Michel Therrien, as you know, coached the Canadiens once before, from 2000-01, when he replaced Alain Vigneault after 20 games, to part way through the 2002-03 season when he was fired and the team brought in Claude Julien.
That first season under Therrien saw the Canadiens miss the playoffs after going 23-27-13 under him.
The third season saw him fired after a dismal stretch that saw the Canadiens lose ten of twelve games.
But it was the middle year of Therrien’s reign, 2001-02, and in particular the second round of the playoffs, that became the saddest state of affairs.
The team, with a tremendously hot Jose Theodore in nets and a heroic Saku Koivu, who had returned to the team just prior to the post season after his fight with cancer, had upset the favoured Bruins in the first round and met the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.
Montreal would jump into a 2-1 series lead against the Hurricanes, and were leading 3-0 in the third period of game four when Therrien decided to yell at referee Kerry Fraser when the Habs were already a man short.
Fraser gave Therrien a bench minor for being mouthy, and it was downhill from there.
The Hurricanes scored on the 5 on 3, rallied and won 4-3 in overtime, and then clobbered the Canadiens 5-1 and 8-2 to eliminate Therrien and his deflated players.
Carolina would eventually lose in five games to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Finals after taking out the Maple Leafs in six games in the Eastern Final.
It could’ve been Montreal taking out the Leafs if it wasn’t for Therrien.
It could’ve been Montreal in the finals against Detroit, and although they would’ve been in tough against a team that boasted the likes of Shanahan, Fedorov, Hull, Yzerman, Lidstrom, Robitaille and the rest, at least they would’ve been in the finals, something that hasn’t happened since 1993 when they won it all.
But Therrien screwed it up.
Here’s Kerry Fraser’s explanation of the Therrien bench minor, from a 2011 TSN story.
“The bench penalty that put Montreal down two men was a turning point in the series for sure. The Habs were cruising along at the midway point of the third period and Therrien was feeling pretty good about himself and their chances, all decked out in his bright yellow sports coat. (I mention this because you couldn’t miss him behind the bench.)
“As the Carolina Hurricanes attacked the Montreal goal, Habs defenseman Stephane Quintal delivered a heavy cross-check to the back of the upper shoulder/neck of a Cane with such force that it knocked the player clear into the back of the net. I was the trailing referee and called it from an open sightline at the blue line. It was an obvious infraction and Quintal went right to the penalty box.
“I was standing at the referee crease, about 90 feet as the crow flies from the Canadiens bench, assessing the penalty when I heard Coach Therrien screaming at me. I turned to see Therrien standing on top of the boards, like a big yellow bumble bee buzzing his wings up and down and hollering, “Kerry, what the *&^%$?” At this point I really didn’t want to assess a bench penalty to put his team down two men so I thought I would give him a second chance. I pointed to my chest and mouthed the words, “Are you talking to me?” Therrien nodded his head and shouted for the second time, “Yeah, what the &^%$?” I guess he wanted to make sure I got the point, even on the second attempt.”