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That was just one of the intriguing differences between the Kings and the Canadiens, who in many ways represented opposite poles. The Kings, with the third highest payroll in the league, are the glamour boys of hockey, led by His Ninety-nineness, Gretzky, the sport's alltime leading scorer and all-purpose poster boy. The Canadiens, by contrast, are epitomized by Carbonneau, a hardworking defensive specialist who could wear vanity plates on his chest and still not be recognized south of the Canadian border.
Motivation? The 23 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the Montreal Forum rafters provide all the motivation Canadien players will ever need—those banners and a populace of policemen, barbers and mailmen who do not let the players forget that a year without a Stanley Cup is another hockey year wasted. Meanwhile, in L.A., just in case his team needed a little extra incentive, owner Bruce McNall was reported to have offered the King players a million dollars to split if they brought home the franchise's first Stanley Cup. McNall has since denied making the offer, which violates league rules, but let's just say it's not out of character.
Throughout the first week of the finals the Canadiens were serious, businesslike, reserved. The Kings, meanwhile, reflecting the personality of the garrulous, smirky Melrose, fairly bubbled with confidence and humor. "I know this is the Stanley Cup finals, but this team is so loose it's incredible," gushed Los Angeles forward Warren Rychel before Game 1. "We have a lot of clowns on this team."
The brunt of L.A.'s locker room humor was directed at the Kings' Smurf Line of Corey Millen (5'7"), Tony Granato (5'10") and Mike Donnelly (5'11"), a trio of speedsters who have been Los Angeles's second-best line in the playoffs. "McSorley's Smurf jokes are even more vicious than his bodychecks," says Granato. Whenever McSorley spotted one of the threesome making his way toward the whirlpool, he cautioned him to stay out of the deep end. Even equipment manager Peter Millar got his licks in, telling Millen that he wasn't allowed into the whirlpool without a life preserver.
"This team plays better when it's loose," said defenseman Mark Hardy, who came to the Kings from the New York Rangers in midseason. "Like Mark Messier used to say, loose muscles perform better than tight ones."
So why, when the series shifted to the Great Western Forum last Saturday night, did the Kings play the first 27 minutes as if they, not the Canadiens, were jet lagged and semicatatonic? "Maybe nerves. Maybe overexcitement," Gretzky suggested. "Who knows?"
Can't blame the turnout. The glitterati were in full bloom for the first Stanley Cup finals game ever held in California—26 years to the day (June 5, 1967) that the Kings were officially awarded an NHL franchise. It's way cool these days to be a hockey fan, as La La Land has gone ga-ga for its Kings. The ex-prez and Mrs. Reagan were among the 16,005 in attendance, as were Andre Agassi, John Candy, Michael Eisner, Goldie Hawn, Michelle Pfeiffer and a rockin' cast of black-and-silver-clad puckheads.
"Even if they bring Elvis Presley back to sing the national anthem," Demers told his troops, "we can't get involved in all the hoopla. We have to stay focused."
Staying focused is one of the things teams have to do when they aren't blessed with a lot of scoring punch, which the Canadiens assuredly are not. When Demers isn't nabbing opponents for illegal equipment, most of the Montreal offense is tirelessly provided by Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows, who rely on defensemen like Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider to jump in to help create scoring chances. Then everybody scurries back to play defense. The Canadiens aren't a particularly big or fast team. But they are, first and foremost, a team, well managed and well coached, with strong leadership. The Canadiens don't make a lot of mistakes. Their best player is Roy, a five-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1986 playoffs, which was the last time the Habs won the Cup.
Montreal came out flying in Game 3, building a 3-0 second-period lead, but in a stirring example of how potent the Los Angeles offense can be when an opponent lets down its guard, Luc Robitaille, Granato and Gretzky scored in a span of just over nine minutes in the second period to suddenly tie the game 3-3.