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Not since the armies of James Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcalm battled outside the walls of Quebec City in the 1759 best-of-one semifinal of the French and Indian War—Wolfe winning in sudden (and widespread) death—have the Qu�b�cois witnessed as much hard feeling and fighting as accompanied this season's best-of-seven Adams Division playoff final between the Quebec Nordiques and the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal won the series four games to two with a come-from-behind 5-3 victory Friday in the Montreal Forum—a bloody slugfest that provided the almost predictably violent conclusion to a long and intense rivalry.
The Battle of Quebec, as the Canadian media called the series, was more than a matchup of two rival cities located 160 miles apart on the St. Lawrence River. It was also part of a lasting competition between the teams' owners, Molson Breweries (the Canadiens) and Carling O'Keefe (the Nordiques). In these Beer Wars, even the executives take runs at each other.
Ron Corey, the president of the Canadiens, made the opening shot two days before the series began. Asked by a radio reporter if he thought a playoff defeat would cause disgruntled Canadien fans to switch from Molson to O'Keefe, Corey said, "The Montreal fan who has just seen his team lose doesn't want to punish himself twice." (Five-minute penalty. Intent to injure.)
But that was a relatively harmless, even lighthearted, slash compared with the corporate two-hander Nordique president Marcel Aubut dealt Molson this winter when he bought the Canadian television rights to the home games of all 14 U.S.-based NHL clubs, effective next season. Aubut's deal will enable Carling O'Keefe to sponsor weekly hockey telecasts, thus breaking Molson's 32-year monopoly as the only beer sponsor of nationally televised hockey games in Canada.
Not to be outdone by the owners, the coaches also went at it. The day before the series opened, Montreal coach Jacques Lemaire, asked why he was going out of his way not to criticize the Nordiques, said he didn't want to motivate his opponents, "because I played in the NHL, and I know what can happen."
Quebec coach Michel Bergeron, who had never played in the NHL, took the remark personally. He countered by pointing out that eight of Lemaire's 12 years as a Montreal player were spent under coach Scotty Bowman, whose team won five Stanley Cups, "and who also never played in the NHL."
On paper, this series should never have taken place. To reach the second round of the playoffs, the Nordiques had to upset the Buffalo Sabres and they did so in three straight. For their part, the Canadiens, lurching out of their worst season in 33 years with a 35-40-5 record, had to beat the divisional champion Boston Bruins. Montreal stunned Boston in three straight by abandoning its time-honored fire-wagon style of hockey in favor of opportunism and tight checking, and by getting brilliant play from rookie goalie Steve Penney. Penney had been 0-4 with 19 goals allowed in his four regular season starts, but stopped 74 of 76 Boston shots in the playoffs.
As the Battle of Quebec began, it was obvious that Lemaire believed his team could intimidate the Nordiques. Reviewing videotapes of the Quebec-Buffalo series at a team meeting, Lemaire stopped the action to freeze a picture of Buffalo forward Craig Ramsay roughing up Nordique goalie Daniel Bouchard while a couple of Bouchard's teammates stood idly by. The Canadiens got the point. Though Montreal lost the opener, in Quebec City, 4-2, because of the constant hitting of Chris Nilan, Mark Hunter, Larry Robinson and Craig Ludwig, some of the Quebec forwards—particularly regular-season team scoring leader Michel Goulet—carried the puck as if they wished they could skate out of bounds. The winning goal in that game was a soft 60-footer by Blake Wesley that Penney should have stopped.
The Canadiens evened the series with a 4-1 win as Penney returned to form in Game 2. Nimble as a Cossack dancer, in one slam-bang sequence he made right-pad, left-pad, right-pad saves.
As the series moved to Montreal it was obvious which team wanted victory more. In the first period of Game 3, which Montreal won 2-1, the Canadien defensemen blocked more shots—seven—than Penney saved—six.