Allow me to set the scene for you. It is the second round of the 2002 Playoffs, the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens have already upset the best team in the Eastern Conference in a six game battle against the rival Boston Bruins. They are now at home in game four of the second round series against the Carolina Hurricanes, already up 2-1 in the best of seven series and winning game four by a score of 3-0 at the start of the third period. A win here and its going to be tough for Carolina to stop the Habs from facing the hated Leafs in the Eastern Conference Final. However, Montreal takes a few penalties and their Head Coach absolutely loses his mind at referee Kerry Fraser. Known for not putting up with any shenanigans, Fraser assesses a bench minor penalty and Montreal now faces a full 2 minute 5 on 3 disadvantage.
Montreal had an absolutely awful team on paper that season, they were carried to a Playoff seed by Hart and Vezina winning performances by goaltender Jose Theodore. He was pummeled by shots every game all year and turned in one of the greatest seasons ever by a goaltender. He baffled the high scoring Bruins throughout the first round and the Hurricanes appeared to be getting frustrated by the continued acrobatics of “No Way” Jose.
However the window cracked open on the 5 on 3 and the Hurricanes took off from there. With enforcer Gino Odjick in the box serving the bench penalty, Carolina made it 3-1. The Canes sprung back to life and pulled within one and kept attacking into the last minute. There was a faceoff in the Habs zone and the best faceoff player in the League in Yanic Perreault was sitting on the Habs bench. The faceoff is lost by winger Joe Juneau which led to possession by the Canes and with only seconds remaining a tying goal.
Off to overtime and after a few icings, on which you could change lines at the time, another winger Bill Lindsay this time finds himself in the dot and Perreault was again watching from the bench. A clean win by Canes center and Nic Wallin scores the winner right off the draw. A few questionable coaching decisions leading to the first, tying and winning goals. Montreal went on to lose the series in 6 games.
The Coach of the Habs at the time was the short tempered and fiery Michel Therrien, the man who will be officially introduced for the second time as Habs Coach this afternoon.
Clearly, I still hold a bit of a grudge and have a sour taste in my mouth from Therrien’s past work as Head Coach of the Habs. However, it just might work out this time.
Therrien was one of the youngest Coaches in the League and was just cutting his teeth as an NHL bench boss back in 2002, just over ten years ago. Things change dramatically over a decade, as I already said the Toronto Maple Leafs were waiting in the Eastern Conference Finals. Therrien was fired halfway through the following season, after guiding a very underwhelming team to a one game under .500 record. He coached the Habs for 190 games and finished with as many wins as losses, 77-77-36 was his final record as Habs coach. He moved on to the Penguins organization and was brought up to run their NHL bench of the halfway through the 2005-06 season, after having tremendous success as Head Coach of their AHL affiliate. The team was buried in last place when he showed up and finished second last in the League at the end of his first season. However, the following year they shot up the standings and finished with over 100 points over the next two seasons and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008.
On a positive note, he has gained a great deal of experience since departing from the Habs organization and his record with Montreal was admirable considering the team was led offensively by the likes of an oft injured Saku Koivu as well as Oleg Petrov and Yanic Perreault.
Today, I am not overly impressed with Bergevin’s decision but when you narrow your decision to people who speak French the results can be disappointing. However it is possible he can help lead this team out of the cellar like he did with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where he got the most out of his great young players.
Let’s just hope he does not hold a grudge like most Habs fans. The tying goal way back in 2002 with seconds remaining that put the Canes back in the series against the Theodore led Habs was scored by Erik Cole while still a Hurricane.