MONTREAL – The last time a Canadian-based team won the Stanley Cup—the Montreal Canadiens in 1993—it was no big deal.
Well, it was a really big deal if you were a fan of the Canadiens, who caused a surprise by reaching the final and then dispatched Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings in five games to claim their record 24th Cup. Big enough that there was a riot in downtown Montreal after the Cup-clinching game.
But in those days, a Canadian team winning it all was the norm rather than the exception.
If the Vancouver Canucks beat the Boston Bruins this season it would end an 18-year Cup drought for the country that lives and dies with hockey. And it would end a jinx that saw the 1994 Canucks, 2004 Calgary Flames, 2006 Edmonton Oilers and 2007 Ottawa Senators all lose in the final.
When Montreal last drank from the silver bowl, it ended Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ two-year reign. But before that, the Cup had been won seven straight years by Canadian teams—five by the Oilers and one each by Montreal (1986) and Calgary (1989).
“There’s 30 teams in the league now and every year it’s very competitive,” Vincent Damphousse, the scoring leader on the 1993 Montreal team, said this week. “Its not like the 1950s or 60s where you could build a team and keep it together and have a dynasty.
“I think you’ll see a lot of teams going 20, 30, 40 years without winning now.”
The 1992-93 Canadiens rode other-worldly goaltending from Patrick Roy and a record 10 consecutive overtime victories to a Cup few gave them any chance of winning after a regular season in which they finished third in what was then called the Adams Division, behind Boston and the detested rival Quebec Nordiques.
General manager Serge Savard had made two key pre-season acquisitions, picking up scoring forwards Damphousse and Brian Bellows, to add scoring punch to a group led by centre Kirk Muller, captain Guy Carbonneau, gritty winger Mike Keane and promising young winger John LeClair.
The top defence pair had point man Mathieu Schneider and tough guy Lyle Odelein, followed by Eric Desjardins and Jean-Jacques Daigneaut.
It was a team that needed a full season under coach Jacques Demers to jell into a tight defensive unit that leaned on Roy’s brilliance in goal and on some timely scoring. But when it reached the playoffs, it got a roll that couldn’t be stopped.
“We had some good veterans and some good young talent, like Eric Desjardins and John LeClair, who weren’t well known until that Cup,” said Damphousse. “Their careers just took off after that.
“We had a good team but we just didn’t know how good.”
It was a team that skated out onto the Montreal Forum ice to the crashing chords of the rock song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Jefferson Starship. And it was the last team to win a Cup with no European players. Russian winger Oleg Petrov was around, but didn’t play and didn’t get his name on the trophy.
How hockey would change only a few years later.
It helped that both Pittsburgh and Boston, who had beaten Montreal in three straight playoff meetings, were knocked out early, clearing a path to the final.
And unsung heroes arose, including winger Paul DiPietro, who had eight playoff goals, and Gilbert Dionne, who had six. Ed Ronan, Benoit Brunet, Gary Leeman and Kevin Haller were other regulars, while the injured Denis Savard spent the final behind the bench in a suit.
They were given little hope in the opening round against the rising young Nordiques. After losing the two games in Quebec City, they looked done. But the Canadiens took Game 3 at home on an overtime goal by Damphousse, evened the series in Game 4, and then closed it out in six games.
“We lost one of the first game in OT in Quebec and then won Game 3 in Montreal and made it 10 overtime wins in a row,” Damphousse recalled. “We only lost two more games after that.
“We started 0-2 in Quebec, then went 16-2. We took over after that.”
In the secondround, Montreal won four consecutive 4-3 games against Buffalo, the last three in OT. All four could have gone either way, but it earned the Canadiens a mid-playoff breather.
The third round was also short, taking out the Islanders in five.
Then came the Kings, who needed a heroic Game 7 effort from Gretzky to beat Toronto. Fans across Canada had been gearing for a Leafs-Habs classic, only to see The Great One spoil the party.
The Canadiens were underdogs against Los Angeles, and dropped the opening game 4-1 at home at the Forum.
They trailed 2-1 in Game 2 until a another piece of Staney Cup lore happened. Late in the game, Demers called for a measurement of Kings defenceman Marty McSorley’s stick. It was found to have too much curve, putting Montreal on a power play. Demers pulled Roy for a 6-on-4, and Desjardins tied it with his second goal of the game and then completed his hat-trick in OT.
In Los Angeles, LeClair, showing some of the power forward form that would later make him a 50-goal man in Philadelphia, scored OT goals in both Games 3 and 4, and the Canadiens closed it out back home in Game 5.
The Forum erupted, and as fans rejoiced out on the streets, windows were broken, stores looted, police cars set ablaze. An estimated $2.5 million in damage was done.
There was enough trouble that the Canadiens opted not to head downtown to celebrate, but had a party upstairs at the Forum.
On the way up, forward Stephan Lebeau passed a workman mopping the stairs who looked up and asked: “So, are you going to win again next year?”
That’s how fans who had seen their team win 24 Cups thought at that time. Little did he know that it would be 18 years and counting before any Canadian team, let alone the Canadiens, would win it again.