How Canadiens’ Carbonneau cemented HHoF legacy vs. Gretzky in ’93 Final

Former Montreal Canadiens player Guy Carbonneau. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

MONTREAL — As you settle into Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, pay close attention to the third shift, over which Guy Carbonneau begins the most critical part of his journey into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

As Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Tomas Sandstrom filter onto the Montreal Forum’s mostly clean sheet of ice, Carbonneau, Benoit Brunet and Ed Ronan call their Montreal Canadiens teammates off and jump on to match them. The puck moves quickly out of Montreal’s end and 35 second later, after Carbonneau has made three heady plays to keep pressure on the Los Angeles Kings and keep Gretzky out of the action, all six players head to the bench.

It is the first of many more shifts Gretzky spends chasing the puck to no avail in this five-game Final.

Two nights earlier, in a 4-1 win for the Kings, the Great One had manufactured something on nearly every shift, prompting Canadiens coach Jacques Demers to say in his post-game comments that he “toyed with us tonight,” and that he “did what he wanted.”

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Somewhere, in the bowels of the Forum, Carbonneau stewed.

Then he went home, slept off his anger, and came to the rink the next day with a plan.

“Jacques Demers, at the time (in 1993) I had a good relationship with him and I was always playing against the best line,” Carbonneau recounted in an interview I did with him back in November. “But because we had Kirk Muller and Vincent Damphousse — guys who were also reliable and could score more — and I was getting older, Jacques’ thinking was to play those guys against Gretzky in the Final. And the first game, I think we lost 4-1 and Gretzky had four points.

“So I went to see Jacques to see what he was thinking, and my thinking was, ‘Put me against Gretzky. I don’t need to score goals, but we need him to stop scoring them. And if we do this, it’ll free up Vinnie and Kirkie to do what they do best.’ And I think Jacques understood what I was trying to do and he said, ‘Okay, we’ll try it and see how it works.’”

If Demers had been cold to the idea, would Carbonneau have ended up in the 2019 Hall of Fame class?

For as good as Carbonneau was — the man from Sept-Iles, Que., scored over 600 points, won three Selke Trophies and got top-five votes for that award in nine separate occasions over his 19-year NHL career — the answer is: Probably not.

Talk about cementing one’s legacy; Gretzky had piled up 14 goals and 37 points over the first 20 games of that Kings playoff run, but over the final four games (wearing Carbonneau as a blanket on nearly every shift he took) he managed just one goal and two assists. It was a shutdown performance for the ages.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, sort of.

There was that one key thing that happened towards the end of Game 2. You know, something about an illegal stick being used by Marty McSorley.

As Muller told Ron MacLean this past weekend, close to 80 per cent of the players were using them. But most guys would switch to their legal backup towards the end of a close game.

McSorley didn’t do that. And with the Canadiens trailing 2-1 in the dying minutes, facing a 2-0 series deficit going back to the L.A. Forum, Demers asked for a stick measurement.

Three weeks ago, I spoke to the official in charge of that measurement. You’re going to want to listen closely to everything he says about it:

In speaking with Patrice Brisebois to set up Game 1, which Sportsnet aired last week, I got his perspective of the whole situation, too.

“Earlier in the game, I made a little mistake at the blue line. We were on the power play, I tried something and Dave Taylor cut my pass off and went in on a breakaway and scored,” Brisebois said. “So, after the penalty on Marty, I was on the bench praying, ‘Please, please, please.’

“It took a lot of courage and, excuse my expression, a lot of balls for Jacques to make that call. But now you’re on the power play with 1:30 left and you take out the goalie? I was like, ‘Maybe wait until you win the faceoff and then Patrick (Roy) could go to the bench.’ But no, right away, Jacques pulls Patrick. Meanwhile, our power play wasn’t doing so well in the playoffs up until that point, so 6-on-4 was a good bet to make. When we scored, I was thanking god.”

It is the second goal Eric Desjardins scored in the game — this one allowing the Canadiens to force overtime.

And with the winner, Desjardins then became the first (and only) defenceman in NHL history to register a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final game.

“He was our best player in that series outside of Patrick,” Brisebois said.

L.A.’s best told MacLean over the weekend that he could live with what happened in Game 2, but that he would have loved the opportunity to go back in time and play Games 3 and 4 over again.

They were closely contested games the Kings lost in overtime, and even if Gretzky scored his remaining points of the playoffs in both of them, he knows he could have notched one or two more to make the difference.

If Carbonneau hadn’t had that conversation with Demers prior to Game 2, he almost surely would have.

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