Montreal Canadiens Dynasty 

Montreal as Hockey Mecca Still Survives

If there is any place where hockey is still a religion, it is here along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, where the NHL was founded and where the Montreal Canadiens have taken home at least one Stanley Cup every decade since they won their first in 1916, before the league was even conceived. Every decade, that is, except this one.

Since the NHL was born, the Canadiens have won a league-record 23 Stanley Cups, second among North American professional franchises to the Yankees' 26 World Series championships.

But Montreal has not won the Cup since 1993. The 11-season drought (the 2004-5 season was canceled because of a lockout) equals the longest in franchise history.

"The mystique is gone," said The Montreal Gazette's Red Fisher, at 79 the acknowledged dean of NHL sportswriters, whose first assignment covering the Canadiens was turned into the infamous Richard Riot in March 1955.

"I don't see the mystique," Fisher said. "I don't feel the mystique. After all, the Rocket and the Pocket and Beliveau and Geoffrion and Moore and Harvey and Plante and Dryden and so on, they've retired. The mystique simply disappeared into the mist in the "80s."

After a coaching change at the season's midway point, the Canadiens squeaked into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's seventh-seeded team. They took a surprising 2-0 lead in their first-round series against the second-seeded Carolina Hurricanes before losing Wednesday night's Game 3, 2-1, in overtime.

Carolina's Eric Staal scored the decisive goal on a power play 3 minutes 38 seconds into the overtime.

Even though they are no longer known as the Flying Frenchmen, Le Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge are relevant again, for the moment, at least. They now face the prospect of playing without Saku Koivu, their captain, who sustained an injury to his left eye after being hit in the face by the stick of Carolina forward Justin Williams in the second period.

Koivu is sidelined indefinitely, and the team announced yesterday that the full extent of the injury won't be known until more tests are completed in two or three days when the swelling subsides.

Before Wednesday night's game, Montreal's first home game of the playoffs, the Canadiens celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1975-76 Cup champions with a nostalgic video montage that had the capacity crowd of 21,273 on its feet cheering wildly.

The 1975-76 team lost just one game during the playoffs to begin the franchise's last real dynasty. Montreal won four consecutive Cups from 1976 to 1979. The Canadiens won again in 1986 and 1993 but have not advanced to the conference finals since.

There is cautious optimism here that this year could be different, and much of it stems from the sudden emergence of Cristobal Huet, a 30-year-old, French-born goaltender. Huet has morphed from a journeyman backup for the Los Angeles Kings the past two seasons into an instant folk hero in Quebec.

Huet earned the starting job for good at the start of February. He went on to lead the league with a .929 save percentage and carried the Canadiens to a playoff berth, evoking comparisons to Patrick Roy, the former Montreal great.

Bob Gainey, the team's general manager, who took over behind the bench for Claude Julien in mid-January, said Wednesday morning that those comparisons may be premature.

"Well, you can make any comparisons you want," said Gainey, a Hall of Fame wing who was a mainstay on the last Canadiens' dynasty and won his fifth and last Stanley Cup as a player in 1986, Roy's rookie season. "I think what you're trying to do is compare a great Bordeaux with grapes that haven't bloomed yet."

That excitement, though, partially stems from the fact that, unlike most of the league's other cities, hockey is truly the only game in town here.

"It's a different pressure," said the veteran defenseman Mathieu Dandenault, who won three Cups with Detroit and remembered what it felt like in 1997, when the Red Wings won their first Cup since 1955.

Because the Canadiens long ago ceased to be Cup contenders every season, the expectations here have drastically changed.

"I think the people here are pretty realistic," said Carolina forward Mark Recchi, who played parts of five seasons with the Canadiens from 1995 to 1999. "They want to see effort. And I think they enjoy this team."

The fans especially appreciate Huet, whom they serenaded with chants of his last name Wednesday every time he came up with a big save.

The Bell Center, which replaced the historic Montreal Forum in 1996, may still be the loudest arena in the league. The Canadiens sold out every game in the regular season.

Canadiens vs. Sabres

Winners of nine of their last 10, the Canadiens will be looking to further secure their playoff position tonight when they visit the Buffalo Sabres. The Lightning, Thrashers and Maple Leafs continue to battle with Montreal for one of the two final playoff berths, as New Jersey clinched its postseason appearance Tuesday night. Bob Gainey’s troops, who beat the Senators 3-2 Monday night at the Bell Centre, remain alone in seventh place with a two point lead over the Lightning and need just three points to clinch their spot in the playoffs.

The Sabres, currently in fourth place in the East, can mathematically still catch the Senators for the Northeast Division crown, as they sit eight points back with four games left to play. Idle since beating Ottawa 6-2 Saturday night, Lindy Ruff’s squad is just one win away from tying the franchise record of 49 set back in 1974-75.

Tonight marks the seventh of eight meetings between the Sabres and Canadiens this season. Five of the previous six contests have resulted in 3-2 finals, three of which have been won by Montreal. Buffalo has taken two games in overtime and topped the Canadiens 3-1 back on Nov. 25.

Defense gets offensive: With the return to NHL action following the Olympics, the Canadiens’ defensemen have shown more offense than ever. Sheldon Souray (16 points), Andrei Markov (11 points), Mathieu Dandenault (9 points) and Craig Rivet (8 points) are among the top 50 blueliners in the league since the schedule resumed on Feb. 28. In earning an assist on Richard Zednik’s goal Monday, Dandenault became the fifth Canadiens defenseman to notch at least 20 points this season. Montreal’s blue line hasn’t had this much offensive success since 1982-83 when Larry Robinson, Gilbert Delorme, Robert Picard, Rick Green and Craig Ludwig all notched 20 points that season. In 2005-06, the Flyers are the only Eastern Conference team whose defensemen have had equal success, while the defense corps of the Flames, Kings and Canucks each count five players with at least 20 points.

Boom Boom Night

It was a beautiful night at the Bell Centre on Saturday March the 11th as an emotional crowd of 21,273 filled the arena, not only to watch a hockey game but also to celebrate the life and career of a great Canadiens player. Last October the Canadiens announced that finally after years of waiting Bernard’s number 5 would hang in the rafters of the Bell centre next to his father in law Howie Morenz’s number 7. Geoffrion chose March the 11th as the date this would happen to honour his father in law’s passing on this very date 69 years ago.

A sour twist of fate a few days before the ceremony saw 75-year-old Geoffrion diagnosed with stomach cancer. This news originally did not discourage the Canadiens great as he assured the media that he would still attend the event in Montreal on Saturday. Unfortunately the operation that Geoffrion underwent did not have the desired effect everyone had hoped for. Bernard sent his two sons to Montreal to inform the media that he would be unable to attend the event that he had awaited his entire life. On Saturday morning Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion passed away after his short battle with stomach cancer.

Bernard earned the nickname “Boom Boom” from Canadiens sports writer Charlie Boire who asked Geoffrion if he could call him that after watching him practice his slap shot after practice one night. The nickname is the onomatopoeic sound of the puck getting slapped by Geoffrion’s stick then striking the boards with startling force. Geoffrion played his first game against the New York Rangers and scored the only goal for the Canadiens in a 1-1 tie. He went on to many successes, he won six Stanley Cups, two Art Ross Trophies as the leagues leading scorer, one Hart Trophy as the leagues MVP and the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.

The ceremony was at moments a sombre one but was also a joyous celebration of a hockey hero. It featured two MC’s Dick Irvin and Richard Garneau who addressed the crowd in English and French respectively. The ceremony featured a 10-minute video of ex team-mates and opposition players commenting on Geoffrion’s contributions to the game both on and off the ice, as well as highlights of his playing career and the press conference the Canadiens held to announce his number retirement. The New York Rangers also presented the Geoffrion family with a token of their appreciation for Geoffrion who closed his career out with the Rangers. In fitting fashion Geoffrion’s number 5 banner has an addition of a black ribbon to commemorate his death on the very day his number was raised to the rafters of the Bell Centre. Awaiting at the halfway point to the rafters was the banner of Howie Morenz, Geoffrion’s father in law and as “Boom Boom” predicted while still playing for the Canadiens his number 5 was raised to the rafters and will sit next to Morenz’s number 7 for many years to come. All of the Geoffrion family was in attendance to watch the banner raising. They were joined by eight of Geoffrion's team-mates from the Canadiens dynasty that won five straight Cups from 1956 to 1960 - Dickie Moore, Henri Richard, Emile (Butch) Bouchard, Jean-Guy Talbot, Marcel Bonin, Phil Goyette, Andre Pronovost and Dollard St-Laurent. Geoffrion’s two sons Danny and Robert both read speeches to the Canadiens faithful praising them for their support and expressing their love for their Father and their Fathers love for the Canadiens and the Canadiens faithful who had supported him since his Rookie debut with Jean Beliveau. By the end of the ceremony it was near impossible to find a dry eye in the building, as it was a tear jerking final few minutes when the entire Geoffrion family stood and watched number 5 climb high into the Bell Centre and Canadiens history.

Wild roomies like to kid around

Boogey and Burns might sound like a bygone cop show, but their relationship as roommates with the Wild is pure sitcom.

One can imagine the dialogue and hi-jinks between the Boogeyman, Derek Boogaard, and the incessantly chatty Brent Burns playing out in North American hotel rooms over the course of a 41-game road schedule.

Boogaard's snoring drives Burns so crazy, he will pelt the 6-foot-7 enforcer with pillows, shoes or whatever he can grab in the middle of the night.

"Ask him how many earplugs I need," Burns said.

Burns hauls so many electronic gadgets on each trip that he monopolizes every outlet in the room.

"He's got this big bag of toys. It's all wires — DVD player, iPod, cell phone, laptop. I can't even plug in my cell phone," Boogaard said.

The bickering is mostly for show. Boogaard and Burns are best buddies. Creatures of habit, they typically order dessert from room service after returning from dinner with teammates.

"Two straws and a milkshake. Nice and romantic, me and the Boogeyman," Burns cracked.

NHL teams spend at least seven months together every day practicing, playing or traveling, which translates into about 60 nights on the road during the season. To streamline travel costs, players are roomed together and forced to endure each other's quirks, sleep habits and bathroom etiquette.

On the Wild, the exceptions are Manny Fernandez (because veteran goalies are typically left alone to brood or relax in solitude) and Brian Rolston (because the collective bargaining agreement allows players with more than 600 games to have their own rooms).

While there is no formula for assigning roommates, certain patterns are followed to make players comfortable. Recently recalled minor league teammates Josh Harding and Erik Westrum are paired, as are Kyle Wanvig and Kurtis Foster.

Mattias Weinhandl, who was claimed off waivers earlier this month, rooms with fellow Swede Daniel Tjarnqvist.

Andrei Zyuzin currently rooms with Randy Robitaille, although the defenseman has chased away several others because of his reputation as the team's loudest snorer.

"That's not true at all," Zyuzin said. "There was one night, I think Gabby (Marian Gaborik) was with me; I was sick the day before. I slept like 13 hours, and I know I snored. But that's it."

Coach Jacques Lemaire roomed with linemate and fellow hall of famer Guy Lafleur during their dynasty days with the Canadiens. Lemaire saw up close how the pressure of being the game's No. 1 star and playing in Montreal's media fishbowl wore on Lafleur.

But they also had fun sharing stories and laughs at the hotel bar instead of carousing with teammates, which eventually won over autocratic coach Scotty Bowman.

"Scotty didn't want anybody to drink at the hotel, but Guy and I went to see him," Lemaire said. "We said we'll be in bed a lot earlier if we have a beer here, and, secondly, you'll know where we are. After that, he came around."

Isles honoring the first champs

The Nassau Coliseum used to be a place where a dynasty reigned. On Saturday, it will be once again ? at least for a night.

The New York Islanders are honoring their 1979-80 team, which brought the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups to Long Island. General Manager Bill Torrey, coach Al Arbour and most of the players on the Isles' first championship team will be on hand for the festivities.

In today's era of rapid roster turnover, it's hard to believe that 16 players were actually on hand for all four of the Isles' championships. And given the team's struggles during the past decade, the night is a reminder that, a generation ago, the Islanders were among the greatest teams in NHL history.
Ironically, of the four Cup teams, the one that launched the dynasty was the weakest during the regular season. The Islanders had dethroned the Montreal Canadiens as regular-season champs in 1978-79, but lost a bitter semifinals series to their archrivals, the New York Rangers. The Isles spent much of 1979-80 playing as if they were shell-shocked from the previous spring.

"There were calls for Al's head. There were signs saying 'Fire Al," former Islanders goaltender Glenn "Chico" Resch told MSG Network Thursday. "There were calls to break up the club. We really weren't playing together. We had to confront our demons -- to find out why we weren't winning."

Torrey had resisted the temptation to break up the team after the 1979 playoff loss. But he knew that despite having the best forward line in the NHL -- the "Trio Grande" of Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy -- he needed another consistent threesome to take some of the pressure off his top unit. He found what he was looking for at the trading deadline, when he sent two regulars, forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis, to Los Angeles for center Butch Goring.

The deal for Goring was made possible by the emergence of Ken Morrow, who arrived on Long Island with the Olympic gold medal he won as a member of the "Miracle On Ice" team. "I couldn't have made that trade without Kenny," Torrey remembered years later. "The fact that he proved he could play in the NHL right away let me trade Dave Lewis, who was a good defenseman. I needed a second-line center, and Goring fit the bill."

Goring was a perfect fit on Long Island. He added speed, offense, defense, penalty-killing skills, and grit.

"You've got to have two legitimate offensive centers, so the opposition can't shut down one line," Resch told MSG. "Getting Butch was the catalyst we needed."

The Islanders were unbeatable after getting Goring, going 8-0-4 in their final 12 games and blitzing through the first three rounds of the playoffs to make the finals for the first time. Their opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, were coming off a season in which they had won the regular-season title and set an NHL record with a 35-game unbeaten streak.

But the Islanders stunned Spectrum fans by scoring in overtime to win the opener, 3-2. The teams split the next four games, giving the Islanders the opportunity to win the title at home.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," Resch said. "We almost lost. We led 4-2 after two periods, but the Flyers scored twice in the third period to force overtime."

The came the most famous play in Islanders history: Lorne Henning broke up a play at center ice and sent John Tonelli and Bob Nystrom in on a 2-on-1 break. Nystrom chipped Tonelli's pass into the open side of the net at 7:11 of OT, and a dynasty was born.

And what was the feeling after the game-winner?

"More relief than excitement," Resch remembered.

On Saturday night, the excitement will be there.

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