The mystical Montreal Canadiens' spring of 1986 was a time for astronomers, linguists and psychologists. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers were done in by defenseman Steve Smith's fluky own-goal against the Calgary Flames in the divisional finals to properly align the heavens for another Canadiens' title run. The tongue-tied English-speaking hockey world struggled to master the pronunciation of Montreal rookie goalie Patrick Roy's name. Was it Ru-ah, or Rrwah or Wah? (The last is correct.) Regardless, he appeared to be mad, talking to his goalposts, his head bobbing like a hen's pecking at a kernel of corn. In an age of soaring offensive production, Roy's 1.92 playoff goals-against average would assure the Canadiens their 23rd championship and the first since the end of their dynasty, in 1979. "I thought Calgary had a better team," says New Jersey Devils coach Larry Robinson, the star defenseman who would win the last of his six Stanley Cups as a player with that 1985-86 Montreal team. "We got that one because Patrick stood on his head."
Roy's quirky brilliance accentuated the fact that Montreal had shredded conventional wisdom by winning with 10 rookies on the roster and first-year coach Jean Perron behind the bench. They were an eclectic, electric group of youngsters. Some, like Roy, now a stalwart for the Colorado Avalanche, and Claude Lemieux, currently a prickly right wing for New Jersey, would go on to win Conn Smythe trophies as postseason MVPs and have memorable careers. Others, such as solid Dallas Stars center Brian Skrudland and enigmatic St. Louis Blues right wing St�phane Richer, would have long and, in their own styles, mostly productive NHL stays. There would be future workmanlike pros such as defenseman Mike Lalor. There would be forwards Kjell Dahlin and Steve Rooney, who were out of the NHL by the end of the decade, proof that having your name engraved on the Cup is no guarantee of immortality.
No one could have known what was in store for those Canadiens before that postseason. For seven propitious weeks Montreal, which had only the seventh-best record (40-33-7) during the regular season, lived in the present like few upstarts before or since. Lemieux, who had just one regular-season goal in 10 games, would score 10 in 20 playoff matches, including four winners, two of them in overtime. In the conference finals Roy would make 13 unworldly saves in overtime of Game 3 to stun the New York Rangers. Skrudland would score the fastest overtime goal in playoff history by tallying nine seconds into sudden death in Game 2 in Calgary.
"It was all such a surprise," Lemieux said last Thursday. "But it's possible we'll see another 1986 again because of expansion. Teams don't have as much depth. If kids show anything, teams have to give them a chance. So maybe a club with lots of rookies plus strong, veteran leaders—and we had big-time leaders like Larry, Bob [Gainey, current Dallas general manager] and [ Phoenix Coyotes general manager] Bobby Smith—could do it again."