MONTREAL – Montreal Canadiens legends are so impressed with the team’s current play that they’re comparing it to some of their own championship performances from decades gone by.
Former Habs stars Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur and Rejean Houle all weighed in Thursday on the superb teamwork and goaltending that allowed them to upset the highly favoured Washington Capitals.
Beliveau, a smooth-skating centreman who won 10 Stanley Cups in his playing days, ranked the goaltending performance of Jaroslav Halak in rather illustrious company.
“I’ve seen some in my life: Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or even Jacques Plante,” Beliveau said in an interview.
“But Halak offered a performance that people will remember. Some said Halak took us to the playoffs and that’s all that needs to be said.”
Beliveau observed that good goaltending is a prerequisite for a Stanley Cup championship. And it doesn’t get any better than Halak’s performance in the last three games, where he stopped 131 of 134 shots.
From his restaurant in Rosemere, Que., Guy Lafleur was paying tribute to the team’s good, old-fashioned hard work. The Habs used their bodies to block a staggering number of shots throughout the series.
Lafleur said the players worked “together,” were ready to pay the price to win, and he said nobody played the role of primadonna.
“I was talking to (former Habs players) Phil Goyette and Dollard St-Laurent and we felt proud to see them playing like we did when we were winning Stanley Cups,” said Lafleur, a high-scoring right winger who won five championships in the 1970s.
“It’s very positive to see them playing as a team.”
Beliveau was in his seat early to watch Game 7 at home.
It was clear to the former captain that the Canadiens wanted it more than the Capitals, and he said that made all the difference. But one name kept coming back in all the conversations: Jaroslav Halak.
Beliveau cited an old adage in the league that “without a goalie, you won’t get very far.”
Beliveau lauded the team for bringing a bit of pleasure to the city for a few hours, allowing people to put aside their problems and unite in support of the bleu-blanc-rouge.
Former Habs general manager Rejean Houle called the victory important for the entire organization, which has undergone massive changes in recent months with a new owner and a new general manager.
Houle, a five-time Stanley Cup champion, said it was clear the Canadiens had the players to go head-to-head against any team in the league.
“The players defeated the best team in the league,” Houle said. “The atmosphere in the room is good and, right now, everything is falling into place. There’s a team spirit that’s forming and the bottom line is the wins are there.”
Montreal-born sniper and former New York Islanders great Mike Bossy said he was surprised by the Canadiens’ ability to withstand the Capitals.
Bossy compared the playoffs to trench warfare. He said the team that moves on to the next round is the one that isn’t affected by the inevitable highs and lows.
“It’s not the number of superstars that makes the difference, but the desire to win and to play to the very end,” said Bossy, who won four cups in a row in the early 1980s.
The Canadiens open their next playoff series on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.