Canadiens compare favorably with 1993 champs entering Stanley Cup Final


Now, with the Canadiens heading to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, their first in 28 years, the legendary goalie’s opinion of Montreal’s most recent championship in some ways describes the current edition.

“The Canadiens didn’t always have the best team but they always had a team that was willing to work hard and put in the effort to win,” Roy told in 2018, on the 25th anniversary of the 1993 title. “That’s what we did (to win the Cup) both in 1986 (No. 23) and 1993. We were not the best team talent-wise but we had a great group of players who were willing to work hard night after night and put the effort in that was required to win.”

Video: 1993: Canadiens win 10 straight OT games

Indeed, the Canadiens had solid, even unexpected contributions up and down the roster that 20-game playoff run during the Stanley Cup’s historic centennial year, anchored by Roy’s brilliant goaltending. So, too, has Montreal had a strong balance through 17 games this season, with Carey Price standing out in goal. 

This season, the Canadiens won three elimination games in the first round against the favored Toronto Maple Leafs, the first two in overtime before winning Game 7. A four-game sweep of the Winnipeg Jets followed in the second round, with Montreal advancing to the Final with a six-game Stanley Cup Semifinals elimination of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Canadiens will play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders in the Final; the Lightning and Islanders will decide their Semifinal series in Game 7 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

There was a steely-eyed focus and unwavering belief in 1993, as there is now, among Montreal players who entered the playoffs in an underdog role. 

The 1992-93 Canadiens finished third among four playoff qualifiers in the Adams Division, behind the Boston Bruins and Quebec Nordiques. They won four of their final 10 regular-season games, Roy losing his last five starts, doing little to suggest they would make a playoff run. 

The first round against Quebec didn’t begin well on the road, Montreal losing Game 1 in overtime, then Game 2. But Montreal rallied back home at the Forum, winning Game 3 in overtime, then Game 4. 

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Stanley Cup to Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers and captain Guy Carbonneau on June 9, 1993, Demers pressing the trophy overhead to the delight of Montreal Forum fans.

Jacques Demers, who coached the team, has remembered Game 5 in Quebec as the turning point of the playoffs, Roy forced to the dressing room early in the second period after having taken a hard shot in the shoulder. Backup Andre Racicot was pressed into emergency service, the score 3-3 after 40 minutes when Roy marched into Demers’ office during intermission, his shoulder numbed by an injection and ice, and declared himself ready to go.

He skated back into the net, stopped 14 of 15 shots he faced in the third period and five in overtime, then played the next 15 games.

“The most courageous performance I ever saw,” forward Mike Keane said.  

The Canadiens won 5-4 on Kirk Muller’s goal 8:17 into overtime, then sealed the series with a 6-2 win two days later at the Forum.

Video: Canadiens celebrate winning the 1993 Stanley Cup

Next came a four-game second-round sweep of the Buffalo Sabres, each by the score of 4-3, Games 2-4 in overtime. It took the Canadiens five games to get past the Islanders, Game 2 needing double overtime, extra time in Game 3.

A five-game Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings ended at the Montreal Forum. Spotting the Kings a 1-0 series lead, the Canadiens won Games 2-4 in overtime, giving them an NHL-record 10 consecutive postseason overtime victories, then lifted the Cup on home ice.

“This is something you cherish for the rest of your life,” Demers said in the celebration. “I made them believe in themselves. They did, and they deserve the credit.”

Five years ago, Demers considered the victory and laughed.

“I can’t wait for the day that the Canadiens win another so I’m not referred to as the last coach in Montreal to win the Stanley Cup,” he said.

The 1993 triumph would be the record 17th and final time Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, retiring not quite three months later as a senior vice-president of the team, would have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup — 10 times as a player, seven more as an executive.

Montreal Canadiens icon Jean Beliveau in the team’s Montreal Forum dressing room in November 1993, the team’s legendary captain having had his name engraved on the Stanley Cup for a 17th time.

There was much credit to go around, Demers forever spreading it from top to bottom. The popular coach, who had a stroke in 2016, was given an emotional standing ovation by Bell Centre fans before Montreal’s 2018-19 home opener when the team celebrated its 1993 championship.

“The strength of that Canadiens team was that we had many players of great character,” Demers told Le Journal de Montreal in 2013, on the 20th anniversary of the title. “Of course, we had Patrick Roy, the best goalie in the League, and Guy Carbonneau, an exceptional captain. But we also had fine leaders like Mike Keane and Kirk Muller.”

Demers has also praised the efforts of then-general manager Serge Savard, who oversaw the trades the previous summer for forwards Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows, the two combining for 79 goals in 1992-93, another 17 in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Kings’ Wayne Gretzky gives Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers his stick following the Canadiens’ 1993 Stanley Cup victory.

Some might find a bit of a parallel with Price, captain Shea Weber, the leadership of seasoned forwards Corey Perry and Eric Staal, and current GM Marc Bergevin, who built Montreal this seasonwith a strong veteran cast supporting a crop of excellent young players.

If Demers has always deflected credit to others, Roy says his coach played a vital role for the team and himself.

“From the first day of training camp to the very end, Jacques really believed in us,” Roy said. “He was very, very supportive of us. 

“Actually, I didn’t play very well during the regular season and even the first two games in Quebec I wasn’t very good (losing each). Jacques stood by me, came in and told me, ‘I’m going to live and die with you,’ and that really put a lot of confidence in me. It took some pressure off at the same time in the way that I knew I had to perform. 

“I had to come up with some big games because the team was playing so well. The guys were sharp, they were playing good hockey. All they needed was a goaltender to make some good saves for them.”

Montreal Canadiens players and staff celebrate team’s Stanley Cup championship on Forum ice on June 9, 1993.

Roy gave them that and much more. He would win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason, going 16-4 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Through 17 games in these playoffs, Price is 12-5 with a 2.02 GAA and .934 save percentage.

Along the way, Roy foiled one shooter after another, his work famously highlighted by his grinning wink at Tomas Sandstrom during Game 4 overtime in Los Angeles, Roy yielding no rebound to the Kings forward.

“Everybody talks about the wink,” he said of his most enduring memory of the championship. “They all ask the same question: ‘Why? What was that about?’ … What are the chances the camera catches that? It was a split second. You never think that the camera will be almost inside your mask. You see the video later and you say, ‘Holy cow, what just happened there?’ “

It was the same question many asked about that 1993 playoff run and are asking again today.

Twenty-eight years later, Price made a brilliant save off Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone in Game 1 of this season’s Stanley Cup Semifinals, then gave the frustrated forward a wink as he skated by.

Nearly three decades apart, the Canadiens’ most recent champion and the improbable run of its hopeful successor are thus joined by the mischievous gestures of two goalies, playing for two teams seemingly greater than the sum of their parts.

Photos: Getty Images/HHoF Images

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