|OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 01: Former Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau speaks with the media during "Salute to the Stanley Cup Legends" in Ottawa.
Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939, only one team out of 30 ever came back from losing the first two games of the series on the road. The 1971 Montreal Canadiens are the only club to rally back after dropping the first two games of the series before even setting foot on home ice.
The Senators are hoping to be the second.
A couple of those Montreal legends were here in Ottawa Friday night before Game 3 was set to be played at Scotiabank Place as the immortal Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau were in town to celebrate the Canadiens’ five-Cup dynasty between 1956 and 1960.
The two men know it’s possible to overcome the early two-game deficit. It’s a deep hole to be in, but Richard and Beliveau know there’s a way out.
“We lost the two games,” Richard said, “and went back and won the next four. That, I remember.
Richard’s memory is a little off, the Canadiens rallied to win in seven games in 1971.
“I always said that it was much easier to win on the road than at home,” he said of playing in front of the demanding Montreal crowd. “We were a little nervous at home and we were always nervous when we played at home. That’s what happened. We went to Chicago and we relaxed and won.”
Salute to Cup Legends:
Richard scored five goals and 12 points in 20 playoff games that spring, while Beliveau led the Canadiens in scoring that season with 25 goals and 76 points in 70 games. In the playoffs, he added six goals and 16 points as the Canadiens toppled a 2-0 deficit that’s been insurmountable for every other team to face it since.
Making the task that much more daunting, a total of 42 teams have started a Final series losing the first two games – at home or on the road – and only three have come away with the Cup. The 1942 Maple Leafs came back against Detroit, the 1966 Canadiens did it against the Red Wings, and that 1971 Montreal machine cleared the 0-2 hurdle against the Blackhawks.
While the game may be different and the times have most certainly changed since 1971, the chatter in the Ottawa Senators’ dressing room will be no different than it was in Montreal back then.
“Well, I suppose, like they must be saying today, it’s one game at a time,” Beliveau, who retired after winning that 10th and final Cup, said. “It’s always one game at a time, but when you find yourself two games behind, I’m sure that the Senators went to Anaheim hoping to win one. Where Anaheim hope to win one tomorrow night because it makes it three and it becomes very difficult to win four out of five.
“So, nothing special,” he said. “I was captain. It was my last year of being captain. What I’m missing the most is the family atmosphere we had in the room and before the expansion, we traveled by train and we had so much fun. We enjoyed each other so much.”
Winning generally does that, and in the history of this game, nobody won more than those old Canadiens teams. Years before they rallied from 0-2 against Chicago in 1971, a five-Cup dynasty was built in Montreal, an accomplishment that will likely never be duplicated.
Those Montreal teams were the best of the best for one of two reasons, depending on who you ask. Lots of people will tell you they were the class of the hockey world because they had the talent, which they did. But they also cared very much about each other, which is the backbone of any successful team. No matter what era you’re talking about.
“It seems like yesterday,” Richard said. “We still act like kids. We were doing that when we were a little younger, late to early 30’s I guess, but we’re still the same. It’s just another joke.
“I think it was just like a family,” he said. “After the game we’d go out together and have a few beers and have fun. It went on for five years. I think that’s life. You have to enjoy life and have fun. And I always said that having fun was playing hockey. It was a big joke. It’s just fun. I say hockey, but any sport, I guess. Baseball, football, whatever.”
Those Canadiens clubs traveled together by train. There were no cliques in the dressing room. The idea of one player going out on the town all alone was just something they didn’t do. They were best friends on and off the ice, and that camaraderie helped to forge the greatest hockey dynasty we’ll ever see.
“When we went on the road,” Beliveau said, “I had my crew -- four per cab.”
Some members of that dynasty came together for a rare reunion Friday night in Ottawa. Richard and Beliveau were honored with teammates Tom Johnson, Don Marshall, Dickie Moore and Jean-Guy Talbot at the Brookstreet Hotel for accomplishing something that will probably never be duplicated.
“There’s no way,” Richard said. “Not with 30 teams now. There’s no way. It will never be done again.”
Five in a row is a tough task. But in terms of coming back from a 2-0 deficit, well, that’s entirely possible.
Perhaps the Ottawa Senators will make a little history of their own this spring.