TV reporter Tony Ambrogio asked on Twitter the other night if this year’s Montreal Canadiens reminded anyone else of the 1993 edition of the Habs. Both, he pointed out, finished third in their divisions and both had great goalies.
Immediately, more parallels between the two playoff seasons surfaced for me.
In the Wales Conference final of 1993, the Canadiens played a New York-based team, the Islanders. That New York-based club earlier knocked off a heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins squad in Round 2 (who can forget David Volek’s stunning Game 7 overtime winner?). The Rangers this year are following a similar script.
In the Campbell Conference final, a California-based team (Los Angeles) played an Original Six club (Toronto) for the right to vie for the Stanley Cup. This year, it’s the Ducks or Kings against Chicago, the only Original Six team remaining in the West.
The trip down memory lane is ostensibly just that; what happened 21 years ago has no direct bearing on today.
Still, it’s an interesting exercise for Canadien (and Canadian) fans looking for any reason to fortify their belief that this will finally be the year the drought ends and a team from the Great White North wins the Cup for the first time in 21 years. If the universe unfolded this way a couple decades ago, why can’t it happen again?
For me, the 1993 playoffs hold a special place in my sentimental archives, perhaps moreso than any other year. It was all about the underdog, wonderful plots twists and defining moments. We had:
• the final installment of the Battle of Quebec
• Buffalo's first round sweep of juggernaut Boston, punctuated by Brad May's overtime winner in Game 4 and Rick Jeanneret's famous "May Day" call
• Dale Hunter''s "Cheap Shot Heard Around the World" on Pierre Turgeon, prompting a landmark 21-game suspension. (The replays start at 2:18).
• Patrick Roy’s near-miraculous 10 consecutive overtime wins
• Volek’s second round stunner and Darius Kasparaitis’ thundering hits against a team that was supposed to three-peat.
• Toronto’s huge upset of Detroit in Round 1, courtesy a Nikolai Borschevsky Game 7 overtime winner
• the Wayne Gretzky high-stick non-call in Game 6 versus the Maple Leafs and his winner moments later; and his sheer dominance in Game 7
• the Marty McSorley illegal stick call in the Stanley Cup final that seemed to turn the tide in Montreal’s favor
In 1993, all four conference finalists had finished third in their divisions. This time we’ll have at least two, and a third if the Kings upset the Ducks on Friday.
Oh, and 1993 was the last time the playoff format was divisionally based. Until now, of course.