The Islanders’ upset win and Montreal’s Stanley Cup triumph culminated a crazy spring chock-full of upsets at every turn, and one that may look familiar to a new generation of Islander players, trying to make some playoff noise – and who could easily run up against the star-studded Penguins in the second round.
Déjà vu all over again? It’s possible, according to Glenn Healy, the Islanders’ goaltender in the 1993 upset win over Pittsburgh and now an analyst with the CBC.
“The Penguins were better than us for 82 games,” Healy said. “We just had to be better than them for 12 days. And anybody can be better than anybody else for 12 days.”
Healy sees the parallels between 1993 and today, and believes the only thing you can safely predict coming out of this topsy-turvy shortened season is that something unexpected will happen in the playoffs.
“I don’t fear anybody in the East,” Healy said. “I guess Pittsburgh would be the only team you’d look at and say, ‘clearly, they have loaded up.’ Their two pillars are as good as you’re going to get. However, those two pillars were there last year when they fell to Philadelphia.
“For the rest of the teams in the East, I really could care less what you’ve done for your 99 days. That’s great. Some holidays I went on were longer than 99 days. But there’s nobody in the East I look at and say, ‘wow, look out for them.’ Nobody. So if you get into the dance, this is as wide open a year as you can possibly get.
“When you go out West, I’m feeling the same thing. I don’t look at any of the teams out West and think, ‘they are the Pittsburgh Penguins of ’93.’ Even when I played the Pittsburgh Penguins of ’93, I wasn’t captured by that moment. It was like, ‘let’s go play.’”
It was a 24-team NHLin 1993 and the first two rounds were peppered with upsets. Four of the top five teams by points were eliminated in the opening round – and then the No.1 Penguins exited two weeks later, setting the stage for Montreal’s memorable win in six games over the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings.
Carolina Hurricanes’ coach Kirk Muller played for the ’93 Canadiens and says: “There are a few things I’ve learned over the years about playoffs. One is the need to build momentum at the right time. You also need a little bit of luck and you need to stay away from injuries. But mostly, you just have to be playing your best hockey at the right time.”
What Muller remembers particularly is how Montreal wasn’t playing its best hockey heading into the playoffs, and as a result, lost home-ice advantage to its provincial rivals, the Quebec Nordiques, with a mediocre finish. The Canadiens were 4-6 in their final 10 regular-season games and then promptly fell behind 2-0 in the opening round against Quebec.
“We weren’t given much of a chance to get through the first round even,” Muller said. “But after that second game, when we went back to Montreal, Serge Savard [the Canadiens GM at the time] said to us, ‘guys, if you play the way you are right now, you’re going to win the series.’ That calmness carried right over to Game 3. Then we won the next four and from there, we only lost two more games the rest of the playoffs.
“We had all those overtime wins [10 in a row, a Stanley Cup record], but it was the momentum that we built up – and how things totally fell into place. Pittsburgh gets upset. I talked to some guys in the Islanders after they won and they were saying things like, ‘man, we didn’t even think of you guys, we just beat Pittsburgh.’ Before you knew it, we had them down and the next thing you know, you’re in the finals.”
By sweeping the Buffalo Sabres in the second round and eliminating the Islanders in five games in the third round, the Canadiens were well-rested for the final.