Games 3 and 4, LeClair looked like he had played on a line with Bartles and Jaymes.
Of course, his restraint is highlighted by the mask of his face. He has dark circles under his eyes even when he isn’t flying back and forth to California, and an aquiline nose that highlights his jowls. Mike Keane calls him Marmaduke after the big cartoon dog, although Brian Bellows has dubbed him the more popular Hillbilly.
LeClair is non-commital.
“You can call me anything you want,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I’ll answer to it.”
The one time he did get angry was in mid-season when coach Jacques Demers summoned him into his office and aired him out. Now Demers lavishly compares him to Pittsburgh’s Kevin Stevens but at that time, given LeClair’s size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and speed, the coach thought he was playing more like Connie Stevens. LeClair didn’t take the critique too well, but in the big picture of the season, he realizes Demers had pushed the proper button.
The coach had touched his pride.
Now he is the author of two memorable, if not exactly highlight-film, goals. Half his playoff total has come in overtime. There still is a certain raw edge to his offensive game, and that, too, comes from small-town Vermont. Like most American kids, his skills are not as refined as Canadians’.
LeClair is stronger than he is fierce and can do most of the things for Montreal that Mike McPhee once did. But sometimes his play drifts, and he has the hands of a laborer and not an artiste. Despite Mathieu Schneider’s flattering comparison to Eric Lindros, LeClair looks more like Joel Otto – another name that came up this week in the How-to-Measure-Long-John sweepstakes.
By-a-Hair LeClair is still one behind Sudden Death Hill (1939) and Rocket Richard (1951) for most overtime goals in a playoff year, but he already is taking a ribbing from his teammates. LeClair and Keane were locked in a gin-rummy showdown on the plane home, and Keane was hoping he could knock him off in regulation.
“Overtime against Johnny,” Keane said, “and I’m cooked.”