Twenty-five years ago, in his first meeting with his new team, Jacques Demers told his Montreal Canadiens players that they were going to shock the hockey world that season.
“I mean, the first day he’s telling us we’re going to win the Stanley Cup,” said defenceman Patrice Brisebois, “that we’re going to shock the hockey world.”
A few players were left shaking their heads, but before long they would become believers, though there would be moments of doubt.
But in the spring of 1993, the Canadiens did “shock the hockey world,” winning the 24th Stanley Cup in franchise history.
And the last for them or any other Canadian team.
They did it, in part, in a way that had never been done before and has never been done since, with an amazing 10 consecutive overtime victories.
“It’s insane when you think about it,” said goalie Patrick Roy, himself a big reason why they were so successful in overtime. “I don’t think we’ll ever see that again.”
To put it in the context, that spring the Canadiens actually played 11 overtime games, losing the first in their playoff opener against Quebec, then winning two overtime games in that first-round series. Next round, they swept the Buffalo Sabres, winning each game 4-3, and the final three in overtime.
In the conference final, they beat the New York Islanders in five games — two of those in overtime — and they won three more overtime games to beat the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
Like Roy said, it was insane, really.
Ten overtime wins for one team. In this year’s playoffs, there were 10 overtime games total!
In many ways, that spring was the perfect storm for the Canadiens, at least once they got their own act together.
The Habs had a pretty good season, finishing with 102 points — third in the Adams Division — although they went through stretches when they were really good, then would stumble for a while, and they struggled down the stretch entering the playoffs.
In the estimation of Roy: the team played great, he didn’t.
Indeed, Roy was booed during the skills competition at the all-star weekend in Montreal.
Matters got worse after he signed a promotional deal with a hockey card company, whose “clever” billboard campaign displayed a Roy hockey card with the words, ‘Trade Roy!’
Well, during his struggles, a local newspaper asked the question: should the Habs trade Roy? Fifty-seven per cent said they should.
Behind the scenes, Demers assured Roy that wasn’t going to happen.
“For some reason, I wasn’t playing at a level I should have,” said Roy, who said he used the all-star experience “as a wake-up call.”
Demers delivered a similar message to his star goalie after the Habs lost the first two games of the playoffs against the rival Nordiques. Fans were again doubting Roy. But not his coach.
“He easily could have said, ‘You had your chance’ … instead, he said, ‘I’m going to live and die with you,’” recalled Roy. “I didn’t want to let him down.”
And he didn’t.
Both Roy and the Habs found their game, with the Canadiens winning four straight to bounce the Nordiques. Meanwhile, the stars were aligning for them elsewhere. Their next opponent was the Sabres, who had upset the Boston Bruins. It was a better matchup for Montreal.
The biggest break was still to come. While the Habs were beating Buffalo, the Islanders upset the two-time Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, in overtime, in seven games.
Staying at a hotel at the time, the Canadiens spilled into the hallway when the series ended. Let’s just say they liked the result.
That’s when the Habs really thought they had a chance. Others were starting to think they were a team of destiny as the overtime win streak continued to grow. They went on to eliminate the Isles in five games.
To some of the Habs, they felt they caught another break when the Kings knocked off the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the Western Conference final. Even though it meant playing against Wayne Gretzky, it also meant avoiding former coach Pat Burns and the circus that would have created. And, overall, they felt like they matched up better.
They might have felt differently after the first game of the final, when Gretzky put on a show, finishing with three assists and a 4-1 win in Montreal. It was beginning to look like the Kings were going to take both games, but with 1:45 left in regulation in Game 2, and the Kings leading 2-1, Demers rolled the dice.
Or did he?
Demers, after consulting with captain Guy Carbonneau, decided to call a measurement of the curve on Marty McSorley’s stick. If he’s right, the Habs get a power play. If he’s wrong, the Kings get one.
McSorley and the Kings were in shock. The Habs were, of course, right. To this day, McSorley and many of the Kings believe they had smuggled their stick rack into a private area to measure the sticks. Back then, players typically used an illegal stick for most of the game and changed late in the third period.
The Habs insist that, while the stick racks of both teams were wheeled out of the hallway between the benches between periods, they didn’t measure any sticks, and didn’t need to. The eyeball test was good enough.
Whatever the truth, the curve on the stick was illegal. For Montreal, it saved the series.
On the ensuing power play, defenceman Eric Desjardins tied the game, forcing yet another overtime, then scored the winner himself to complete his hat trick.
And Roy continued to shine after turning his game around midway through that first series.
The next two games in L.A. also went to overtime, but Roy assured his teammates, “Take your time, play smart and get the goal. They won’t be scoring on me.”
You might recall that’s when Roy had the famous wink after making a save on Tomas Sandstrom. He hadn’t planned it, but…
“You know you’re in their head,” he said, winking. “You’re not scoring here today … it was important for me, for my teammates to know, ‘Okay, we’re fine, he’s there.’”
Overtime wins nine and 10 followed, with John LeClair the hero in both. The Habs won comfortably at home in Game 5 to capture the Cup.
It was, as we said, their last Stanley Cup win and the last one for any Canadian team.
Twenty-five years is a long time, but for those of a certain vintage, that Montreal Canadiens win is one that won’t soon be forgotten.