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Having watched the Nordiques repeatedly lure the Whalers into fights that ultimately disrupted Hartford's game plans, the disciplined Canadiens laughed and said, "Let them try that with us." Quebec did, and in Montreal the ploy worked beautifully. In Game 1 the Canadiens were hit with three double minor penalties—two courtesy of the pugnacious Chris Nilan—and the grateful Nordiques converted one of them into a power-play goal in their 7-5 win. Anton Stastny scored two goals and an assist as the Nordiques drove Canadien goaltender Patrick Roy, the hero of the '86 Cup triumph, to the bench, where he remained through Game 4.
Nordique heavyweight Basil McRae had scored only nine goals in his previous 39 games, but he got one in Game 1 against Montreal, and Hunter started calling him "Orr." When McRae popped a rebound past goalie Brian Hayward for the 2-1 game-winner in Game 2, Hunter took to calling him "Gretz."
In Quebec City on Friday night, the fans, most of whom were clad in white, greeted their triumphant Nordiques with an ovation that was deafening—for 14 seconds. That's how long it took Sergio Momesso to beat Gosselin. When the puck trickled into the Quebec zone off the opening face-off, Nordique defensemen Randy Moller and Steven Finn dutifully rode their men into the boards. Problem was, no one picked up the puck until Momesso skated in unmolested and lifted a lame backhander over Gosselin's shoulder. After that, Canadien tough guys Nilan and John Kordic took the law into their own fists, pummeling away at McRae. When it was all over, Montreal had an impressive 7-2 victory—and Perron came off as a genius. Perron had not dressed Momesso and center Kjell Dahlin for the Canadiens' losses in Montreal and had used defenseman Mike Lalor only in Game 2. But he dressed all three for Game 3, and they accounted for six points in the Canadiens' romp.
On Sunday night McRae showed that he had not forgotten his meal ticket into the NHL. Before the game even started, he and Momesso flailed away at each other, two heavyweights doing battle. So much for that NHL argument that fighting is not premeditated. McRae was adjudged the instigator, and the Canadiens started the game with a power play. Once again Montreal silenced the wildly partisan crowd with a shotgun start, this time Naslund scoring after only 18 seconds. "That was a cold shower for them," Perron said. Colder still, of course, was the little Swede's winner in sudden death.
All the fighting was rather predictable, of course. Beer War playoff games have always featured enough stickwork to fell a fat tree. Perhaps the most memorable—forgettable, really—display took place in 1984. At the end of the second period of Game 6, a fight between Hunter and Montreal's Guy Carbonneau touched off a bench-clearing brawl. Then, as both teams were on the ice warming up for the third period, the melee resumed. At the end, Hunter was grappling with his brother, Mark. Up in the stands their father looked on, pulling for whoever seemed to be getting the worst of it. Together the teams were assessed 252 minutes in penalties.
And so, having wrested the momentum from the cross-province upstarts, the Canadiens headed back to the Forum for Game 5. "The danger of defending the Cup," said Montreal captain Bob Gainey on his team's arrival in Quebec City, "is that you find yourself looking down the road to the next shift, the next period, the next series. If you go into [Game 3] thinking, We have to beat them four times, it would seem like such a mountain to climb, you might not even give it the effort."
On Sunday evening the Canadiens were halfway up Gainey's metaphorical mountain and focused on the next foothold, not the peak.