Then again Lemieux is not exactly Miss Manners. He was hit with a one-game suspension, served in Game 4, for that punching of Kozlov, and his bad-boy reputation probably contributed to his banishment. By comparison, Kozlov smashed Colorado defenseman Adam Foote's face into the Plexiglas in Game 3, opening a geyser in his forehead that took 20 stitches to close—talk about your bad blood—yet was neither penalized nor suspended.
Avalanche coach Marc Crawford wasn't about to let his squeaky voice be drowned out by Bowman. At a press conference on Friday, several hours before the NHL announced Lemieux's suspension, Crawford, voice cracking, said, "[Bowman] is a great thinker, but he thinks so much that you even get the plate in his head causing interference on our headsets during the game."
Even though the Colorado coaches had indeed been having difficulty with their headsets—not that they were picking up the St. Louis Cardinals game on KMOX or anything—Crawford's crack was as boorish as it was unoriginal. Crawford said he had once heard former Florida coach Roger Neilson use a variation of it at a roast for Bowman, whose career was ended in junior hockey in 1951 when his skull was fractured with a stick, necessitating the metal plate.
"When I heard what he said about Scotty Bowman," said Crawford's wife, Helene, "I told him, 'I hope you're sleeping in the hotel tonight.' "
"I'm sure the Red Wings expected us to be good little boys and just take it from Bowman, but we couldn't let them get away with it," Crawford said last Friday. His outburst wasn't a coaching meltdown but rather a tactical ploy designed to take pressure off his team. It was as carefully constructed as the Avalanche itself.
The team was in its final days as the Quebec Nordiques when it was upset by the New York Rangers in the first round of last year's playoffs. That series loss bared some gaping holes that general manager Pierre Lacroix soon set about filling. For sheer nasty postseason head-banging, he traded for Lemieux, the 1995 playoff MVP with the New Jersey Devils, who personifies fingernails dragged across a blackboard. For the power play he acquired, from the San Jose Sharks, Sandis Ozolinsh, who is playing like a young Paul Coffey and through Monday was the leading defenseman in playoff scoring with five goals and 15 points. In the Roy deal Lacroix picked up forward Mike Keane to improve the team's checking, but last week Keane showed he can do more than that, scoring the winning goal in Colorado's 3-2 overtime victory against Detroit in Game 1. "On ESPN SportsCenter that night they called it a flutterball," Keane said of his game-winner. "All I know is that with the Fox puck, my shot turned red on the screen. The puck turns red if it reaches a certain speed, right? The shot wasn't pink. The shot wasn't white. It was red."
But Roy was the pivotal acquisition, obtained to give the Avalanche je ne sais quoi, which is French for "huge saves in the spring." He was a big man in Montreal, too big for some. The incident that got him traded—his tantrum after Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay left him in for nine Red Wings goals in an embarrassing 11-1 loss last Dec. 2—might merely have been the goalie expressing his inner child, but there was some opinion that the inner child was overdue for a spanking. In April, Canadiens defenseman Lyle Odelein said that trading Roy, who had had a relatively free rein under former Montreal coach Jacques Demers, had improved team chemistry.
The Avalanche players were delighted to have a veteran with Roy's portfolio join the team, but at the time of the trade Colorado goalie St�phane Fiset had been playing splendidly. The transition was awkward for everyone. "During the regular season I don't think Patrick played that well," said Wolanin last week. "Of course, I don't think we played defense in front of him as well as the Montreal teams had, either. But at no time were any people in this dressing room questioning the trade. We were very comfortable in front of Steph, but we also became very comfortable in front of Patrick."
Roy adjusted, too. After six weeks the idea of playing in a city where he wasn't public property began to appeal to him. Lidstrom's long-distance shot in Game 3 was simply a bad goal, not a calamity. When Roy let in Cam Neely's 65-footer against the Boston Bruins in the 1991 playoffs, he says he heard about it all summer—and that was from Serge Savard, then the Canadiens' general manager.
"That's why you knew Patrick would bounce back after the bad game," Colorado goalie coach Jacques Cloutier said. "He's so strong mentally. Playing 10 years for the Montreal Canadiens, you had better be strong mentally. All he went through, 12 months a year. It wasn't eight months. It wasn't like he was going home for the summer. He was home."