TORONTO – Game 82 of the NHL season couldn’t have gone better for Montreal Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin.
A 4-1 victory on the road Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs assured the Habs the sixth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and propelled Martin into some heady company.
Only nine NHL coaches have reached 600 wins and Martin became the third man to hit the milestone this season after Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson did it in January and New Jersey’s Jacques Leamire reached the milestone in February.
“It’s a great accomplishment for him,” said Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. “You win that many games, you’re doing something right. It’s nice that it happened on the last game of the year.”
Martin, 58, was an NCAA goalie at St. Lawrence University in the early 1970s and began his coaching career 10 years later in the Ontario Hockey League with the Peterborough Petes under the legendary Dick Todd. After a stop in Guelph with the old Platers for the 1985-86 season, Martin began his run to 600 with the St. Louis Blues.
He spent two seasons in St. Louis, leading the Blues to the playoffs both years but failing to get past the second round. From there it was on to Chicago and Quebec/Colorado in assistant roles before he got his chance with the moribund Ottawa Senators in 1996, taking over from Dave Allison.
The Sens won 10 of 38 games under Martin that year, but within three years he had helped create a division-winning offensive power house, maxing out at 52 victories in 2002-03. He was never able to get Ottawa over the hump, though, and moved on to the Florida Panthers in 2005.
Under Martin, Florida continued a trend that ended of not making the playoffs. But the coach wore two hats in Florida: by his second year he was manning the bench and the GM’s chair, a role considered one of the toughest in hockey.
Martin did both jobs for two seasons before moving upstairs full-time and hiring Peter DeBoer to run things on the ice. But, as it turned out, Martin couldn’t stay away from the bench and he was back behind it, this time in Montreal by last season.
He coached the Canadiens to a playoff run past Washington and Pittsburgh on the back of Mike Cammalleri’s shooting of the puck and Jaroslav Halak’s stopping of it. This year it’s been Carey Price manning the net for Martin, playing in an astounding 72 games, winning 38 of them and showing off MVP-level talent.
“It’s easy to reward the players,” Price said. “But we’ve all enjoyed playing behind Jacques and I think he’s done a pretty bang up job.”
Next up the playoffs and the Boston Bruins.