Game 623 – Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3

Game 623
Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 3
Thursday, October 3, 1991
Forum de Montréal, Montréal, Québec

The vintage uniforms may have been classic items, but the game that kicked off the National Hockey League’s 75th season was not, as the Montréal Canadiens edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 at the Forum last night.

There were some stellar moments by Toronto captain Wendel Clark, who scored two goals and set up another, and some great goaltending by Montréal’s Patrick Roy and Toronto’s Grant Fuhr, but on the whole, the game was rather typical for a first-time outing.

Players were tentative at the beginning, there were miscues and mistakes on defence at both ends, particularly when Toronto’s young Darryl Shannon and Alexander Godynyuk were on the ice. Godynyuk was on the ice for Montréal’s two even-strength goals and Shannon was a victim of a bouncing puck at the side of the Leaf net on one goal.

Yet both teams came out of it with something positive. The Canadiens grabbed two points and the Leafs grabbed a bucketful of hope. They are not the same team as last season.

“Generally, we played well defensively, and if we play that well on the road most nights, we’ll come home with some points,” Leaf head coach Tom Watt said.

The Leafs outshot the Canadiens 25-21. “We didn’t give up too many scoring chances,” Watt continued.

The noisy Forum crowd did much to get the opening night jitters out of the Habs.

“It was tough to stay focused on the game with the opening ceremonies and the long wait,” new Canadien Kirk Muller said. “In the first period, the tempo and timing were off.”

But as the crowd got behind the Habs with Russ Courtnall’s first period goal, the task became clearer.

Toronto didn’t make it easy. The line of Clark, Peter Zezel and Gary Leeman dominated when it was on the ice, and Fuhr proved his worth, stopping Montréal’s Brian Skrudlund and Courtnall on breakaways.

“This year, Toronto’s playing with a lot more enthusiasm,” Muller observed. “They’re quick to get on the puck and they can force you into a lot of mistakes.”

While Toronto stayed with the Habs most of the way, the thinness on the blueline is something president and general manager Cliff Fletcher will need to address if he continues his rebuilding project.

“The kids on any other team have to learn, too,” Fletcher said. “It’s tough for young players to open the season on the road in a place like Motreal.”

Guy Carbonneau, the Montréal captain who set up the first goal and scored the winner in the third period, earned the game’s first star with his strong two-way play.

It was a night of history and stirring emotion in the fabled Forum, as the sellout crowd of 16,595 applauded generation after generation of old Habs and Leafs who paraded out to centre ice.

The loudest cheers were reserved for former Montréal enforcer John Ferguson, 91-year old ex-Ottawa Senator and Leaf Frank Finnegan and of course Maurice “Rocket” Richard who dropped the puck to kick off the National Hockey League’s 75th season.

Both teams and the officials wore traditional sweaters, to mark the occasion. Head coaches Tom Watt of Toronto and Pat Burns of Montréal also donned sweaters and fedoras as part of the act.

The Habs were the first on the scoreboard, as Courtnall ripped Carbonneau’s rebound past Fuhr. In his debut as Leaf goalie, Fuhr showed his worth most of the time. While he had a penchant for giving up rebounds – he’d been accustomed to an Edmonton defence that could clear them safely – he also displayed a strong glove and good alertness.

The Leafs drew even at 1-1 early in the second period with Clark’s first power-play goal, as the Leaf captain tipped Dave Ellett’s point shot behind Montréal goalie Patrick Roy. He would add a carbon copy later.

Sylvain Turgeon countered with a Montréal power-play goal at 6:23, but Clark’s second knotted the score again.

John LeClair put Montréal into the lead again at 12:31, after Montréal’s Mathieu Schneider drilled a shot high off the glass and it came down to the left of Fuhr. LeClair swept the puck home as Shannon fanned at it.

Clark again showed his leadership to put the teams even at 3-3. He dodged a check along the right boards to penetrate deep into the Montréal zone, then cut across the middle to set up Todd Gill.

Montréal went ahead 4-3 at 2:50 of the third period, as Mike McPhee split the Toronto defence to charge in on Fuhr. Carbonneau potted the rebound.

Clark’s play was most pleasing for Watt.

“He’s the captain, he stirs the drink,” Watt said.

Fuhr was pleased to get the first match behind him. “The team played well enough to win, no question, but I felt I could have stopped two of those goals in the second period.”

Story originally published in The Globe & Mail, October 4, 1991

1st Period
MTL PEN – 02:45 – Gilchrist, interference
MTL GOAL – 08:32 – Courtnall (Carbonneau, Desjardins)
MTL PEN – 09:08 – Daigneault, cross checking
TOR PEN – 16:27 – Cimetta, cross checking

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 03:07 – Schneider, highs ticking
TOR PP GOAL – 03:15 – Clark (Ellett, Bradley)
TOR PEN – 05:21 – Zezel, hooking
MTL PP GOAL – 06:23 – Turgeon (Savard, Muller)
MTL PEN – 06:23 – Muller, roughing
TOR PP GOAL – 07:00 – Clark (Ellett, Bradley)
MTL GOAL – 12:31 – LeClair (Schneider, Côté)
TOR GOAL – 13:48 – Gill (Clark, Zezel)
TOR PEN – 19:25 – Rouse, hooking

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 02:50 – Carbonneau (McPhee, Courtnall)
TOR PEN – 05:32 – team, too many men on the ice

MTL – Roy (W, 22-25)
TOR – Fuhr (L, 17-21)

MTL – 7+7+7 = 21
TOR – 8+13+4 = 25

MTLGoaltenders: Roland Melanson, Patrick Roy. Defence: Alain Côté, J.J. Daigneault, Éric Desjardins, Lyle Odelein, Mathieu Schneider, Petr Svoboda. Forwards: Guy Carbonneau (C), Russ Courtnall, Todd Ewen, Brent Gilchrist, Mike Keane, Stéphan Lebeau, John LeClair, Mike McPhee (A), Kirk Muller, Denis Savard, Brian Skrudland (A), Sylvain Turgeon.
TORGoaltenders: Grant Fuhr, Jeff Reese. Defence: Dave Ellett, Todd Gill (A), Alexander Godynyuk, Michel Petit, Bob Rouse (A), Darryl Shannon. Forwards: Craig Berube, Brian Bradley, Mike Bullard, Rob Cimetta, Wendel Clark (C), Lucien DeBlois, Tom Fergus, Mike Krushelnyski, Gary Leeman (A), Daniel Marois, Rob Pearson, Peter Zezel.

MTL – 1-0-0 (1.000)
TOR – 0-1-0 (.000)


Guy Carbonneau (MTL)
⭐⭐ Wendel Clark (TOR)
⭐⭐⭐ John LeClair (MTL)