This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Canadiens’ last Stanley Cup championship.
The Canadiens were trailing the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final 1-0 heading into Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings on June 3, 1993. Marty McSorley’s illegal stick proved costly for the Kings as the Canadiens rallied for a 3-2 overtime victory to even the series 1-1.
Below are the columns by Michael Farber and Red Fisher that were published in The Gazette following that game.
The photo of the Game 2 ticket above is courtesy of Erle Schneidman, who has a website CanadiensMemorialia.com. It’s interesting to note that the cost of the ticket, in the centre Reds at the Forum, was $56.
McSorley stick call recalls Cherry’s blunder
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 4, 1993
The Canadiens were about to march to death row last night when in a reversal worthy of Perry Mason, they threw the book – the rulebook – at the Los Angeles Kings.
Check the stick.
Get away with murder.
Eric Desjardins 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 in overtime.
The Christian 20-20 Excel model used by Marty McSorley will go down in Canadiens’ lore right next to Don Cherry’s first math book because he couldn’t count to six either in 1979. The illegal stick was the inanimate equivalent of Stan Jonathan, the extra man on the ice 14 years ago when Guy Lafleur sent the game into overtime and the Boston Bruins threw away a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in a Game 7 at the Forum.
Before we move into the bureau of weights and measures, it is worth remembering that the Bruins were two minutes from ending the Canadiens’ string of Stanley Cups at three when Boston staged a Chinese fire drill on the ice. The Canadiens won in overtime, they went on to beat the New York Rangers in the final, and Grapes became a rich man. Sort of everyone won.
OK, so a Game 2 isn’t quite as immediate as all that, but for the Canadiens, it might as well have been Game 7. There was an overpowering temptation in the third period when the score was 1-1 to say, “Next goal wins the Stanley Cup.”
If Montreal had flown into Los Angeles today down 2-0, it would have been an almost impossible Lotus Land position from which to extract itself. The Canadiens had to take one on home ice, and when it came to crunch time, they had to lay on the lumber.
The Canadiens beat the murder rap on a technicality, as if referee Kerry Fraser had not read them their Miranda rights or something. The stick call is not exactly the purist’s way of winning a game. These used to be the Flying Frenchmen, not the Measuring Montrealers. But it certainly wasn’t a cheap trick. Not at all. There is nothing cheap about the playoffs – not the ticket prices, not the price of a victory. If the red-white-blue needs to help to avoid the noose, it is time to turn to a little black and white. Rule 20B. After No. 28, Eric Desjardins, it was the absolute best number the Canadiens had going for them.
Guy Carbonneau spotted the stick. He says he noticed McSorley’s outsized curve in Game 1. Captain Carbo is attentive to detail and no doubt has excellent vision. He might even have 20-20 foresight because McSorley said he received the batch of sticks he was using only yesterday.
Someone is not coming clean here.
But then, illegal sticks are hockey’s dirty little secret. It’s like cheating on taxes. You have known it done. During the Buffalo series, one of the Canadiens took a visitor on a walking tour of his own team’s stick rack and observed “Legal, illegal, illegal …” until he had eyeballed enough illicit wood to keep Fraser’s already excited whistle in constant heat. This is how the game is played. The illegal stick is no different than the scuffball in baseball or holding in football.
As Denis Savard – one of the stick spotters who spent the night behind the bench – observed, “We’re not talking about stuff that anyone goes to jail for. If you cheat, you have to be smart enough not to get caught. You cheat because you think it’s going to make you a better player, and maybe Marty decided that stick made him a better player. I’m sure every team in this league has four or five guys who use illegal sticks. It’s all a question of timing.”
When to call it and when to change sticks.
Obviously, the Canadiens were going to wait until they had no choice because a stick call is the last call. It is desperate in the extreme, something done in the last two minutes. That explains why there is a flurry of exchanges with the equipment men in the last five minutes, which is like ditching the receipts before customs. Just in case.
Indeed, the Canadiens knew they had two sure choices for a stick measurement – McSorley and Luc Robitaille.
“Yeah,” Carbonneau said, “until the other guy changed his stick with four minutes to go.”
“Didn’t happen,” Robitaille said. “The only time I ever change my stick is when it’s broken.”
Sure. As if Robitaille is going to scream that all his sticks have a curve like Kelly Ireland and that he is always keeping one step ahead of the law.
Jacques Demers said he hated to do it to a player he respects like McSorley – he looked uh, terribly broken up about it – but the Canadiens were desperate, trailing 2-1 with 1:45 left in regulation. When asked if he would have tried the same gambit, Melrose said, “No, because I don’t believe in winning that way.”
Maybe Melrose didn’t learn all that much when he played for Demers in Cincinnati.
“That’s not a cheap call,” managing director Serge Savard said. “That’s an excellent decision by Jacques. You’re not allowed to play with an illegal stick.”
Did you ever?
“Me,” said Savard, the molasses defenceman. “Why would I ever have to?”
Savard was on the team that was saved by the Bruins’ inability to learn the lessons of Sesame Street, and he stole another one because of an out-of-the-mainsteam penalty. His math is excellent. Instead of the Canadiens needing three games to get ahead, it only takes one.
The series is tied because Carbonneau didn’t miss an old trick and McSorley did. It is part of the Canadiens lore, enough to make an outsider believe in spooks.
This was one for the books. Rule 20B.
Cup now a best-of-five series
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 4, 1993
Eric Desjardins had that feeling, he was saying. Feeling good about everything, that is.
“You feel good because you know you’re in the game,” he said in the moments after his tying goal with 1:13 left in regulation – and the winner 51 seconds into the overtime – provided the Canadiens with a must-win, 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Desjardins was feeling good but the Canadiens, as a team, were feeling great because what this eighth victory in nine overtime games does is lock up the Stanley Cup final with the Kings, 1-1. Games 3 and 4 are in Los Angeles tomorrow and Monday.
A lot of games have been played in these playoffs, with at least three more remaining, but none has or is likely to have as bizarre a finish as this one.
There were the Canadiens, trailing 2-1 on a night when they surely came to play. Desjardins had scored the only goal of the first period, Dave Taylor the only one in the second – shorthanded. Pat Conacher’s goal midway through the third had lifted the Kings into the lead, at which point there was ample reason to believe they would leave the city with a 2-0 lead in the series.
Fewer than two minutes remained when coach Jacques Demers pulled a rabbit out of his Canadiens cap.
What the kindly ol’ coach did was call for a measurement of Marty McSorley’s stick – a gamble at best. If you’re right, McSorley is out. Wrong – and a Canadiens player is dispatched to the penalty box.
Demers was right, and with Patrick Roy yanked for an extra attacker, Desjardins scored his second goal of the game with a rising shot from the blue line.
He made it three with his overtime winner – and ain’t life grand?
“I tried too hard on my first shot,” he said of his winner. “I had all my weight on it. I got it back … ”
He got it from Benoit Brunet, and there was no mistake on his second shot. The Canadiens’ 41st shot (the Kings had 24) beat Kelly Hrudey cleanly.
“Like I was saying,” said Desjardins, “you feel good, but you don’t know you’re going to score.
“Desjardins,” said a smiling Serge Savard, “had one of those dream nights, but he’s been playing very well since the start of the playoffs – especially against Quebec. Tonight, well, what can you say about a guy who scores all the goals in a 3-2 win. What I can say is that Guy Carbonneau probably played his best game of the season.”
What Savard could have added was that his Canadiens, an embarrassment in Game 1, lifted their game several levels on this night. Not completely, when it’s considered that coach Demers was so unhappy with Brian Bellows that he benched him for the entire second period. More than enough of them came to play, however.
Forty-eight hours earlier, this Canadiens gang which couldn’t shoot straight looked like a team which needed a jump-start in a hurry. There was nobody around to get the job done. Not a volunteer in sight.
They stuttered and struggled their way through three periods – except for perhaps eight or nine minutes at the start of the second period. They were uninterested. Hardly anyone among them, aside from Patrick Roy, could look into the mirror and deliver a thumbs up.
Now, here it is two nights later, and the jumping started at the start. They needed a 16th shot in the first period before Desjardins’s shot from the blue line hissed between Hrudey’s legs. The names and bodies were the same, but the intensity and work ethic were sky-high.
The first period was one in which the Canadiens outshot the Kings 16-5, and while many of their first 15 didn’t test Hrudey too severely, what mattered is that on this night, the Canadiens had arrived at the arena clutching their lunch pails.
They came in waves. They hit. Early in the period, in a 51-second span, Kirk Muller, Mathieu Schneider and Desjardins thundered into Wayne Gretzky.
It wasn’t a matter of “getting” the Great One. Mostly, it was a case of letting the Kings know that hey, we messed up in Game 1, but this is another night so let’s get it on.
There was nothing soft about their game. Vincent Damphousse brought everything he had to the arena. So did Muller and Keane. Bellows?
“I didn’t think Brian Bellows was giving me Brian Bellows hockey,” said Demers with a grunt.
“I took the criticism constructively,” replied Bellows. “I worked out on the bike between the second and third period. I played in the third.”
The 28-14 margin in shots the Canadiens enjoyed going into the third period would seem to indicate that Hrudey had to be on top of his game to keep his colleagues alive. He had his moments, but the reality is that he wasn’t tested as severely as the numbers showed. Not nearly enough – except by Desjardins, who had both of the overtime shots.
There was also Carbonneau who, as Savard said, played his best game. He did a man-sized job defensively. When the Canadiens were left short for 61 seconds early in the third, Carbonneau helped hold off the explosive Kings – and almost scored on a partial breakaway.
“I was being hooked going in,” said Carbonneau. “I couldn’t get as much on the shot as I would have liked.
“Know something?” Carbonneau asked. “I’m glad Desjardins did.”
Illegal sticks are common in NHL
PUBLISHED IN THE GAZETTE ON JUNE 4, 1993
The illegal curve on Marty McSorley’s stick which landed the Los Angeles defenceman in the penalty box and, by extension, led directly to the Canadiens’ 3-2 overtime victory, is an old story in the National Hockey League.
Put it this way: there are players on every team, including the Canadiens, using them. The trick, though, is to switch back to the legal sticks with no more than five minutes remaining in the game.
McSorley, obviously, forgot.
Or, as he put it in the moments after Eric Desjardins’s overtime goal: “I usually put one stick in the rack that I know is good, but I guess I got caught up in the emotion of the game and I picked out the wrong one.”
He forgot – and by forgetting, he allowed the Canadiens back into a Stanley Cup final which appeared to be slipping out of their grasp.
Players don’t talk about the illegal hook on their sticks. It’s against the rules, right?
“There’s nobody on our team who uses an illegal stick,” Guy Carbonneau said. (Was that a wink?)
Since they’re illegal, why do players use them?
It’s the big shot theory, of course. The bigger the hook, the better the shot. Boom! Boom!
It’s why, as McSorley admitted, there’s only one stick belonging to him that he knows is good. It’s why trainers’ trunks are filled with sticks which can’t stand the measurement of constituted authority.
The Canadiens, for example, were quite prepared to measure Luc Robitaille’s stick instead of McSorley’s. Tomorrow, it could be that Barry Melrose will want a look at Vincent Damphousse’s stick.
“I’d love to use an illegal stick,” Kirk Muller said. “I’d love to go out there and let go with those big, booming shots. It’s against the rules, though, just like hooking and tripping.
“All of us know there are players everywhere who have them,” Muller added. “We also know they’ll go back to their good ones when there’s only five minutes left in the game – depending on the score, of course.”
Do any of the Canadiens use illegal sticks?
“I think when you go in the playoffs, it is something you have to look at,” Desjardins said. “You know a player has an illegal stick, but you are nervous when you make the call. I think when you are in the playoffs, everyone should have a legal stick.
“It played for us,” Desjardins added. “It could have played against us.”