MONTREAL -- Claude Lemieux arrived at the 1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs having scored two goals in 19 NHL regular-season games during parts of three seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
That postseason, the 20-year-old played 20 games for the Canadiens and had 16 points (10 goals, six assists). He helped Montreal win a Stanley Cup championship and set a playoff record that will never be eclipsed.
Lemieux, a native of Buckingham, Quebec, scored 5:55 into overtime of Game 7 of the Adams Division Final against the Hartford Whalers on April 29, 1986. He became the first NHL rookie to score the overtime winner in the sudden-death game of a best-of-7 series.
Lemieux's boiling emotions were never far from the surface during a 1,215-game NHL career that saw him win the Stanley Cup with the Canadiens in 1986, the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and 2000 and the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
Those fires raging inside served him both nicely and not so well; his rough, irritating edge drove opponents around the bend and earned him 1,777 penalty minutes while playing for six NHL teams from 1983-84 through 2008-09. During his 20-game 1986 postseason, Lemieux was assessed 68 minutes in penalties, his highest total in his 18 trips to the playoffs.
In the dressing room before overtime of that Game 7 against the Whalers, Lemieux listened to the advice of veteran forward Guy Carbonneau.
"You've got to keep your head," Carbonneau told Lemieux, as quoted by Montreal Gazette hockey writer Red Fisher. "Don't worry about the other team, worry about your own game. You've got to take a hit now and then without retaliating."
Belted by a cross-check in overtime, Lemieux turned the other cheek, almost, then wheeled away from a couple of defenders behind the net and swung in front to beat Whalers goaltender Mike Liut with a backhand shot to push the Canadiens into the Wales Conference Final against the New York Rangers.
"When I got cross-checked, I was looking around for somebody to hit," Lemieux said. "I'm glad I didn't [find anyone]."
The Canadiens eliminated the Rangers in five games, then defeated the Calgary Flames in a five-game Stanley Cup Final to capture the 23rd of 24 championships that are displayed in their trophy case.
Overtime wasn't the preferred route for the Canadiens that season; they were 1-7-7 in extra time heading into sudden death in the series against the Whalers. The Canadiens also lost Game 4 in overtime at Hartford.
"Let's face it, our overtime record hasn't been that good this season," Carbonneau said after the Game 7 win. "But when you get right down to it, we weren't that nervous about having to go into the overtime. We had played well all night, we had the best scoring chances and we felt that if we went out and made some opportunities for ourselves, we'd come out of it all right."
The play resulting in Lemieux's historic goal had started innocently enough, with the Canadiens' forward pinned to the boards by the stick of Whalers forward Paul MacDermid. But when MacDermid slipped, Lemieux darted free, spun around defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and roofed a backhand shot just under the crossbar, over Liut's glove, an assist going to Brian Skrudland.
"Lemieux got the puck in the corner and he waited until I got about two feet from him," MacDermid said. "He made a move. I tried to take him out, but I lost my footing. I remember lying on the ice and just starting to get up when [Lemieux] shot. The puck seemed to be going right for my face. I would have sooner taken it in the face than have seen it go in the net."
Liut said, "I held the post and didn't see the puck. When I decided to move, I took a step and then it went in."
The sudden end capped a night of great goaltending. Liut made 30 saves and Canadiens rookie Patrick Roy made 24, resisting four first-period power plays for the Whalers. The Canadiens had the only two shots in overtime.
The Whalers had battled back late. Dave Babych scored at 17:12 of the third period to force overtime after Mike McPhee gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead at 19:47 of the first, that coming shorthanded with Lemieux in the penalty box.
Twelve years less a day later, Lemieux would score the 19th game-winning goal of his playoff career, helping the Avalanche to a 3-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of their 1998 Western Conference First Round series.
Lemieux is tied for the second-most playoff game-winners in NHL history, he and Joe Sakic each have 19. Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull are tied for the lead with 24.