|A ruling that the curve of Los Angeles Kings defenseman Marty McSorley's stick was illegal led to a penalty that swung the momentum of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final in favor of the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to win the series in five games.
In 1993, the Montreal Canadiens had Hall-of-Fame talent in goal with Patrick Roy and a well-rounded team of NHL vets that included Vincent Damphousse, Kirk Muller, Brian Bellows, Mathieu Schneider and Eric Desjardins. But most importantly, the Canadiens had someone with exceptional eyesight in the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings won Game 1, 4-1, and had a 2-1 lead in the final minutes of Game 2. The series changed rapidly when, during a stoppage of play, Canadiens coach Jacques Demers asked for a measurement of the curve of Kings defenseman Marty McSorley's stick. The stick was found to be illegal, and McSorley was given a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. The penalty was the beginning of the end for Los Angeles' Stanley Cup hopes.
"I hate to bring that back, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for Marty McSorley," said Demers. "He is a winner. He won Stanley Cups with Edmonton and we, the first game, the players, had noticed he was playing with an illegal stick and we were not going to do anything about it. I believe there was something like 90 seconds left in the second game, they were up 2-1 and we had to do what we had to do."
For the Canadiens, that meant challenging McSorley's stick. It was a roll of the dice for Demers. A correct call would give Montreal a power play, and he could pull the goaltender and get a 6-on-4 advantage that could help his team get the tying goal. However, if McSorley's stick was found to be legal, the Canadiens would have been penalized, effectively ending Montreal's chances. But this was the Stanley Cup Final, and the Canadiens were minutes away from going down 2-0.
"I know in L.A., there were a lot of people upset," said Demers. "They thought I was cheap and all of that, but as a coach, I just did what I had to do."
But getting the call wasn't enough for the Canadiens. It was very late in the game, and they had to capitalize.
Desjardins scored the tying goal and then tallied his third goal of the night 51 seconds into overtime, making him the first defensemen to record a hat trick in the Stanley Cup Final.
In the Stanley Cup, you fight for every inch of ice that can be taken. In Montreal's case, there was a fight for less than an inch of curve on McSorley's stick.
"It worked out,” said Demers. “I have to give credit to our players.”
Montreal was not a great regular-season team in 1992-93. Five teams had better records, but the Canadiens had Roy in net, and he delivered, starting with Game 3 of the opening-round series with Quebec. Montreal won that game in overtime, as well as Game 5. In its second-round series against Buffalo, Montreal earned a difficult sweep in that three of the games went to overtime. In the Canadiens' third-round series against the New York Islanders, there were two overtimes in the five-game series. Montreal had won seven straight overtime games entering the Final.
The McSorley game was the Canadiens' eighth straight overtime win, and two more would follow in Los Angeles.
"If anybody thinks you only do it because you are good, we were a good team when we worked collectively together, you have some luck, you have to have things going your way," said Demers. "When you win 10 games in a row in overtime, you have to have great goaltending, which we did, you also have to have a little bit of luck. Everything went our way for seven weeks. We were fortunate.
|"You know the great coaches who won Super Bowls or World Series or NBA championships. You know one thing for sure. They will tell you, we had everything going for us, we had a great team, dedicated to winning, but we had a few breaks. "
-- Jacques Demers
"You know the great coaches who won Super Bowls or World Series or NBA championships. You know one thing for sure. They will tell you, we had everything going for us, we had a great team, dedicated to winning, but we had a few breaks."
So Demers finally reached the hockey mountain top, and in the celebration, he looked like he enjoyed every minute of it, including his time holding one memento of the series -- a game-used stick from the Kings' Wayne Gretzky.
"That stick was for my son Jason and for me, my 20 years (at the time) in pro hockey, started in the WHA, the American League and NHL 10 years, it was kind of a reward after 20 years finally getting the Stanley Cup ring," Demers said. "We realized it about a week later because at first it is pretty hard to think that you just won the Cup. There are a lot of emotions, seven weeks together as a team, it was just a great effort."
Demers never revealed the identity of the Montreal player who was certain McSorley was using an illegal stick. But as a coach, you do what you have to do, and not telling is all part of the coaching manual. Someone in Montreal had great eyesight, but Demers still hasn't said who that was.
Sometimes winning a Cup takes more than talent.