It seems absurd that the Montreal Canadiens, those seigneurs of hockey, would ever feel the need to vindicate themselves, but such was the case in the Stanley Cup finals last week. For almost two months the Montreal players had read Les Canadiens sont mort on every face in Quebec.
After all, the Canadiens had finished second to the New York Islanders—by one point—in the NHL's overall standings, a sure sign to skeptics that the foundation of their dynasty had decayed. Then, in the Cup semifinals, the beleaguered Canadiens had barely scraped past Boston by the margin of an overtime goal in the seventh game. And when the New York Rangers had soundly trounced them 4-1 in the opener of the finals—right there in the Forum—well, sacr� bleu, the word on rue Ste-Catherine was, "Those players, they do not deserve to wear the uniform that the Rocket wore."
"People think of Montrealers as being such sophisticated hockey fans," says one Quebecker, "but they're the same as people everywhere else: 'What have you done for me lately?' "
Well, lately—Monday night, in fact—the Canadiens gave their followers another Stanley Cup as they beat the New York Rangers for the fourth straight time to take the series four games to one. It was Les Canadiens' fourth consecutive Cup, their eighth in 12 seasons and their 22nd in history—but the first Cup won at the Forum since 1968, when their captain, Serge Savard, was a rookie.
And now, as the Forum reverberated with the traditional victory song—Les Canadiens Sont L�—it was Savard who was hoisting the Cup and skating around in triumph. All was forgiven.
Savard grinned, "It's always the last game that the people remember."
Before Monday night's game, Montreal Goaltender Ken Dryden, perhaps the one Canadien who had to vindicate himself the most, offered an explanation for the fans' discontent. "This season things have not gone in a nice progression, the way they have in years past," he said. "It's been three steps forward, two steps back all year long."
For Dryden and the Canadiens, it was one giant step backward in the 4-1 opening loss to the Rangers, then a small step backward in the first minutes of Game 2 last Tuesday night when the Rangers surged to a 2-0 lead. Dryden, who played erratically throughout the Boston series, had been lifted after the second period of Game 1, having surrendered all four goals. Michel (Bunny) Larocque, his longtime backup, was scheduled to play Game 2, his first playoff start since 1974.
But with exactly one minute to go in the pregame warmup, Doug Risebrough fired a rising shot that cracked the plastic of Larocque's cage mask and crashed against the goaltender's forehead. Down went Larocque. "It was like walking on a boat with the sea really moving," he said after he had returned from the hospital, his brow a purplish brown.
Dryden was greeted by a chorus of boos when announced as the Montreal goaltender, and when two of the Rangers' first three shots went past him, the Forum fans rose and shook their programs at him threateningly. Leading 2-0 after only seven minutes of play, the precocious Rangers were entertaining thoughts of a two-game sweep in Montreal, a four-game sweep of the series and New York's first Stanley Cup in 39 years.