Few former NHLers understand the finer details of the post-season grind like Martin Gelinas.
Through his 21-year career in the big leagues, the Shawinigan, Que., native suited up for four Stanley Cup Final runs with four different teams, witnessed some of the game’s very best as they dominated with everything on the line, and established his own reputation as one of history’s most clutch contributors.
The one affectionately known as ‘The Eliminator’ in Calgary — that moniker the result of the three series-winning goals he potted during the Flames’ 2004 run to the Cup Final — spent some time reflecting on his storied career on Wednesday with former teammate Rhett Warrener and the rest of the Boomer & Warrener in the Morning crew on Sportsnet 960.
Among the topics discussed: his whirlwind rookie campaign when Gelinas won the Stanley Cup with the rival Edmonton Oilers as a first-timer. It was a wild ride for the young winger — not simply because his first real foray into NHL hockey winded up with him lifting the Cup alongside legends like Mark Messier and Jari Kurri, but also because of how he became an Oiler at all.
It was via a trade. A pretty high-profile one, in fact — a deal that saw Gelinas shipped to Edmonton along with Jimmy Carson, three first-round picks and $15 million in exchange for Mike Krushelnyski, Marty McSorley and a decent centreman by the name of Wayne Gretzky.
“Obviously people were still upset, disappointed that Gretzky left,” Gelinas said of that awkward post-season. “I think Mess wanted to kind of prove that he was the leader, that he was the guy, that he could make it happen. And I remember that playoff run, he was spectacular. Kurri was unbelievable. But there’s always players that will take charge, and [Messier] was one of them — he was a monster.”
Gelinas said he found out about the game-changing deal while working at a hockey school back home. But — understandably — he didn’t believe it at first.
“We didn’t have cell phones back then, so it first started with media coming and saying ‘You got traded for Wayne Gretzky,’” Gelinas said. “The first guy, the second guy, I kind of brushed it off. Eventually there were so many media there that I realized, ‘Okay, this is the real deal.’ I got home and got the phone call and the exchange was done.”
While No. 99’s absence was greatly felt in Edmonton during Gelinas’ time there, the powerhouse Oilers of the late 80s still had plenty of star power to impress the then-wide-eyed young gun.
“I was just a kid, I was 19 years old, sitting in that room,” Gelinas said, recalling the Oilers’ seven-game series against Winnipeg in the opening round of that championship run. “I remember my stall was right beside Craig MacTavish. And I look around, we were down in that series 3-1, and there was never any panic. There was just character, there was leadership, there was guys that believed they could do it.
“And game after game, shift after shift, they just got it done. But you look at that team too, it was a pretty special team — you had Messier, you had Craig MacTavish, [Esa] Tikkanen, Kurri, the list goes on and on.”
After stints in Quebec, Vancouver and Carolina — and two more trips to the Final, with Vancouver in ’94 and Carolina in ’02 — Gelinas found himself with the Flames.
While his legacy in Calgary, where he’s now an assistant coach for the Flames, is defined mostly by his absurd stretch of clutch goals during that ’04 run, it’s built just as much on the one goal he didn’t score (or did, depending on who you ask).
It was June 5, 2004 — Game 6 of the Flames’ Cup Final matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Calgary was leading the series 3-2. With 6:57 remaining in regulation, and the game tied at two, Gelinas was looking for his fourth straight series winner, this one the big one.
“I remember driving the net, and it hits my skate, and the puck goes quick from my skate to just over — to me — over the line, hit the pad and it’s out,” Gelinas said. “So in my mind, I’m thinking the NHL’s gonna phone down any time and so on. Obviously, they didn’t.”
With the controversial non-goal passed over, the game stretched into double overtime. Martin St. Louis netted the winner, sending the two teams to Game 7 — an eventual Cup-clinching 2-1 win for Tampa.
“I said it that night: if I had to do it all over again — and my personality is just do my job, just kind of go about my business — but if I had to do it all over again, I would put my arms up and I would track back and I would chase back the puck,” the former Flame said. “At least I would show that’s what I saw.”
“To this day, Gary Bettman — and he should — he’s saying it didn’t go in. But I’m going to keep saying that puck was in.”
Listen to more from Gelinas’ lengthy interview with Boomer & Warrener in the Morning as he reflects on more playoff memories, the Golden Knights proving him wrong, and how Winnipeg and Nashville should feel going into Thursday’s Game 7: