The Tampa Bay Lightning have dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in five games to claim their second-straight NHL championship and retain possession of the coveted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Congrats to the Lightning. And I’m crying big ol’ crocodile tears for Montreal right now. Not! (Full disclosure: I’ve been a L.A. Kings fan since 1969.)
Because Montreal, the last team from Canada to win the Cup, all the way back in 1993, dishonored hockey and sports in general some 28 years ago to win their Cup then. And I posit that every team from Canada has picked up the check for what they did that year ever since.
Only six teams from Canada have even made it to the Finals since 1993, including this year’s Montreal team that took advantage of a bizarre format due to COVID that all but guaranteed a team from Canada would make the Finals. And all six of those teams have failed to bring the Cup back to Canada.
And the Canadiens of 1993 are to blame, if you ask me.
Let’s rewind to the 1993 Finals. Its Game Two in Montreal and the L.A. Kings are moments away from taking a 2-0 Series lead back to the Forum in L.A. and likely on their way to the Kings’ first-ever championship.
Suddenly, down a goal, Canadiens head coach Jacques Demers asks the refs to measure the stick of Kings’ defenseman Marty McSorley. A measurement is made and, miracle of miracles – and by mere millimeters, the curve on McSorley’s stick is found to be outside the NHL’s rules. McSorley is assessed a two-minute penalty, Demers pulls his goalie for a super power play of six-on-four and Montreal scores the tying goal then scores the winner in OT. Instead of a commanding 2-0 lead and going to home ice, the Kings are now 1-1 and Montreal has all of the momentum. The Canadiens go on to win the next three games and the Cup.
A gutsy gamble, born of desperation by Demers, who would have been assessed a penalty if he was wrong and all but sealed the Kings 2-0 lead?
Because a employee of the arena in Montreal gained access to the Kings’ locker room and wheeled the Kings’ stick rack into Montreal’s locker room where apparently, the Canadiens examined every stick. There are two possibilities here: Either McSorley altered that one stick, and ONLY that one stick (and why would he alter just the one and not his others?), or maybe, someone else did and marked it, waiting for McSorely to use it so they could call for the measurement just when they needed it most.
Either way, how the Canadiens discovered the stick was far beyond the bounds of good sportsmanship at best, and extremely dishonorable at worst.
Demers’ claims that his captain, Guy Carbonneau, spotted the illegal stick and told him about it during the game. But since the device the referee used to measure the curvature barely showed any daylight between it and the stick, I’m going to call hooey on that claim. Nobody’s eyes are that good. Especially since one report states the employee admitted to gaining access and moving the Kings’ equipment.
McSorley has stood up and accepted the blame for his stick being illegal and has never tried to excuse it. This is to his credit. But I have never heard him say that he altered it or asked anyone else to do so. Which lends credence to someone pulling a fast one while the Kings’ sticks were in the Canadiens’ locker room between Games One and Two.
To use such underhanded tactics to win the Cup speaks poorly of Demers and the Canadiens organization. Just like many of the underhanded tactics employed by the New England Patriots in recent years speaks poorly of them and Roger Goodell, who did little more that slap the Patriots on the wrist for their shenanigans.
But at least Goodell did something in response to the dirty tricks. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman – the worst sports commissioner in the history of sports in my opinion – did nothing to punish the Canadiens for violating the Kings’ locker room that series. That the NHL is based out of Toronto and, not wanting to admit that a team from Canada was underserving of its championship, Bettman swept the foul deed under the rug. The criminals escaped unpunished and reaped the rewards of a stolen cup.
Which brings me to what I’ve been calling The 1993 Curse.
Since that disgraceful theft, no team from Canada has won the Cup. I suggest to you that as long as this wrong remains unpunished, no team from Canada will ever again win the Cup. The names of the criminals, and their accomplices, have stained the Cup ever since that dastardly deed was pulled off.
The Kings have achieved some form of justice in the 28 years since the theft. They have hoisted the Cup twice since 1993 while Montreal hasn’t and they have now had to watch, in person, a team celebrate a Cup win in Game Five at home just like the Kings had to in 1993. For now, that is justice enough.
To be honest, I kept waiting for the Canadiens to try to pull the same stunt tonight in the final minute. Maybe they decided that it would look a little too obvious if they did and got away with it once again. Or maybe someone in the Canadiens’ organization has some sense of shame of what they did in 1993.
But, until those tainted names are chiseled off and replaced with the names of their victims, the Curse will live on and Lord Stanley’s Cup will remain the property of a team from the United States.