Roo-AH! Roo-AH! they chanted, a throng of 18,076 giddy Montrealers, on their feet, dutifully mispronouncing the name of the latest Canadiens hero at the bidding of the Forum message board. Roo-AH! Roo-AH! they cheered, shaking the rafters of the tradition-steeped arena as they'd not been shaken since the halcyon days of Guy Lafleur. Never mind that your great-Aunt Millie could have tended the Montreal goal in the final 20 minutes of Friday night's Wales Conference championship-clinching 3-1 win over the New York Rangers, giving the Canadiens the unexpectedly one-sided series four games to one. Or that the hero of the hour, goalie Patrick Roy, in fact pronounces his name like the French word roi, meaning king, which sounds something like hhrrhhoo-AH! speeded up from 45 to 78 rpm. This tribute to the 20-year-old Roy was for service beyond the call of a single period or a single game. It was for five weeks and 15 playoff games of the best darn goaltending the Canadiens have ever seen.
Roy's postseason goals-against average was a meager 1.70, and he had yet to allow more than three goals in a game while leading Montreal past Boston, Hartford, and now the Rangers, into the championship series for the first time since 1979 and onto the doorstep of the Canadiens' 23rd Stanley Cup. Roo-AH! Roo-AH! As Roy raised his arms in triumph, his teammates hugged and back-slapped and carried on like a bunch of kids, which, save for two old and estimable war-horses, they pretty much are.
Eight rookies, not counting first-year coach Jean Perron, led the Canadiens past the plucky Rangers, who managed to put only nine goals behind Roy in the five-game wipeout. "It's impossible to win here for some reason," said Ranger forward Pierre Larouche, a former Canadien who, with just two assists, was a virtual no-show in the series. "It was like they had more than five men on the ice. It must be the ghosts of the Rocket and Lafleur."
More like the ghosts of Larry Robinson, 34, and Bob Gainey, 32, who have been skating as they did in their prime—which in Robinson's case was at least five seasons ago. The only two holdovers from the powerhouse Canadiens teams that won four straight Stanley Cups from 1975 to 1979 ( Mario Tremblay would have been a third, but he has missed the playoffs with a broken collarbone), Robinson and Gainey have waged a two-man assault on the notion that post-30 in the NHL means postmortem. "It makes you proud to come this far with eight rookies," says Montreal G.M. Serge Savard, whose draft choices of the past three years—Roy, Claude Lemieux (he of the two overtime goals, including the seventh-game winner to beat the Whalers) and Stephane Richer—are suddenly bearing fruit. "But the veterans are the ones who have carried the club. When the rookies see Robinson and Gainey giving all that they have at their age, they think, 'Yes, I can, too.' "
Call it the Henri Richard syndrome: rejuvenation through Cup fever. "When you know you don't have as many races ahead as the ones you've already run, you're playing for one more chance at the Cup," says Gainey, who checked Larouche into a rut this series, proving he is still the best defensive forward in the league. "These Canadiens are not a dominating team like we were in the '70s. We're a team with limits. But we stay within those limits and have created the attitude that we never want to lose a game easily."
Translation: Mind your own end first. Montreal may have a new coach—Perron was Jacques Lemaire's assistant last season—but they are playing under the same old philosophy. Defense. The Canadiens smother a team with it. They suffocate a crowd. They strangle the TV ratings. If you don't get your jollies from watching a man being tied up in front, bring a good book to the game, ch�ri, you're in for a long, drowsy night. The Flying Frenchmen? Save that for another era. The only flying this team does is to its road games. The back-checking Frenchmen, the fore-checking Swedes, the disciplined Yanks is more like it. And, is it dull. Nos glorieux, reduced to the rouge, bleu et blecchh.
But, hey, it works. So what if Montreal doctors these days are prescribing two aspirin and a Canadien playoff game for minor cases of la grippe! They are winning. Somehow. How weak is the Canadiens' offense? In their 15 postseason games they have mustered only 41 goals—four of them while playing short-handed—a scoring average of only 2.73 per game. By any standards—playoffs, peewees, squirts—that is pathetic. Teams playing Montreal need not bother dressing a checking line—the Canadiens don't have a goal-scoring unit worth checking. Not one of the top 15 scorers in the playoffs is a Canadien.
But since when were hockey games graded for style points? Montreal is 11-4 playing it close to the vest, and if you have a goalie who feels a 2-1 lead is a landslide, why not lull folks to sleep? That was exactly what happened in Game 1 of the Rangers series, an unassuming contest in which all the scoring came in the second period—Gainey got the game-winner—and the tone for the series was set. Namely, get the early lead, then hold on, especially to that guy in the slot.
It was thought that the Canadiens and Rangers would match up pretty well. Neither team had shown much in the regular season—the Rangers were under .500 for the year and the Canadiens failed to break even over the last 40 games—but had hit their stride for the playoffs. The Rangers were the third-best defensive team in the NHL, the Canadiens fourth-best, and both prided themselves on their patience. One major difference: The Montreal power play was the league's third-best, scoring at a 25.4% clip. The Rangers were 17th. Ultimately, that difference would prove to be the Blueshirts' undoing.
Game 2 was a laugher, a 6-2 Canadien win that sent the series on to New York. Asked if young Roy was as impressive as he seemed, Ranger forward Wilf Paiement shrugged. "He's only getting 20 shots a game. Let's get 30 to 40 shots and we'll see how great he is."