“You always wonder whether guys are ready to pay the price in games like these. You wonder and then you’re afraid maybe a few of the guys won’t or can’t go higher and farther, and that could be enough to hurt you.”
So said then-forward and now assistant coach Kirk Muller after his team had defeated the Los Angeles Kings in the 1993 Stanley Cup final to capture their 24th, and last, championship title.
Those Canadiens got the job done with just one superstar, Patrick Roy, and a whole lot of hard-working role players who stepped up and got their noses dirty and who stood uninvited in front of LA goalie Kelly Hrudey game in and game out. They managed a magical ten consecutive victories in overtime. They fell behing the Quebec Nordiques two games to none and stormed back to win the Adams semi-final. Then it was a four-game sweep over Buffalo, with three of the games going to overtime, before finishing off the Islanders and then the Kings.
It was Patrick and a cast of construction workers - Muller, Mike Keane, Brian Bellows, Eric Desjardins, Paul DiPietro, Stephan Lebeau, Guy Carbonneau, and a dozen more. It was a measurement on Kings’ defenceman Marty McSorley’s illegal stick in game two with just two minutes left in the game which allowed the Habs to tie and win it and even the series at one apiece. It was an overtime hero on ten different nights, and a big effort by John Leclair throughout, who was called cement-hands in Montreal before he joined the Philadelphia Flyers and scored 50 goals three times and 40 a couple more.
They resembled the 2010 Montreal Canadiens in several ways, beginning with a goalie who stood on his head with a team of mostly non-stars in front of him. The big difference was, I suppose, the 1993 version dug deeper, everyone stepped up, and most importantly, all contributed. “All of us did it tonight,” said Muller. “It was there for us. We…all of us…reached out and didn’t let go.”
Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette said at the time that the Canadiens really didn’t become a team until game 30 of the season that year, when they played the LA Kings, the team they would meet in the finals, in a neutral-site which happened to be Phoenix of all places, long before the city had the Coyotes. The Kings led 5-2 well into the third period when the Habs crept back and Vincent Damphousse tied it with 31 seconds left. That was the beginning, said Fisher.
They also resembled this year’s team in another way, a Markovian way. “They grew even more,” wrote Fisher, “when the team’s best defenceman at that point, Mathieu Schneider, was lost in game 53 with a broken ankle. In their next 13 games after that, they went 11-1-1, and said they had learned in Phoenix that it ain’t over ’till it’s over. And after losing Schneider, they learned that adversity hurts only for a little while when others dig deeper.”
There is also another comparison, and a big one in my book. Jacques Demers, coach of the team in 1993, wouldn’t speculate after the last game on what that team required to repeat, but noted that the 1993 club was one of the smallest clubs in NHL history to capture a Cup.
They were small, had a goalie standing on his head, and one of their best defencemen was injured. Imagine.
Everyone contributed in 1993 in many different ways, and that’s the difference between then and now. There were those now who were stars, (Cammalleri, Halak, Gionta) and some who slept through most of the playoffs. You know who they are and they know who they are. At least I hope they know who they are.