Controversial Game 3 loss sparked Flames to greater glory in 1989 Cup final

The Canadiens won Game 3 of the 1989 Stanley Cup final in double overtime. Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Colin Patterson called it “the worst call ever.”

Lanny McDonald wasn’t as diplomatic.

“It was total BS,” said the mustachioed Hall of Famer.

The stage was the Montreal Forum, where Game 3 of the 1989 Stanley Cup final between the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens had progressed deep into the second overtime period.

At a rough-and-tumble time in hockey history when Flames coach Terry Crisp joked, “you had to have a scalp for a souvenir to get a penalty,” Calgary’s Mark Hunter was whistled for a boarding penalty in the offensive zone.

As you’ll see if you tune into the game on Sportsnet tonight, he wasn’t holding a scalp.

“I just finished my check on (Shayne) Corson and was shocked it was called because there wasn’t a penalty for two-and-a-half periods,” said Hunter, a former Canadiens winger. It really didn’t make any sense. I was livid.”

So was everyone on the Flames bench, understandably.

From the midway point of the second period, neither squad had been afforded power-play time, as all 16 penalty calls were coincidental minors.

Yet Kerry Fraser saw fit to single Hunter out this time.

“Of course it was Kerry Fraser,” shrugged Theo Fleury.

“He always seems to be part of the questionable calls,” added Hunter. But it is what it is.”

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In a tight series between the NHL’s only 100-point teams, it surprised no one when Ryan Walter scored just as the penalty expired to give the Habs a 2-1 series edge.

“(Fraser) messed up, and the best thing about him is he’d tell you when he messed up – he’s a good guy,” chuckled Walter, whose crease-crashing goal would very likely have been called off in today’s NHL.

“If you look really hard at that goal it’s pretty hard to see if I’m in the crease first or the puck is in there first, as you get pushed in and cross-checked. It was just a plumber goal.”

A potential back-breaker that had outsiders wondering if the ghosts of the Forum were at it again.

Montreal’s record in Cup finals was 23-9-1, which included a five-game triumph over Calgary in 1986 as part of nine straight. (The tie came after the 1919 final was scrubbed due to the Spanish Influenza).

None of it fazed the Flames.

“I remember that call and I distinctly remember after the game we weren’t going to let that beat us,” said Al MacInnis, who extended his point streak to 13 games that night. “I can’t imagine what was let go before that, and guys were mad. But we still felt good about winning the series.”

As the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Flames had every reason to do.

“All year we never really got rattled when bad things happened,” said Hunter, whose club learned plenty from its loss in the 1986 final. I don’t know if we lost two games in a row all year (it only happened once before the final). We were very resilient and always bounced back.”

As Fleury points out, “the leadership from top to bottom was as good as you get. Lanny, Pep (Jim Peplinski) and Hunts (Tim Hunter) were all captains and (Brad) McCrimmon and Nieuwy (Joe Nieuwendyk) became captains (as did Fleury). (Ric) Nattress and (Jamie) Macoun led in their own, jovial way, and guys like Patterson and (Rick) Wamsley were quiet, good quality people. Vernie (Mike Vernon)… that team was sick.”

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Doug Gimour vividly recalls the NHL hosting a banquet involving both teams the next night, further steeling his resolve to even the series.

“I just kept watching them, and the cockiness that I saw over there angered me,” said Gilmour, who arrived in Calgary that fall as part of a seven-player trade with St. Louis that also brought Mark Hunter.

“So many players got under your skin like (Claude) Lemieux and (Brian) Skrudland. We just sat there with no smiles and very serious, and I kept thinking, ‘this series is not over yet.’”

The next night, Gilmour opened the scoring midway through the second period as part of a 4-2 win that evened the series heading back to Calgary, where the Flames were 32-4-4.

Four years later, Gilmour’s Leafs would be victimized by Kerry Fraser in the decisive game of the conference final when the controversial ref missed a Wayne Gretzky high stick to Gilmour’s face.

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But on this occasion, his Flames were able to overcome, winning the Cup in six.

“After we won in double overtime it felt like our foot came off the pedal a little bit and Calgary’s really went down,” said Walter, who wonders if the Flames’ desire to finally win a Cup superseded the Habs’ desire to win another one.

“We were upset the next game because you could feel the momentum shift. They were PO’d. I don’t think we got cocky, but we didn’t have that edge in Game 4. I thought that was the pivotal game, as 2-2 is a lot different than 3-1. At 3-1, we probably would’ve won the Cup.”

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