An All-Canadian Stanley cup finals, such as the one going on between the Calgary Flames and the Montreal Canadiens, has at least three advantages:
?It means one less national anthem to listen to before each game. Should this series go seven games—which seemed a distinct possibility after the Flames squeaked out a 3-2 win on their home ice in Game 1 on Sunday night—the time saved could exceed 20 minutes.
?Fans traveling back and forth between Alberta and Quebec will rack up thousands of frequent flier miles on Air Canada. They can cash them in for tickets to such exotic spots as Yellowknife and Inuvik.
?Most important, the Calgary- Montreal finals means that justice has finally prevailed in the NHL. The Flames and the Canadiens finished with the best and second-best records, respectively, in the regular season. Their meeting in the Cup finals vindicates the NHL's oft-maligned playoff system, which in past years has been as equitable as a Panamanian election.
But there is a downside to this matchup: Montreal was the best defensive team in the league this season; Calgary was a close second. The players went into the series promising to "work the corners" and "finish our checks," and professing fidelity to "our commitment to defense." It was possible that the 20,062 narcoleptics who regularly fill Calgary's Saddledome—and applaud only when the scoreboard begs, A LITTLE RACKET, PLEASE—would have to resort to the Wave early and often to keep themselves awake.
No Waves were necessary for Game 1 on Sunday. To quote Flame coach Terry Crisp's pithy summary of the four-goal first period, "Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!" After 10 minutes the score was 2-2, and the P.A. announcer at the Saddledome was getting hoarse from reciting goals and assists. On the bench, Crisp wondered, Where did our defensive style go?
"Everyone was flying around, bumping into everyone else," said Calgary defenseman Al MacInnis, a soft-spoken fellow who is widely believed to have the hardest slap shot in the league. When MacInnis uncoils his 6'2", 196-pound frame into a puck, it is often impossible to see the ensuing shot: A defenseman crumples or the net bulges, but a slow-motion replay is required to spot the flying rubber disk.
MacInnis rocketed just such a missile past Habs goalie Patrick Roy at 6:51 of the first period to tie the game at one. "That shot would have gone through a piece of Plexiglas." said Montreal coach Pat Burns. The goal was balm for MacInnis's troubled conscience: He had allowed Habs sniper St�phane Richer to waltz past him and put Montreal on the scoreboard first. "I felt I owed the team one," said MacInnis.
Less than two minutes after his first goal, MacInnis took Joel Otto's drop pass and buried another laser in the Canadiens' net for a series-leading 23rd playoff point. At 10:02, when Flame defenseman Jamie Macoun kicked a cross-crease pass from Montreal's Larry Robinson past his own goalie, Mike Vernon, the score was 2-2. That was where the wild and woolly first period ended.
After those 20 minutes of fire-wagon hockey, the teams remembered themselves and reverted to form. As Crisp said, it was "back to good old blockade hockey." The game was tied, but the Flames had demonstrated that Montreal's renowned defense could not keep them out of the slot.