Lapointe bullish on Canadiens playoff chances

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Guy Lapointe very much likes the new look of the Montreal Canadiens, and the Hall of Fame defensemen from the team’s glorious 1970s feels certain the 2020-21 edition will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“They’re going to be a contender and there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll make the playoffs,” Lapointe said Friday. “They reinforced every position this offseason by adding backup goaltender Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson on defense and good forwards in Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli. They’ll have no excuses this year, they’ll have to deliver.

“I’m looking forward to the season.”

An official start date for this season has not yet been announced.

It was a year ago Friday when the Canadiens announced Lapointe, a member of Montreal’s “Big Three” on defense, along with Serge Savard and Larry Robinson, had been diagnosed with oral cancer, located at the base of his tongue. 

Lapointe won the Stanley Cup six times with Montreal, and six times was in the top five in voting for the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL. He was the runner-up to Boston Bruins icon Bobby Orr in 1972-73.

Lapointe’s NHL career of 884 regular-season and 123 Stanley Cup Playoff games ran from 1968-69 to 1983-84, with his first 777 League games and 112 playoff games with the Canadiens. He finished his career by playing with the St. Louis Blues (62 games) and Boston Bruins (45), and his No. 5 was retired by the Canadiens on Nov. 8, 2014, joining the No. 18 of Savard and No. 19 of Robinson.

He also was a stalwart on the blue line for victorious Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, the eight-game series pitting an NHL all-star team against one from the Soviet Union.

From late February into early March, Lapointe underwent aggressive cancer treatment with 35 sessions of radiation and three bouts of chemotherapy. Doctors have declared him cancer-free, but there remain challenges for a robust 72-year-old whose legendary appetite matches his sense of humor.

“I had no idea this was the anniversary,” Lapointe said from his home west of Montreal. “I feel pretty good but half of my tongue is paralyzed. Sometimes I have problems speaking some words. And I still can’t taste any food or any drink. I’m limited with food because I have a hard time swallowing.

“I can’t eat pizza, burgers or steak. I saw the doctor last week and he said it’s 50-50 that I’ll get my taste back. It might take another year. I had very strong treatment because my cancer was very advanced.”

But it seems the radiation and chemotherapy didn’t touch his lighter side.

“I feel like a garbage can: You open my lid, throw food into me and put my lid back on,” Lapointe joked. “It’s stressful at times. I can smell the food my wife makes me but I can’t taste any of it. On the bright side, I’ve lost 50 pounds. I was 270, overweight with some reserves, and now I’m at 220, about 10 pounds over my playing weight. The doctor told me I had to lose some weight. It didn’t come off the way I wanted to lose it, but I feel strong physically so I have no problem with that.”

With a weakened immune system, the famously social Lapointe hasn’t seen a former teammate in the past year, staying in touch by phone, and has only rare visits with his children. But he knows that too will improve with time.

“They want me to be careful, especially with the pandemic now,” he said. “It’s been a tough ride. I won’t lie to you, some mornings are hard. But the positive thing is that my cancer is gone. Some people have it a lot worse than me.”

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