The Habs In 1986 – Getting Noses Dirty, And Winning It All

It’s certain the Montreal Canadiens of 1986 weren’t a dominant team in the league, or a great team like the Habs of other years. Heck, they weren’t even as good as several other teams in these playoffs. But they won the Stanley Cup and the rest didn’t. And they did it through a blend of old, new, and a goalie who stood on his head.

Montreal’s 1986 Stanley Cup win over the Calgary Flames was the 23rd time the team had drank from the old mug, and surprising as it was for all the armchair quarterbacks and hockey experts of the world, there were actual reasons why they were able to do this drinking.

Patrick Roy standing on his head was a very good reason. The rookie won the Conn Smythe for his performance in these playoffs, and one stop in particular may just have saved the day for the Habs. Coach Jean Perron had called a timeout with the game winding down and Montreal leading 4-3, when just 30 seconds after the timeout and only 14 seconds left, Jamie Macoun thought he had it tied when he fired and waited for the red light. But Roy pulled out the most important big stop of the series to maintain the lead. “I wasn’t on the ice when Roy made that save,” grinned Bobby Smith.  “When he made it, I was on my feet yelling: ‘Roo-ah! Roo-ah!’ This smile is going to be on my face until September.”

But Roy wasn’t the only reason the Canadiens came through. It was simply an amazing and unheralded bunch.

Ryan Walter for example, who played with a half-healed broken ankle, and played like a demon. Team doctors said with astonishment that if it was the regular season, Walter wouldn’t have even skated for another three weeks. Walter later explained, “Adrenaline is an amazing healer with a Stanley Cup in sight.”

Guy Carbonneau, playing with a serious knee injury.

Chris Nilan, who sat out the last two games with a damaged ankle, said of journeymen Serge Boisvert and Steve Rooney, who had filled in, “I’m glad it gave these guys a chance to get their names on the Cup. They deserved it because they worked like hell and never opened their mouths.”

Brian Skrudland, who was knocked out cold early in the final game, put the Canadiens ahead, 2-1, for good in the second period and never missed a shift. Later, in the dressing later, he blurted out, “You don’t know how much being a part of this means to me.  Since I can remember, I’ve always cried when the Canadiens and Saskatchewan Roughriders lost.”

Gaston Gingras, a player who was made fun of in previous years because of miscues and a big shot with no control, was a big-time player in the finals, scoring three large goals. No one made jokes about Gingras after this series was over.

Craig Ludwig, a solid defenceman, with a back so bad he could hardly get out of bed in the morning.

Claude Lemieux, the target of every player in the league, losing two teeth and creating havoc and playing like a man possessed whenever he stepped on the ice.

Rick Green, who performed so well on the blueline he was considered the best defencemen in all of the 1986 series, including those from the other teams. And Green had been a scapegoat because he and Walter had come to Montreal in an unpopular trade that saw Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis, Brian Engblom and Craig Laughlin sent to Washington.

Bob Gainey and Larry Robinson, thinking their time may have passed and wondering if they would ever win another Stanley Cup – and they played big and won again. 

Coach Jean Perron saying this 1986 team was the best defensive team in Montreal history. “When you don’t have great scorers you have to be great defensively. When we hang up that banner in the Forum, it will be screaming ‘defence…defence.’ ”

And there were others who made their mark too; Mike McPhee, Smith, Mats Naslund, Lucien Deblois and Mike Lalor to name a few, and Chris Chelios in just his second full year in the NHL.

Montreal would win again in 1993 and that would be it. Until this year, when they get solid efforts from the unexpected, and Carey Price comes through like Patrick Roy did back then.

22 thoughts on “The Habs In 1986 – Getting Noses Dirty, And Winning It All”

  1. Yup your right there,the Habs had no great scorers,a lot of good defense and yes Patrick stood on his head and really showed what he was capable of.I never thought that they would win the cup that year either,but they did.I think that a cup is coming our way,might not be this year(maybe though)but it will be soon.

  2. Great article Dennis.

    I was young when they won that year… but I watched alot of hockey.

    The character a team has can make a big difference.

  3. Thanks Yves. I’d like to see character like that this year. I think Tom Kostopoulos had this. We’ll see who will this year. Maybe Ryan O’Byrne will step it up.

  4. I was at the Bell Centre last November to see O’Byrne score on Carey Price on a delayed penalty,poor guy the crowd really gave it to him but it wasn’t his fault

  5. Oh, that goal. Poor bugger. We know what he was doing. But he forgot to look and make sure Price was still there. He had a tough year, O’Bryne. But he made it through and has a second chance.

  6. Hey Dennis, awesome analysis on the ’86 Habs.

    Our team wasn’t the best, but we had heart, played 110%, that’s what we need to get our 25th cup.

  7. You don’t have to be the best team out there. One thing that struck me about the movie “Miracle on Ice” was that Brooks didn’t pick the best or most skilled players, he looked for character guys. Yves, you hit the nail on the head. Another really important ingredient is a “no quit” attitude no matter what. The Pens have that in spades, they came back after being down to the Caps and then with the Wings. The ’86 and ’93 Habs never quit. I thhink this season will seperate the men from the boys or in some cases (and they know who they are) girls.

  8. I agree Moey… character plays such a big role.

    Seems to me that for several years the Rangers would spend tons of cash on UFAs to stalk up their team… .on paper it always looked like they should be a power house….

    But it just didn’t work that way.

    A team half populated with players who believe they’re stars might not make it.

    On the Pens.. I think one of their best players and maybe he’s not statistically on paper is Maxim Talbot. He doesn’t score all the goals…. but he brings energy to his team… makes important plays…. block a shot…. throws important hits… and won’t back down from taking a slap in the mouth.

  9. Yves, you’re absolutely right, Lapierre, Begin, Kostpoulos and Dandenault were what this team was about. Sure, they’re not the greatest scorers, but they get the team pumped up. And they’re the ones that will sacrifice themselves for the team.

  10. Yup big character-based Cup winning team. I’ve re-watched VHS tapes (film, in chunky-clunky black plastic boxes, that needs to be rewound for you digital kidz out there) and the skinny Roy was simply amazing to watch.

  11. Now’s the time for Sergei Kostitsyn to get his nose dirty. For me, it’s he in particular. That’s a great example with the Pens.

  12. Sergei lost his touch last season, he completely changed the way he played, he’s turned into more of a finesse player, which certainly isn’t helping the team. He’s not the greatest skater either. This season, i see him playing with Moen and Lapierre.

  13. The Rangers have been ridiculous like that for years. And maybe it’s that attitude of easy and big bucks that made players like Scott Gomez not perform as hard as the previous team. Hopefully Gomez plays better in Montreal.

  14. Those are good examples, Phil. Especially Begin and Lapierre, and of course Kostopoulos. Real character players. I’m expecting big things from Lapierre this year. We need him to be as good or better than last year.

  15. Thanks, Moeman. Skrudland said back then that Roy was going to be better than Plante and Dryden. Fore me, I don’t know,

  16. I don’t think that Lapierre’s gonna do bad this year, he’s a reliable and consistent player, what I’m afraid of is Lapierre’s linemates, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re going to bring the same intensity as him

  17. I think that Lapiere will do even better then last year.He seemed to gain momentum as the year went on,like he was gaining confidense along the way.Bob Gainey and Jaques Martin will be smart to be confident in this guy as he will only get better

  18. DK, Lapiere reminds me of a young Mario Trembly , in your face, if you want to go let’s getater !
    Les Canadiens Sont La !!!!!

  19. I like Lapierre…. I thought at times last year he was great. If he picks up where he left off he’ll have a great year agitating other players…..

    Moen might be a good complement as a hard hitting hard nosed player with him.

    I’m really interested in seeing how Martin sets his lines…

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