Twenty-seven years ago, I spent an entire spring rooting for a hockey team. As an adult, it was interesting to learn that, for one night in 1993, I was also cheering with them. To borrow from a popular sports media personality, the Montreal Canadiens were the team of my youth. And as any adult who has recently dug out a once-cherished Motley Crüe album can tell you, revisiting opinions formed at a time when you viewed the world in unconditional terms can be illuminating.
Take a team winning 10 consecutive overtime games in one post-season, for instance. While skeptics’ hands were likely growing callused from raising red flags over the Canadiens’ credibility, mine were clapping louder and louder with every extra-time win, each victory confirming the unassailable logic that Forum ghosts could always be counted on to deliver the goods. Storming back to win four straight against the Nordiques after falling behind 2–0 in the series? Sure thing. Three of four wins in a sweep of Buffalo coming in OT? Sounds about right.
Still, you didn’t have to be an impartial observer to detect the Pittsburgh problem. Even with reinforcements in the rafters, it was going to be hard to keep Mario Lemieux and friends from winning their third straight Cup. When a seriously overmatched New York Islanders team did just that in the playoffs’ second round, I celebrated as a 13-year-old just old enough to be left home alone on Friday night, jumping around with a black Lab in a Guy Carbonneau sweater I’d outgrown.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the Habs were doing the exact same thing — minus the jersey-wearing dog — in the Montreal hotel they called home during the playoffs. Three decades on, most of the ’93 Canadiens say they believed they could give the Pens a serious go, but it’s hard not to view each high-five smacked that night as a recognition of their own limitations. In exceptional circumstances, fans like me were allowed to worry, but the boys were supposed to think they were bulletproof.
Was Montreal — still the last Canadian team to win the Cup — a fortuitous champion in 1993? I spent a fair share of time investigating that question, aided greatly in my research by Todd Denault’s book A Season in Time. There’s certainly enough overtime footage to build a decent case file. The mere accusation the Habs were simply on the happy side of happenstance would have bothered me as a kid, when there was a clear order to everything. Now I think, whatever the context, if you find a little wind at your back, don’t ask many questions and see how far it will push you. In the Canadiens’ case that year, it led them to the franchise’s 24th Stanley Cup and rings engraved with the motto “24 Together” they can still wear with pride today. Don’t expect them to make any apologies.
Regardless of how much luck is on your side, it’s really, really hard to win the Stanley Cup. And what would the Canadiens — and all their parade-starved fans — give to be accused of winning a fluky championship again?
The Montreal Canadiens entered the 1992–93 campaign having gone six seasons without a Stanley Cup, equaling their longest title drought since a win in 1944 ended a run of 12 champagne-less years. The Habs had been swept out of the 1992 playoffs in the second round by their archrivals, the Boston Bruins, which meant change in the off-season was inevitable.
Defence-minded Pat Burns — who coached Montreal to 115 points and an appearance in the Cup final just three years earlier — grew tired of taking sharp criticism in two languages and opted to leave the team in favour of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Burns was replaced by Montreal native Jacques Demers, who hadn’t coached since parting ways with Detroit in 1990. Then, late in the summer, GM Serge Savard boosted his lacklustre offence by acquiring Vincent Damphousse from Edmonton for a package built around Shayne Corson, and then Brian Bellows from the Minnesota North Stars for speedster Russ Courtnall. The new additions joined a club anchored by the goaltending of Patrick Roy, the two-way play of top centre Kirk Muller and the grit provided by players like Guy Carbonneau and Mike Keane.
Demers, who’d won back-to-back Jack Adams Awards as coach of the Red Wings in the late 1980s, immediately declared his high expectations for the team.
Jacques Demers, coach, speaking in 2013 I never said we were going to win the Cup, but I said, “We’re going to shock the hockey world.”
Guy Carbonneau, centre and team captain I think the first couple days or weeks we were just looking at each other saying, “What is this guy saying? We’re not that good.” But he just kept imprinting that on our mind. He knew how to be strict, but he always made us feel a lot better than we were, and all we had to do was go out and prove it.
Mathieu Schneider, defenceman He was a great motivator. He left a lot of the X’s and O’s to assistant coaches, but he could give a speech before a game that made you want to skate through the boards. He knew what his strong suits were and he managed the team very well.
Michael Farber, Montreal Gazette columnist I don’t know where he ranks in the pantheon of hockey coaches, but he knew where his bread was buttered. Patrick [Roy] could be… particular. And he knew this was his money guy and he made sure Patrick was on his side. His ability in terms of managing people, and especially Patrick, was extraordinary.
Demers The Cup was won when Serge made the trades for Damphousse and Bellows. I really believe as great as Patrick Roy was, we needed help offensively. I wanted to come in with a more offensive look. Pat had done a good job at what he did, but every coach has his way of doing things.
Serge Savard, general manager Jacques always liked the veterans — you’ve seen them, you’ve seen what they’ve done in the past. I told Jacques, “I’m not sure Bellows can improve our team.” “Oh yeah,” he says. “He still has great hands.” So we decided we were going to give him a try. I don’t think Bellows was very interested in moving [from Minnesota]; I don’t think he really wanted to come to Montreal. I told Jacques, “Let’s go meet him.” We flew to New York and met him [for a couple hours] at the airport and explained what we wanted to do with this team and [how we felt] we [had] a Stanley Cup team. At the end of the day, he was pretty happy to come to Montreal.
Schneider Coming to Montreal was a dream come true for [Damphousse] and from Day 1, he was one of our best producers. We used to joke with [Bellows] that we traded a speedboat for a tugboat. But Brian, he was a warrior, he was old-school, battled for every single goal he got. It turned out to be a good fit.
For five months it was smooth sailing for the Canadiens, who sat first overall in early March. Then it all came unglued. The Habs bottomed out down the stretch, posting just three regulation wins in their final 18 contests. With the media in a frenzy, the team fled for the ski town of Bromont, Que., on the eve of the playoffs.
Demers I wanted to take the players away. We put a video together, about two to three minutes on each player, of all the good things they did through the year. We had dinner that first night, we had some practices there. It got the players together, it was a lot of laughs and it loosened up the team.
Kirk Muller, centre It was great because it was just the guys, we practised hard and we got away from all the media.
Schneider Everyone thought we were going to be one-and-done heading into the playoffs, but Jacques was an eternal optimist and he kept telling us we were a team of destiny.
The coach wasn’t the only one with lofty expectations in the face of adversity.
Gary Leeman, winger Patrick Roy handed everybody a card I carry in my wallet to this day. It says, “We are on a mission. We are making a team commitment in 1993,” and it had your number on it. You had to carry it with you everywhere you went. If you came to practice or went to a meal or the hotel and didn’t have it, it was a fine.
Their late-season swoon left the Habs with 102 points. They finished third in the Adams Division, five points back of first-place Boston and two points behind their first-round opponent, the rapidly improving Quebec Nordiques. Few sporting rivalries match the visceral hate Quebec City and Montreal had for each other, and the battles weren’t limited to the ice.
Farber I believe that was the year the Nordiques had the press meal catered by Café de la Paix, which was a nice restaurant in the Old City. So the Canadiens had to up their game and improve the press room food in the Forum. It was essentially one side saying to the other, “Fork you.”
Demers When I became coach of the Montreal Canadiens, I knew there were only two teams you can’t lose to: the Nordiques and Boston.
Patrice Brisebois, defenceman The rivalry with Quebec was sick. For the fans, it’s almost their Stanley Cup. If you beat Quebec, you’re pretty sure you’re going to have a good summer.
The Canadiens’ first of 11 playoff overtime games in 1993 occurred on the first night of the post-season, when Scott Young beat Roy on a wraparound to give the Nords a 3–2 win. Quebec had tied the game on a late power-play goal by Martin Rucinsky after 22-year-old Gilbert Dionne took a bad elbowing penalty.
Gilbert Dionne, winger I felt so low. We were having dinner in Quebec and big Serge Savard comes in with a cigar and grabs me by the shoulder and I thought, “This is it for me, my career is over,” and he says, “Hey kid, it’s just a game. Just get ready for tomorrow.” I felt so good.
The positive vibes didn’t last. Two nights later, with Roy fighting the puck, Quebec downed Montreal 4–1 to seize a 2–0 series lead.
Muller To be honest, Patrick really struggled the first couple games. You can imagine we didn’t have too many people believing in our team coming back to Montreal.
Schneider Half the guys were planning their summer vacations and half the guys were severely depressed.
Muller The biggest part of our turnaround, we were at the hotel in Quebec having a meal, and I remember Serge Savard standing up and saying, “Guys, hold up for a second.” And Serge wasn’t a guy of many words, but he stood up and said, “Listen, if you guys keep playing the way you are, I have no doubt you’ll win this series.” He was really calm about it, and that calmness and confidence just took the pressure off everybody.
Savard I just wanted to make sure that they didn’t get discouraged about being down 0–2. It’s nothing: You need to win four games to win.
Demers I’m convinced at 2–0 the Nordiques thought they won the series. That year, for whatever reason, the Nordiques beat us in Montreal and we beat them in Quebec. [The Nordiques were 3-0-0 at the Forum in the regular season, outscoring Montreal 16–5; the Canadiens were 3-1-0 in Quebec City.]
Before Game 3 began, a player who wasn’t even in the lineup and only played three games that spring helped Montreal swing the momentum.
Brisebois Mario Roberge was our tough guy — great guy, team guy. He watched the warmup [in Quebec] and [Nordiques goalie] Ron Hextall was stretching in the neutral zone, and right after he stretched, he went to the middle of the ice and did a circle around the dot. That was his ritual. So Mario asked Jacques, “Can I do the warmup? I just want to do something.” He stood for the whole warmup right in the middle of the ice and Ron Hextall was getting f—ing nuts. Nuts! He lost his concentration right there. I’m telling you, after that, Ron Hextall was never the same.
In addition to his conversation with Roberge, Demers also had a couple important chats with key players between Games 2 and 3. Damphousse, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, had failed to register a point the first two games of the series and was minus-3. As for Roy, his showing in Quebec City was a continuation of the struggles he’d experienced during what was, by his standards, a lacklustre regular season.
Patrick Roy, goalie I wasn’t playing very well. I was very inconsistent that year. It would have been very easy for Jacques to say, “Patrick, you lost your first two games in Quebec; I’m going to go with Andre Racicot.” He played really well during the season. [Demers] did the opposite. He said, “Listen, I’m going to live and die with you. Let’s go out there and win the game.” Even if you have the status of a superstar, there’s a time when you need someone in your corner. I didn’t want to let him down after what he said to me.
Vincent Damphousse, centre [Demers] pulled me aside and said he needed more from his key guys and I needed to give more on offence, like I did all year. I felt responsibility to him and the team because I didn’t really function that well the first couple of games.
Demers The morning of Game 3, we never talked about losing the first two games. I asked the players to win the first period. That’s all I wanted. Everyone else was saying we had an insurmountable obstacle and I asked them to win that first period.
With the game knotted 1–1 at the end of regulation, Damphousse took centre stage 10:30 into overtime when he spun in the corner and sent a puck toward the crease that glanced off Nordiques defenceman Alexei Gusarov’s skate and into the net. The Forum exploded, but the celebration quickly gave way to concerned chatter as the goal’s validity was debated.
Damphousse It hit Hextall, then it hit Gusarov’s skate and went into the net. They weren’t sure if it was Kirk Muller, who was going by the net, who pushed it with his skate, so they had to go to video review. But there was no doubt it was a rebound, a skate from Gusarov, bad luck for Quebec and good luck for us.
Schneider It’s amazing how momentum swings in the playoffs. One overtime game, and all of a sudden you felt — win the next game and it’s a series. The emotion just goes so high and so low in the playoffs from game to game. To win in that fashion, it gives you a lift, maybe even more so than winning 5–2.
Muller After that, we only lost two games the rest of the playoffs.
After evening the series with a 3–2 win in Game 4, the Habs headed back to Quebec for Game 5. With the Canadiens leading 1–0 early in the second period, Mike Hough rattled a shot off Patrick Roy’s collarbone. After being attended to by trainer Gaetan Lefebvre, Roy tried to continue, but was quickly beaten by Andrei Kovalenko. Roy was forced to leave the game, replaced by André “Red Light” Racicot, who gave up two goals on nine shots in the only 18:14 of NHL playoff hockey he ever saw.
Farber In Quebec they had this nice fellow, small man, I didn’t know his name, but instead of the impersonal announcements you get in press boxes, he would walk down the row and tell every journalist personally whatever news there was. If you were French, he’d tell you in French. If you were English, he’d tell you in English. He came down person-by-person and said Patrick Roy is injured and won’t be returning.
Roy I was trying to stay in [the game], but I couldn’t move my arm. I wanted to go back so bad; I knew how important that game was. We tried a couple things that didn’t work and then by the end, we tried a different thing and it worked really well. After the [intermission], I said to [Demers], “If you want, I’m ready to go back.”
The treatment that worked for Roy was two injections of lidocaine to numb the pain. The second period ended 3–3 and when the puck dropped for the third, the Habs had their star netminder back.
Farber My theory is he watched Racicot give up two goals and suddenly felt better.
Brisebois Patrick was a warrior, simple as that. To see him coming back, that meant a lot to the whole team.
Damphousse I found out later on they shot a needle up in his shoulder. He was super sore and he played unbelievable.
Demers Rob Ramage gets a puck in the face, goes and gets stitches, gets sewn up, 15 minutes later he’s sitting on the bench. Rob said he didn’t want to let his team down. And Patrick, “I didn’t want to let my team down.” Those things work for you.
The teams traded goals in the third, leaving the game deadlocked 4–4 after 60 minutes. The Nordiques swarmed in overtime, Roy held firm, and Muller won the game by converting a two-on-one pass from Damphousse 8:17 into the extra period on the Canadiens’ first shot.
Muller It’s the only time in my whole career where we set a play and it actually completely worked. It was a faceoff in our end and we said, “If I win the draw, Vinny, you just take off.”
Damphousse [Mats] Sundin was coming behind me and he gave me a two-handed slash, but I was able to pass it to Kirk, who one-timed it between the legs of Hextall.
Muller We executed the whole thing. I was like, “That never happens.”
Farber That was just a vicious game they probably had no business winning.
Riding a huge wave of momentum, the Canadiens returned home and hammered Quebec 6–2 to close out the series in six games. The young Nords may have buckled late, but they provided their provincial rivals with a serious first-round scare.
Leeman They were our toughest series, by far. I don’t think they got the strongest goaltending, but that was one heck of a team we beat. That Quebec team was good enough to win the Cup had they got stellar goaltending, like we did.
Schneider They say getting out of the first round is the most difficult thing and I really think it is. Quebec may have been a better team than we were, but it was just swings and emotions up and down, a break here and there, and you start to really believe. Once you accomplish winning one round, you start to believe anything is possible.
After disposing of Quebec, the Canadiens drew an unlikely second-round opponent. The Buffalo Sabres finished 23 points behind the Adams Division–champion Boston Bruins, but knocked off Ray Bourque and company in a shocking four-game sweep. The clinching game was won in overtime, when Brad May beat Andy Moog to prompt play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret’s famous “May Day” call.
The series opened in Montreal, where the Canadiens squeezed out a 4–3 win thanks largely to the play of Patrick Roy, who stoned sniper Alexander Mogilny from the lip of the crease in the dying seconds. The second game ended 2:50 into overtime, when Guy Carbonneau one-timed a pass from in close to give Montreal another 4–3 victory.
The setting shifted, but the results didn’t. Playing Game 3 in Buffalo, Montreal earned its third consecutive 4–3 win when Gilbert Dionne tipped in a pass from Patrice Brisebois. The triumph, however, came with some controversy, thanks to Dionne’s post-goal celebration.
Michael Farber, Montreal Gazette columnist Dionne scores and taps his sweater on the chest, near the logo, saying, “That was my goal.” I was very critical of that because, first of all, it doesn’t matter who scored, and it was just not the Canadiens’ way at a time when you could use the phrase “the Canadiens’ way” and not seem ironic. I jumped all over Gilbert Dionne and I had half the French press jump all over me because I was picking on this Francophone player.
Vincent Damphousse, centre He was very excited to score. It happened in a quick second, in a moment, and we didn’t think anything of it. Obviously the media ran with it a little bit.
Gilbert Dionne, winger Things happen in the heat of the moment. You look at soccer, these guys are doing a bunch of flips and throwing their shirts around, the emotion just kicks in. [The attention] rattled me a little bit and I think the media was trying to shake things up in the dressing room, but that didn’t break us at all. We just moved on to other things and it made me stronger because I had the “don’t give a crap” attitude.
Patrice Brisebois, defenceman People were like, “That was your goal!” and I said, “I don’t know. I don’t mind.” We won, that was the most important thing.
Farber What was noticeable the next day at the Sabres’ practice — they’re down 3–0 and they know it doesn’t look real good since they’re barely fielding an NHL team, they’re so banged up — someone would score a goal then tap his chest. All the Sabres were laughing at each other.
Damphousse I think it was Brad May who was kind of taunting Gilbert the next game by pointing at himself. But we knew Gilbert, he was a guy who was really appreciated in the dressing room.
With star forwards Mogilny and Pat LaFontaine sidelined with injuries, Buffalo fell behind 3–1 in Game 4 before rallying late to square the affair when Yuri Khmylev scored with 10 ticks left on the clock. But true to the template, the Habs won in overtime by the same 4–3 score they had been on the good side of during each of the series’ other three contests. Kirk Muller got the winner, slapping the puck past Grant Fuhr.
Damphousse It was closer than what the [sweep] indicated.
Mathieu Schneider, defenceman I missed that whole series [with a separated shoulder]. I played junior with [Sabres enforcer] Rob Ray and I was talking to him in the stands, I think after Game 3. He said to me, “It looks like you guys are going to win this series; you guys get past this and you’ve got a chance to win the Cup.” I remember thinking, “You’re out of your mind,” because Pittsburgh was still looming and there were still a lot of great teams. But you start to look at it, you get past the second round, you’re right there, no matter who you’re matched up against.
When Montreal dusted off Buffalo, its opponent in the Wales Conference final seemed sure to be the Penguins, the two-time defending Cup champs who’d set an NHL record with 17 straight wins at the end of the regular season. Pittsburgh’s opponent in the Patrick Division final, the New York Islanders, finished with 32 fewer points and were without the services of leading scorer Pierre Turgeon, who’d been slammed into the boards by Washington’s Dale Hunter while celebrating a goal in Round 1. But the plucky Islanders gave Pittsburgh all it could handle, pushing Mario Lemieux and Co. to a seventh game. The Canadiens, like the rest of the hockey world, tuned in for the decisive game with a bigger rooting interest than anybody not flying a Penguins or Islanders flag. At that point, the Habs were staying in a Montreal hotel, so they were watching together when David Volek scored his second goal of Game 7 just over five minutes into overtime to end Pittsburgh’s bid for a three-peat.
Schneider That was shocking.
Gary Leeman, winger When Pittsburgh got beat out by the Islanders, we celebrated in our hotel almost as much as when we won it. We knew the only team in our way was Pittsburgh. That’s the big star that lined up for us.
Damphousse We were in the hotel, just kind of waiting for our destination. Either we go to Pittsburgh or we host the Islanders. When Volek scored in overtime, everyone was running around the hallway of our floor. We had a great opportunity to win the Cup. We felt confident we could beat Pittsburgh as well, but obviously we thought it would be an easier path with the Islanders, with Turgeon being hurt. We had a lot of respect for the Islanders, but the powerhouse was Pittsburgh.
Jacques Demers, coach, speaking in 2013 You have to be careful picking teams and saying, “I want to play against these guys.” Well, that guy is going to beat you. So we were always careful, but we certainly knew, how do you stop Mario and [Jaromir] Jagr?
While the Habs hollered, the bleary-eyed Islanders had to board a plane for Montreal and deal with an extremely quick turnaround to start the conference final.
Farber The next series was going to start in Pittsburgh on Sunday. It was obvious the Penguins were going to close out the Islanders, even though it had been far too difficult. Now, the Islanders win this incredibly draining series in dramatic fashion against all odds. This is in Pittsburgh on Friday night and now, because of television, they’ve got to open the [Conference Final] on Sunday afternoon in Montreal, fewer than 48 hours later. I don’t think Montreal would have gotten by Pittsburgh — maybe they would have, the Islanders did. I don’t think they should have gotten by Quebec. Now they’re playing the lesser opponent that is absolutely drained after eliminating the champions.
Glenn Healy, Islanders goalie Your warmup and prep to get ready for the Montreal Canadiens was your pre-game skate. So that was a bit of an ambush.
After the Habs triumphed 4–1 in the series opener, the Islanders got a limited Turgeon back and Montreal required its only double-overtime affair of the spring to win Game 2. The victory came courtesy of centre Stéphan Lebeau, who scored two goals in the 4–3 triumph despite playing with an ankle injury that nearly forced him out of the lineup.
Demers Lebeau had 80 points for us that year. We had a meeting in the morning, there was a question as to how healthy he was, but Stéphan told me he felt good. We had a meeting with [GM] Serge Savard and [his adviser] Jacques Lemaire, and Lemaire said, “You’re the coach, make the decision.” I decided to play him.
Lebeau’s game-winner was a laser from just inside the blue line over the glove of Healy.
Demers It was a perfect shot, right underneath the bar.
Healy I heard it hit the bar and then I just waited for the crowd and I knew we were done. You didn’t get much with them. And then when you did get something, Patrick Roy was in the net. He just was so good. I couldn’t make a mistake.
Roy was once again excellent when the series moved to Long Island for Game 3, stopping 31 shots to keep the score 1–1 after regulation. The Canadiens tied an NHL playoff record with their 11th consecutive win — and set a new one with their seventh straight overtime victory — when Carbonneau blasted home a pass from Benoît Brunet, shortly after the officials missed the fact that Montreal clearly had too many men on the ice during a botched line change.
Demers Those are the breaks of the game, I’m not going to deny it. There was one referee at the time, two linesmen and they didn’t call it. [The Islanders] had a right to be upset, I would have been upset, but every year there’s something happening in the playoffs that coaches and players aren’t happy with. It was definitely a break and we benefited from that.
Regardless, the team had now gone a full month without dropping a game, thanks largely to their luck in overtime contests.
Schneider We just kind of got used to playing them. It seemed like we were in them constantly. It was the odd one we won that wasn’t in overtime.
Damphousse With Patrick and with the way we played, we were super comfortable in tight games and even overtime games. We felt very confident we’d come out on top.
Schneider I don’t know that it was really confidence, because trust me, there were a lot of posts and crossbars involved, too. But it was an amazing run.
Dionne Are you thinking, “We’re eventually going to lose one”? No, but we definitely weren’t thinking, “Let’s go to overtime.” But we weren’t nervous.
Brisebois We never had that thought [that we eventually had to lose one], like in the casino at roulette — it’s red, red, red, red, watch, it’s going to turn black. We were always like, “It’s our game, we’re going to win.”
The Canadiens’ winning streak came to an end in Game 4, when New York extended the series with a fairly easy 4–1 win. But that simply delayed the inevitable. Montreal returned home to vanquish the gasping Islanders 5–2 and clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
Schneider They were a gritty team. They had a lot of guys who were very hard to play against.
Healy A healthy Pierre Turgeon would have been phenomenal for us. Pierre did his best, playing with one arm.
Farber It was a series against a team that was gritty, certainly, but had won its Stanley Cup by knocking out the Penguins.
Demers A lot of people would remind us we were down 2–0 to the Nordiques, they should be there [in the Final]. I don’t care who should be there; we’re there.
The 1993 Stanley Cup final opened on June 1, in Montreal. The Canadiens were chasing their 24th championship, while the Wayne Gretzky–led Kings were in the final for the first time in team history after being part of the original NHL expansion in 1967–68.
Gretzky had missed much of the season with a back injury that, at times, had him hinting at retirement, but he was now healthy and producing at a clip reminiscent of his Oilers days. He scored a hat trick in the decisive seventh game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Campbell Conference final and has often referenced that contest as the best he ever played. Five years after his trade to L.A. rocked the hockey world, Gretzky was on the verge of bringing a championship to California. The Kings had knocked off two other Canadian teams — Calgary and Vancouver — to advance to the final, and now they were facing a Montreal club armed with the best goalie in the world and operating on a week’s worth of rest.
Kirk Muller, centre I always said, if you’re going to have a layoff like that, you’re going to pay the price in the first game. But if the series goes long, your rested bodies are going to be an advantage.
Barry Melrose, Kings coach We were an attacking team and were going to play against Montreal the same way we played against the other three teams we beat. They were all supposed to beat us, too, so we weren’t going to change what we did.
Kelly Hrudey, Kings goalie It wasn’t very hard to get ready when you were playing in the Stanley Cup Final in the Montreal Forum. I remember, prior to warmup and especially before the start of the game, hesitating for a second as my skates hit the ice and looking up and thinking, “I’ve reached the pinnacle.”
Melrose From a coach’s perspective, the speech you use is, “Let’s get one and get out of here.”
The Kings got off and running when Montreal boy Luc Robitaille opened the scoring with a power-play marker. Hrudey was strong in the crease but got duped by a busted two-on-one that tied the score. On the play, Habs fourth-liner Ed Ronan tried to slide a pass to Paul DiPietro in front of the goal that never made its intended target. Hustling on the backcheck, Gretzky reached out to stop the pass, but instead wound up directing it into his own net. Montreal may have squared the game, but it now had to deal with an even more motivated Great One.
Jacques Demers, coach, speaking in 2013 You never wanted anything bad to happen to Gretzky because he would make you pay. He was dominating that game.
After the own-goal, Gretzky went to work. He set up Robitaille for his second goal of the game, then got his third assist of the night by teeing up Jari Kurri. With the Canadiens’ net empty late in the third, Gretzky corralled a loose puck in the corner and nailed a quick shot from a sharp angle to salt the win with his fourth point of the night. Demers’s plan of having Muller’s line check the game’s best player clearly failed and the Kings took full marks for their 4–1 victory.
Patrice Brisebois, defenceman They were ready for that game.
Melrose Montreal didn’t have many scoring chances, we were very good defensively, we had the puck a lot. It was just a really solid road game. We did exactly what we wanted to do. We got to Patrick a little bit.
Luc Robitaille, Kings winger We were playing really well. We were getting a lot of chances and Wayne was buying a lot of space and time.
Vincent Damphousse, centre We were undisciplined and I think we had too much respect for Gretzky and maybe for their team.
Guy Carbonneau, centre The way we lost was a big shock. They played extremely well and when you have a guy like Wayne Gretzky on the team, you give him time and he can hurt you.
Hrudey We were really level-headed after that first win. We were business as usual. I don’t recall anybody acting crazy or getting way ahead of themselves. I know we had talked about not saying anything that would infuriate the Canadiens.
Two significant events happened between the end of Game 1 and the start of Game 2. The first occurred at Lakeshore Hospital, where Patrick Roy’s wife, Michelle, gave birth to a baby girl named Jana just before 8 a.m. on June 2. The second development involved Carbonneau going to his coach with a request.
Demers Guy Carbonneau comes to me and — in a respectful way — says, “I want Gretzky.” I said let me think about it, but as soon as he asked me, I knew he was going to get Gretzky.
It may have seemed like a no-brainer to stick a player widely regarded as the best defensive forward of his generation on Gretzky, but Carbonneau was slowed by an injury all season and was not seeing nearly as much ice that spring as he usually did.
Carbonneau It was my left knee. I had a Porsche at the time and I couldn’t even drive it because of the clutch. Jacques was trying to go offence against offence, their best line against our best line. But my point to him was, this is something I’ve done all my career — to play against the best — and I’ve done a good job. I just felt like if I can do a job against him, that would free up guys and they would have more space to score goals.
Demers Muller played very well in the playoffs, but maybe I put him in a situation that wasn’t right for him. Kirk could play against the best, but he was still producing offensively, so release him from that, go play your game offensively.
Michael Farber, Montreal Gazette columnist That was a key moment. Back then we spoke much more of line against line, now it’s defence pair against line.
Demers Gretzky, the first game, toyed with us. And Carbo had played against [Mario] Lemieux, against [Eric] Lindros. He said his knee was OK, he’s ready to go. He got Gretzky and we never looked back. I had an open-door policy for a reason. Your captain comes to see you and feels comfortable saying he wants Gretzky, you’re absolutely going to oblige him.
With Game 1 already in their back pocket, the Kings were in position to do the unthinkable and leave Montreal with a 2–0 stranglehold on the series. Sensing they were in danger, the Habs came out charging and took a 1–0 lead on a goal by defenceman Éric Desjardins. The Canadiens were in position to increase their advantage during a second-period power play, but Brisebois bobbled a pass at the blue line, allowing veteran Dave Taylor to streak in alone and blast a shot through Roy’s legs. The game was tied 1–1 after 40 minutes.
Bob Miller, Kings play-by-play man At the end of the second period, I talked with Dick Irvin, the Montreal broadcaster, and he said, “Bob, if you win tonight, you’ll sweep the series. They’ll never come back.”
The Kings crept closer to that scenario when, just before the halfway point of the third, grinder Pat Conacher stuffed a rebound past Roy from the lip of the crease. The Forum fell silent. The Canadiens, whom it seemed could do no wrong that spring, were suddenly scrambling.
Melrose We were playing great. They were getting no offence, they were getting no shots. We were doing exactly what we wanted to, just playing a super period.
Robitaille We were out-chancing them. We really felt we were going to win that game.
Knowing his team was on the verge of falling in a hole it would not be able to escape from, Demers weighed his options and, with 1:45 remaining, used information culled from his captain to take bold action.
Demers In Game 1, we knew there were illegal sticks and it wasn’t just Marty McSorley. But we were out of the game.
Carbonneau I liked to check all those things, it was just kind of habit; you look for this, you look for that. If their stick is on the ice, sometimes the curve is on the right side and, oh, look at that. And you keep it in mind.
Kerry Fraser, referee There was a little bit of a delay. There was some consultation going on at the Montreal bench. At that stage, late in the game with a one-goal difference, there’s always the thought from the referee’s perspective, are they going to call a timeout, are they just stalling a bit? As I approached the bench, Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller, I believe, came to me and said Jacques wants Marty McSorley’s stick measured. And I said, “What aspect of the stick do you want measured?” and Carbo said, “The curve.”
Miller I remember saying on the air, “They’re going to measure Marty McSorley’s stick,” and my partner, Jim Fox, who played for the Kings for 10 years, shook his head. I knew right away, Jimmy knows the stick is not legal.
The Kings broadcast team may have been pessimistic, but that wasn’t the immediate feeling at ice level, where one player thought the club might even be headed to a power play of its own.
Hrudey When I saw there was going to be an illegal stick check, I was hopeful they’d pick me because I tried to beat teams for years — it never happened — but I always left an illegal around the visitors’ bench after the morning skate. I used an illegal stick for half the game or two periods, depending on the feel I had for what was going on. Then I’d always switch to a legal stick in the third. So initially I was like, “OK, great. They’re going to call me and we’re going to get a man advantage.”
Melrose The only two guys on my team I worried about were Robitaille and [defenceman Alexei] Zhitnik. They had different curves and if you didn’t measure them properly, you could easily be over. We always made sure Robitaille and Zhitnik had sticks for the third period, but those were the only two guys I worried about. When they decided to call a stick, I looked on the ice and I didn’t see Robitaille or Zhitnik, so I thought we’d be OK.
Robitaille We had talked between periods to make sure all our sticks were good.
The Canadiens were making sure, too, keeping an eye on a number of players they believed were bending the rules.
Demers I had my trainer check to see if [McSorley] was going to come and change the stick. He did not switch sticks.
Muller Those were the days of everyone having different sticks. I used an illegal stick, too, then by the third period I would always switch.
Damphousse Guys would play with illegal sticks because there was more control, we were more comfortable with it. But I also had three legal sticks and if we had a lead in the third period I would switch to my legal stick. I would never take that chance. McSorley, I don’t know what happened, but with a one-goal lead with two minutes to go, he should have known better. He should have changed that stick, but he didn’t. We saw it and made the call. You could see it from the bench.
Muller Jacques asked us, “What do you think?” and we were like, “Well, it’s illegal for sure.” But you still need that confirmation.
Fraser I looked at Marty — he was hanging around the centre ice area — and I said, “Marty, I need your stick, they’ve requested a stick measurement.” He had kind of a glazed look on his face.
Marty McSorley, Kings defenceman I remember when they grabbed it, it was almost confusing because I’d used the same stick all year. And for them to call it, in your mind you go, “OK what’s going on here? What’s really happening here?”
Fraser I took the stick from him and I remember visually, just visually, it was so far beyond the acceptable curve — which was a quarter-inch at the time — and I said, “Marty, what are you thinking? I don’t even have to measure this thing.” He just kind of sagged.
With McSorley’s right-handed stick in hand, Fraser went to the timekeeper’s box and enlisted the help of linesman Ray Scapinello for the measurement.
Fraser Gretzky, who always wanted a first-hand look at things, was just hovering at the side of the referees’ crease. I tucked into the door a little bit so it wasn’t visible for everybody and I got Scapinello to hold the stick for me, because I wanted this to be extremely accurate. I slid the slide device and it didn’t even touch. I re-measured it to make sure, and I believe I measured it a third time.
Demers I think it’s taken 10 minutes, but it’s only taken 10 to 15 seconds. But if for whatever reason Kerry doesn’t measure it right, we get two minutes and the whole hockey world makes fun of me. I have to live with the decision. I’m not going to go after the game and say, “My players told me to measure the stick.”
Fraser I didn’t typically show a captain or player, but it was so bizarre and such a crucial measure that I turned to Gretz and I said, “I want you to have a look at this.” And I showed him where the big gap was on the stick as it slid and he just rolled his eyes. It was like someone stuck a pin in him and let the air out.
Miller Luc Robitaille came over to the bench and Barry Melrose said, “Is it illegal?” and Luc said, “It’s not even close.”
McSorley I remember saying [to] Kerry Fraser at the penalty box, “Kerry, this is garbage and you know it. Make sure they dot the I’s and cross the T’s on anything.” Then I step in the penalty box.
With one call already having gone his way, Demers made another big move, opting to pull Roy in favour of an extra attacker to give his sputtering power play a six-on-four advantage.
Demers I asked Patrick to come to the bench and I saw a little bit of hesitation, but he didn’t say anything. And I lived with that because that’s Patrick and I love character players.
Carbonneau It was a big call for Jacques to make on the stick, but I think it was a bigger call to pull the goalie and just go for it.
Fraser [L.A.] had some speedsters. If they iced the puck and pressured down on a quick forecheck, they might pop it in the open net.
The first step in avoiding that scenario for Montreal was winning a critical faceoff to the left of Hrudey.
Demers I brought Muller over and I said, “Kirk, the only thing I want you to concentrate on is win the draw.”
Carbonneau I know Jacques told him, “Just win the faceoff.” I’ve been a centre my whole life; that’s a lot of pressure.
But Muller succeeded. The Canadiens seized control off the draw and the puck made its way back to the blue line. After playing catch with Mathieu Schneider at the point, Desjardins slid the puck to Damphousse near the half-wall, then drifted to the middle of the ice and cocked his stick. With John LeClair providing the screen, Desjardins one-timed a return pass from Damphousse, tying the game 2–2 with 73 seconds remaining in regulation.
Hrudey I was really disappointed in myself, because all goalies like to be in that position where you make the game-saving stop. That’s what you’re paid to do and I didn’t do it. But I got over it quickly, because you have to.
Demers You sense the look on their team. Some players were stunned. They were 90 seconds away from leaving for L.A. up 2–0.
While the Canadiens had new life, emotions in the Kings room were running hot — and the greatest player on Earth was right in the middle of the fray.
Hrudey It was a chaotic scene in our dressing room. We were losing focus quickly. I recall Wayne getting very mad, Marty defending himself: A lot of people had things to say.
McSorley Gretz was sour and especially [because he] looked at me as a leader.
Melrose It was a crazy place because everything happened so fast.
Hrudey With about five minutes to go in the intermission, I said something to the guys like, “Forget about what’s happened, let’s just focus on now.” I kind of thought we were in trouble going into OT. Our minds were just too crazy.
Things didn’t slow down in overtime. The Canadiens came charging out of the gate, with Desjardins ending the game 51 seconds into the extra frame. By scoring all three goals in a 3–2 win, Desjardins became — and remains — the only defenceman to net a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final.
Éric Desjardins, defenceman I just remember going on the attack. I got a pass from [Benoit] Brunet; Benoit just dropped it to me at the top circle and I missed the net by maybe a foot or two feet and it hit the partition [between the glass]. So everybody kind of moved to the left [anticipating a true bounce and] I ended up making a circle and coming back in the slot. [Brunet] gave me a perfect pass and I just let it go and it found its way through the five-hole of Kelly Hrudey.
Hrudey I really felt it was a missed opportunity because, late in the third period, you could look right in their eyes — and every athlete knows the feeling when the opposition knows you’ve got them — the fight is out of their eyes. And until they got the power play, that was really evident. We had our foot on their throat and we just couldn’t finish them off.
Robitaille We still could have killed the penalty, and we didn’t, and we still could have come out in overtime and played well. It just seemed to happen so fast, it was like a blur. Boom, they score, and then in the overtime, they scored right away.
No sooner had the Canadiens won the game than questions about their tactics began. Melrose took issue with the call, claiming he would never try to settle a game with a stick check. McSorley accepted blame for his oversight, but to this day he believes the Canadiens engaged in very dirty pool. Conversations he’s had over the years with former players [including old Habs] at various NHL alumni events have only further cemented his position. Demers immediately denied rumours he had picked up a broken Kings stick during the morning skate.
But one thing’s for sure: The Forum’s layout lent itself to the home side getting a very close look at the opposition’s lumber. In order to make room for fans to walk through the small hallway behind the visitors’ bench during intermissions, Forum staff wheeled the visiting team’s stick rack into a restricted corridor that was, essentially, the exclusive domain of the Canadiens.
Russ Courtnall, who spent parts of four seasons with Montreal from 1988–92 In between periods, I would go back there to fix my sticks and if I was struggling or if I noticed a player on the other team who had a right-handed shot and I liked the curve, I would go and look at their stick because there was nobody there. It was available between every period of every game. The visitors’ sticks, in the old Forum, were in our locker room, basically. You could do whatever you wanted.
Pete Demers, Kings trainer They were pretty confident when they called it. We can’t positively say when they moved the stick rack they measured every stick — only they can say that. But logical thinking would have you believe they’re not going to take a chance on a stick check if they’re not pretty sure. It’s obvious they had a pretty good idea.
McSorley I will take responsibility for using an illegal stick, but the risk of calling it was removed. The fear of them not being right is removed. There are a few [Montreal] players who would love to step up and say [the Canadiens cheated], but they don’t want to feel like they’re throwing anybody under the bus, their teammates and what have you. But they’re not that comfortable with it either. Would I like the truth to be out there? Yeah, absolutely. That doesn’t change the fact that I had an illegal stick, but [it] just puts [it in] a different context.
Hrudey If you’re in [an away] rink, you should expect they’re going to be spying on you in some way or doing something to get inside information.
Robitaille We heard the rumours someone had come and picked up a few sticks — mine, [Tomas] Sandstrom’s, Zhitnik’s and Marty’s — and had measured them before the game. Years later, someone who was working at the Forum told me he was told to look the other way. That was the only thing that kind of confirmed it for me.
Melrose It’s not like it is today. You had guys from Montreal in your dressing room helping you, because teams didn’t carry four trainers like they do now. You had a medical man and you had a stick guy, so you used guys from the other team to help you. Today, there’s never anybody from the other team in your dressing room. Security is much different now than it was then. There was no reason to think Marty’s stick was over unless you had done something the night before. I’m one of those who thinks the sticks had been measured.
Robitaille At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have an illegal stick and as a player, you should know about your stick, and sometimes you forget. You almost think we should have left one of our guys there [to watch the stick rack].
For their part, some Canadiens are vague about how things went down, while others are steadfast in their denial of any skulduggery.
Mathieu Schneider, defenceman If there was, I never heard of it. I really think it was Carbo. He was always aware of anything like that. It was his nature.
Serge Savard, general manager [The stick rack] was leaning against the wall of the Canadiens dressing room. I can guarantee you that nobody measured it. But everybody saw it. Like they could look at ours as well.
Gary Leeman, winger We should let it remain a mystery, just like the Franco Harris catch or non-catch [the Immaculate Reception]. It’s got to remain a mystery because I can’t talk about something I’m not 100 per cent sure about, but if you’re leaving your sticks in the view of the opposition, it’s just natural guys are going to look at them.
Demers When the Kings went to the  final I got calls from reporters in L.A. and Sports Illustrated, I told them we never cheated and I’ll die with that.
Carbonneau They have to find a reason, and that’s OK, but I know for a fact we didn’t measure their sticks.
Damphousse You talk to Melrose and [McSorley], they’re still sour about that call. They kind of said that’s the way we won, but that’s not the whole story, we were able to beat them three other games as well.
Melrose It was a desperate move by a desperate club. They weren’t going to win that game and they had to try something, and that’s what they tried. I coached two years of junior, three years in the American League and four years in the NHL and I never called it once, so I would never call that.
Schneider It was desperate times and desperate measures, no pun intended.
Demers I know some people said it was cheap, but a lot of people in the hockey world — especially GMs — said if my coach knew and didn’t call it, he may not be coaching for me next year.
Farber The stick measurement is a big part of the story, but a defenceman has a hat trick and they’ve won another overtime game? It was all part of it. We don’t know for sure. Nobody has come out and said, “I measured those sticks.” It’s a fascinating story, it’s part of hockey lore.
Having dodged a massive bullet in Game 2, the Habs headed west for Los Angeles to resume what was now a best-of-five series. The Kings were in familiar territory, while Montreal was riding high from its comeback win.
Schneider That whole thing [in Game 2] and the emotion involved, you just can’t describe what it does for the team. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if we were down two games going there.
Melrose We felt we should have easily been going back 2–0, so 1–1 is fine. We’ll go back and take care of business at home. Every series we’d played was 1–1 after two games, so it was certainly nothing new to us.
Carbonneau They had a lot of character sticking in there. I’m sure they were mad, they were pissed, but they didn’t give up.
Demers My mentality was always, don’t fool around with Gretzky, because I’d seen him too much. All those years in the Norris Division [coaching in St. Louis and Detroit], we used to play out west. He wanted to win so bad for Los Angeles.
Damphousse They put us in a great hotel. Usually you’re by the airport. We were by the beach and it was really a calm setting, away from the media.
With L.A.’s “Fabulous Forum” buzzing from hosting its first Cup Final game and the likes of Ronald Reagan, Mick Jagger and Magic Johnson looking on, the Canadiens quickly stole the show, building a 3–0 lead by the early minutes of the second period. The Kings only woke from their lethargy when defenceman Mark Hardy, pinching in at the blue line, laid a spectacular bodycheck on Mike Keane that shook loose a pane of glass. The gritty Habs forward bounced back up, but the hit swung the game’s momentum.
Damphousse The crowd went crazy and [the Kings] fed off that, they were able to battle back.
Schneider The mentality you get into [when leading] and your human instinct is just really to sit back, especially in hockey where coaches and players are so conservative. It’s almost like, once they tie it, it’s a relief and you can play again.
Carbonneau You have to give them credit, they didn’t quit.
The Kings clawed to within a goal, then pulled even late in the second when a slapshot from Gretzky eluded Roy’s glove. No. 99 was also on the ice in the game’s dying seconds, when L.A. was pressing for the game-winner. Kings winger Tomas Sandstrom attempted a wraparound and the puck slid under Carbonneau, who’d been cross-checked to the ice. The Kings argued the Canadiens captain illegally covered it with his hand. Referee Terry Gregson disagreed and L.A. was never awarded the penalty shot it was after.
Gretzky, after the game I learned a new rule tonight. If you shoot the puck into a guy and he’s in the crease, it’s not a penalty shot.
Carbonneau I understood the rule and I made sure my hand was not over the puck.
For the second straight game, Montreal earned an overtime victory before the extra period was a minute old. This time, it took 34 seconds to notch the winner, as LeClair made good on his third attempt around the Kings net after linemate Brian Bellows cleared space by tying up three defenders. The Canadiens’ ninth consecutive overtime win established a new NHL mark.
Hrudey I felt great going into overtime because they had that long streak and I thought the odds had to be in our favour because they had to lose one. I thought it was perfect, they just can’t win every single overtime game.
Muller Bellows did such a great job of driving the net and taking guys with him. That’s what Brian was good at.
Demers When John scored in overtime on the first night [in L.A.], you start to believe it’s your year. You don’t get overconfident, you don’t get overly cocky, but you start saying, “A lot of things are going our way.”
Things continued to go Montreal’s way at the start of Game 4, when the Habs once again jumped out in front, this time building a 2–0 advantage. But following the template established in Game 3, the Kings fought back, squaring the game 2–2 when McSorley connected from the slot with 4.6 seconds left in the second period. In the intermission before the third, Roy — ultra-confident, but often quiet — stood up and declared he wouldn’t be allowing another goal. If the Habs could squeeze out one, they were going to win.
Patrick Roy, goalie We came back in the room and we were — not upset, but we were not happy about the fact we let them back in the game. We were [louder than usual]. I said, “OK guys. Let’s relax. They’re not going to get one by me. Just get one, take the time you need.”
Brisebois “Score me one goal, and we’re going to be OK.” I never, never heard that in my entire career. Can you imagine his confidence? It’s sick.
Demers When Patrick talked, people listened, including the coach, because there was a lot of respect. The one thing about Patrick, he could back it up.
Melrose It wasn’t like he was beating us 1–0; we were getting three goals and two goals. He was just making unbelievable saves at unbelievable times, especially in overtime.
Carbonneau We used to live in the same neighbourhood, so we would travel to every game together. I’ve never met anybody who wanted to win more than him.
In a moment that symbolizes the confidence he showed throughout his career, Roy — after stuffing Sandstrom a few times in the overtime period — gave a wink to the Kings winger that was captured perfectly by one of the TV cameras.
Roy I have no idea [why I winked]. I was playing well, they were starting to hit me more and more, and getting in the crease. That’s the sign, you know you’re in their head. I never thought someone could catch that [on camera]. All of sudden Sandstrom was pushing and he [skated past the crease] and I was like, “No, you’re not scoring here tonight.” It was just a reflex. Nobody thought it would become a big deal. A lot of people were saying I was cocky. It was not totally the opposite, but it was different [than cockiness]. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than if you’re the goaltender [and] you have your head between your legs. Everybody sees it and it makes everybody nervous. It was important to me to have my teammates saying, “OK, we’re fine: he’s there.” A big part of the position is to show your teammates you’re under control, show your teammates you’re very confident and they don’t have to worry about you.
True to his word, Roy held the Kings off the scoresheet in the third period. Little-used Jimmy Carson nearly made a liar out of him in overtime, however, ringing one off the crossbar. In a playoff run that had already produced more than its share of unlikely moments, LeClair added another when he scored an overtime winner off a goalmouth scramble for the second consecutive game. LeClair, then 23, was just beginning to scratch the surface of the potential his coach and some teammates — but very few people in the broader hockey world — saw in his six-foot-three frame.
Schneider I did a big interview with [longtime Montreal beat writer] Red Fisher and I said to Red, “Johnny should be a player like Eric Lindros. The way he skates, the way he shoots, he could be a player on a level with Eric Lindros.” Red kind of laughed at me at the time, but he did a big piece on Johnny and how his potential was so great.
Farber [Demers] saw John LeClair’s potential before anyone else [and often compared him to Penguins power forward Kevin Stevens]. This is when LeClair would sometimes look like Bambi on the ice. He’d be stumbling around, he looked like this terribly awkward skater and [Demers] would say, “He’s my Stevens.” And I’m thinking, “Who, Connie Stevens?” He was a guy who just didn’t look comfortable out there and, sure enough, Game 3 and Game 4, overtime goals.
Melrose John LeClair decided this was his coming-out party and Patrick Roy decided he was going to turn into the best goaltender the world had ever seen.
Having snuck out two wins in L.A., the Canadiens returned to Montreal with a chance to clinch the Cup on home ice. They seemed like a team of destiny, but somebody forgot to tell that to Denis Savard. The centre dressed for 14 post-season contests that year, but a hairline fracture in his ankle combined with the emergence of players like Paul DiPietro kept Savard out of the Final after Game 1. But because he was so well respected by his teammates, Demers opted to keep Savard on the bench, effectively making him another assistant coach. Wearing a suit did nothing to quell Savard’s nerves.
Brisebois I don’t know why, but we switched roommates [before Game 5] and Denis Savard was my roommate. I tried to sleep in the afternoon, but I just kept smelling something and I saw a red dot. It was Savard smoking in the room. He was so nervous — and he wasn’t even playing because he was hurt — but he was so nervous he was smoking.
Schneider We didn’t want to get back on that plane and go all the way to L.A. It was a really long flight for us. I remember one of the papers compared the travel the Kings had done with the travel we had done throughout the entire playoffs. It was ridiculous. I mean we went to Quebec in the first series, which was a bus, we went to Buffalo; we had travelled a tenth of what they had travelled. It would have been just another trip for L.A., but for us, we didn’t want to head all the way back out there.
Damphousse We were at home, everything was perfect. We wanted to finish it off.
The result was a near flawless effort from the Canadiens. DiPietro staked Montreal to a 1–0 first-period lead and the only time the game appeared in doubt was early in the second, when McSorley fired a puck off the inside of both posts and behind Roy to even the score 1–1. But just 71 seconds later, Muller banged home the Cup-winner from the lip of the crease. Lebeau scored a power-play marker later that period and when DiPietro added his second of the game in the third to make it a three-goal spread, the party was officially on.
Farber There was an utter buy-in. I’ve never seen such short shifts. I was amazed. Of all the Perils of Pauline — tip-toeing through that series, you’ve won three overtime games — there was absolute focus and they played as crisp a game as you could imagine. It was a surgical victory.
Schneider That was really the only game I thought we were convincingly better than they were.
Melrose We did hang around, but Patrick stoned us, they got a couple goals and the game got out of hand.
Robitaille It was one of those games where they had the crowd, they were going. I think we made a little push, but it just seemed like they suddenly had the momentum. You kind of felt it was theirs.
The Montreal bench felt it, too.
Demers I’m a hyper guy by nature, but I always tried to keep my cool. It wasn’t easy, but I always tried to keep the players calm. But I’ll tell you, inside, man — whew.
Roy I still think about that last minute. The crowd goes nuts. It’s a great feeling.
When the final siren sounded, Montreal had recorded a 4–1 win to secure the Cup in five games. Every team mobs its goalie after winning a championship, but surrounding Roy wasn’t just ceremonial for the Canadiens, it was symbolic. The team’s one superstar and the player who’d been at the centre of their success all spring was now, literally, in the middle of the celebration. Roy picked up the Conn Smythe Trophy, the second of his career, as the Superman theme blared through the Forum’s speakers. Then, presenting the Stanley Cup for the first time, commissioner Gary Bettman called Carbonneau over. Instead of lifting the Cup, the captain posed for a few pictures, then turned it over to Denis Savard, who raised it for the first time in his career.
Carbonneau If I hadn’t had a chance to win the Cup in ’86, I probably wouldn’t have done that. But I knew why Denis came to Montreal and I know he was hurting inside because he couldn’t play. He could have been a distraction, but you really felt like he wanted to support us. He was a really good friend, he did good things for us all year and I just felt like he deserved it even if he wasn’t dressed. It was kind of a spontaneous thing. I’m still happy I did it.
Damphousse Guy knew he was a big part of our team and it was very special for Denis.
While the celebration raged inside the Forum, things turned a little ugly outside when some people used the Canadiens’ triumphant night as an excuse to riot.
Melrose The city was crazy. It was dangerous. We got out in a hurry and they tried to upset our bus. There wasn’t much security.
Miller The bus driver said, “Everybody get to the centre aisle in case they throw something through the window.”
Farber That was Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins.”
Carbonneau I remember, at one point, [Canadiens president Ronald Corey] came to me and was like, “We need to stop this outside, let’s go out and talk to the people.” I was like, “You must be crazy, you want me to go outside?” I don’t think we went outside, but said let’s go and try it. We went to a door or window and we didn’t have time to even say anything, it became 10 times worse. So we decided not to do it. It was 3, 3:30 [in the morning], I had my oldest daughter with us and I think she had school the next day. I was like, “I need to get out of here.” We had one security guy call a taxi, I left my car at the rink, and we told the taxi, “Come across the street and when you see us, open the door, we’ll jump in and you don’t stop.” It was like a James Bond movie.
Melrose It was nuts. It was just like a movie where you’re driving slow out of the crowd because you can’t stop. Once we got out of downtown, we were very happy.
Though the city was rattled, fans could still revel in the fact their team had done just what Demers promised — shocked the hockey world. Twenty different players scored 100 points in 1992–93 and 14 registered 50 goals. None of them played for the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge. Twenty-seven years later, it’s still hard to fathom a team winning 10 consecutive overtime games in a single playoffs. Those extra-time victories accounted for roughly 63 per cent of Montreal’s wins, as the team went 16-2 after dropping its first two playoff games to Quebec.
Farber Everything about the playoffs in ’93 was coated with pixie dust; I’ve never seen the stars align in quite the same way. If you believe in Forum ghosts, there’s your best argument they did exist.
Gilbert Dionne, winger We played well, but I didn’t think we were going to go all the way. To this day, I say luck was on our side.
Savard Yeah, Montreal was lucky; a lot of good teams got knocked down, but we beat the teams that knocked them down. My feeling was my team was getting better every game, all the way to the last game. The last game we played against L.A., I won’t say [the Kings] didn’t touch the puck, but we were so much better than them the last game. We’ve seen that in the past, teams that just barely made the playoffs and end up winning. If you get hot and if you make a few changes, sometimes it makes [all] the difference. A lot of people still say we were lucky, but I don’t care. We were the best team on the ice.
Demers I had a much better team than a lot of people thought. A lot of people said this is the worst Montreal Canadiens team to win the Stanley Cup. I don’t believe that. We had some good talent.
Leeman, who asked for a trade from Calgary during that season I had an option of four teams — Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and Minnesota. I told my agent [Don Meehan] that I was interested in going to Chicago and he said, “I want you to seriously consider Montreal.” I asked him why and he said he was very tight with Serge Savard, he represented Jacques Demers and he said they had the best chance of winning the Cup that year of those four teams. I said, “Really?” I called him back an hour later and said, “I want to go to Montreal.” Had Patrick Roy not won the Conn Smythe, I’m pretty sure Kirk Muller played well enough to win it. Guy Carbonneau was probably the supreme checker during the time I played in the National Hockey League.
The ’93 Habs will maintain a special place in hockey history, even when another Canadian team inevitably wins the Cup. Their championship marked the last for Montreal in the Forum, which closed its doors three years later. And while everyone recognized the way in which Montreal won the Cup that year was notable, nobody knew it would soon be unique that they won at all.
Farber Stéphan Lebeau, after all the dressing room stuff, was on his way up to the private party for the players and he was stopped by a security guard who said, “Well, are you going to win again next year?” That was the attitude.
Schneider Being a part of that organization has always been something special. I didn’t realize it until I went to play on other teams, but it was always being a part of history, being a part of the tradition; you felt like you were a part of something greater. It wasn’t just being an NHL player, it wasn’t just being a Montreal Canadien in 1993, you were part of a family, you were part of something much bigger. It was such a special place. You walked into that building and you just felt there was something great there.
Leeman Playing in Montreal was fantastic. It was so energetic, the people are so into hockey. It was a bit of a fairy tale.
With files from George Skoutakis, Kirt Berry, Scott Morrison, John Woo and Marc MacDonald.
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