With the 2019-20 NHL season on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic (here’s the latest update on where things stand), we’ve started the NHL Viewers Club, highlighting some of the most rewatchable games from this season — such as when EBUG David Ayres beat the Maple Leafs — along with some cool hockey documentaries on ESPN+. So far, that has included “Big Shot” — covering the fraudulent purchase of the New York Islanders — as well as “Kings Ransom,” which explored the events leading to Wayne Gretzky‘s trade to the Los Angeles Kings.
We’re also exploring the classic games archive, and after taking in Mario Lemieux‘s five-goal game against the Rangers, it’s time to dust off Game 6 of the 1989 Stanley Cup Final, pitting the Calgary Flames against the Montreal Canadiens. Watch the game here, and read on for our insights on the broadcast.
How stacked were these teams in 1989?
Emily Kaplan: Quite stacked. It’s wild just how many big names passed through these two teams: Chris Chelios, Al MacInnis, Joe Mullen, Joe Nieuwendyk, Doug Gilmour and Claude Lemieux. We get to see Theo Fleury — a hotshot rookie who was called up midseason — and of course, Lanny McDonald in his swan song.
Another player on the Flames is defenseman Brian MacLellan, whom we now know as the GM of the Washington Capitals. MacLellan actually said his experience winning in Calgary wasn’t all that different from the Caps breaking through in 2018. “They were similar situations,” MacLellan told the Calgary Sun last year. “At that time, Calgary was a team that was always struggling to get by Edmonton, had won a couple of Presidents’ Trophies and hadn’t turned them into a Stanley Cup. Washington was in the same spot — always struggling to get by Pittsburgh, didn’t translate regular-season championships to Stanley Cups … So a lot of good parallels between the two teams.”
Greg Wyshynski: The Canadiens were three years removed from beating the Flames for the Stanley Cup, and the bones of that team were still set here: Patrick Roy in goal; Chelios and Larry Robinson on defense; Mats Naslund, Bobby Smith, Lemieux, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey up front.
What’s amazing is to think about how much more success they’d find in their years after leaving Montreal. Chelios won two Stanley Cups with Detroit. Stephane Richer won a Cup with New Jersey in 1995, the same year Lemieux won the Conn Smythe for the Devils — and “Pepe” would win two more Cups with Colorado. Roy and Carbonneau, meanwhile, would win another Cup with Montreal in 1993 before lifting it again in future stops: Carbonneau with Dallas in 1999 and Roy twice with Colorado in 1996 and 2001. Oh, and of course, Pat Burns behind the Montreal bench, who would finally win the Cup in 2003 with the Devils.
Favorite random player sighting?
Kaplan: Today, Gary Roberts is known as the trainer to Connor McDavid and a bunch of other NHL stars. He has his own high-performance training center in Toronto called … the Gary Roberts High Performance Training Center … and is often quoted in media articles giving out holistic nutrition and recovery advice. In this game, Roberts is a 23-year-old who picked up two roughing minors through the first two periods.
Wyshynski: Hakan Loob. The Swedish winger for the Flames played six years in the NHL from 1983-89, and actually had a 106-point season in 1987-88. He’s a member of the Triple Gold Club, winning the Stanley Cup, IIHF world championship and Olympic gold medal. But let’s be honest: Hakan Loob’s greatest legacy remains being named Hakan Loob, forever earning him a place on all-time hockey name rankings, along with such luminaries as Per Djoos and Bob Beers.
Review Lanny McDonald’s mustache, to the best of your abilities.
Kaplan: There was a big kerfuffle online last week when Tennessee Titans president/CEO Steve Underwood retired, and the world learned of his glorious, Lorax-like goatee. With due respect to Underwood, McDonald’s facial hair is far more impressive, for functionality. McDonald grinded through the blood, sweat and tears that is a long Stanley Cup run with what looks like a furry creature perched on his mouth, and looks no worse for the wear when he finally hoists the Cup.
Wyshynski: Adding a playoff beard to the greatest mustache in NHL history is like strapping a rocket booster on the back of a Bugatti — improving on perfection. The best way to describe McDonald’s look by the end of the 1989 Final is that it looks like there’s a parasitic Gritty emerging from his maw to kiss the Stanley Cup.
What was your favorite moment of hockey nostalgia while watching the broadcast?
Kaplan: Two Canadian teams facing off in the Stanley Cup Final — something we haven’t seen since. It feels like such a novel concept these days as we’re nearing the three-decade mark of the last time a Canadian team took home the Cup. Also, where can I buy the retro sweater that trainer Bearcat Murray is wearing on the Flames bench? That guy is a beauty.
Wyshynski: Jiggs McDonald! When it came to national play-by-play voices in the U.S., most fans recall Gary Thorne and Doc Emrick as the most ubiquitous ones in the late 1980s and through the 1990s. But Jiggs McDonald holds a special place in our hearts as the lead announcer for SportsChannel America for five years. He also was the play-by-play voice for the New York Islanders for 15 seasons. Throw in Bill Clement on color commentary, and this was a warm blanket. (Emrick makes an appearance at the end of this game doing analysis with the great Herb Brooks.)
What were your favorite moments in this game?
Kaplan: I love the moment that Rick Green scores, which cut Calgary’s lead to 3-2, because it really reinvigorated the crowd in Montreal. I also love that it gives us an extended pan of the arena, and you see how many fans are wearing suits to this game. Maybe it’s because we’re in a global pandemic and I can’t remember the last time I encountered someone wearing a suit. But to wear a suit to a hockey game — let alone a clinching game of a Stanley Cup Final — feels like such a funny luxury.
Wyshynski: I would add that Green’s goal features some vintage Claude Lemieux depravity, as he stuck his leg out and made contact with Mike Vernon while the Flames goalie was inside the crease. Of course, there were two things in Lemieux’s favor here: no video review for goalie interference, and some “Montreal typical” officiating.
But my favorite moment was the sequence that eventually led to Calgary’s third and eventually game-winning goal. It begins with Montreal winger Russ Courtnall‘s truly inexplicable run at Calgary goalie Mike Vernon at 10:46 of the third, a hit that sent an irate coach Terry Crisp bellowing and pointing at the Canadiens bench. Then Calgary defenseman Ric Nattress skates over and pulls back his hand to try to punch Courtnall … except Courtnall slipped away quickly and there was nothing for Nattress to wallop. If he connects? It’s likely matching minor penalties. Instead, it’s Courtnall to the box, and Gilmour scored a back-breaker by tapping in his own rebound off of Roy’s pad to make it 3-1.
Which players in the game do you wish you could watch in today’s NHL?
Kaplan: Chris Chelios. He has the same size and offensive capabilities as many of the young defensive stars in the game today, but Chelios also was tough as nails and had a mean streak. I’d love to see how that would play out in the modern NHL.
Wyshynski: Al MacInnis. The obvious answer is Theo Fleury, because the NHL is now safer for a 5-foot-6 mighty mite to fly around and score goals. But I want to see the Hall of Fame defenseman in today’s NHL. His ability to read the game and move the puck was tremendous, and would be effective in a league of breakouts and stretch passes. But let’s be real: I just want to see today’s goalies flinch when MacInnis loaded that cannon of a shot from the blue line.
Any lingering questions after watching?
Kaplan: What if Lanny McDonald didn’t play in this game? Would the Flames have still won the Cup, and might he not have retired that summer?
An interesting subplot in this series was that second-year Flames coach Terry Crisp had to decide between benching McDonald, Tim Hunter and Jim Peplinski — his three captains. (Crisp told Sportsnet recently that it was “the toughest decision of my career.”) The 36-year-old McDonald was a healthy scratch the previous three games, but Crisp decided to give him the go here. It paid off big time, as McDonald scored a crucial goal in the second to give the Flames a 2-1 lead. There are overtures about McDonald’s potential retirement throughout the broadcast, but once he hoists the Cup at the end, you get the feeling that the decision has been made.
Wyshynski: Should the Stanley Cups wins have been flipped? In Rosie DiManno’s book on Pat Burns, that was Claude Lemieux’s theory. “Thinking back, maybe Calgary should have beaten us in 1986 and we should have beaten them in 1989. I think we were better in ’89 than they were, and they were probably better than us in 1986,” he said.
Of course, the other lingering question is how many Cups the Flames might have played for were it not for the Edmonton Oilers. They lost three playoff series to Wayne Gretzky and the Oil in the 1980s.