Game 631 – Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 1

Game 631
Canadiens 4, Maple Leafs 1
Saturday, February 3, 1996
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

It takes true ingenuity to make a sure-fire model for hockey success and then convert it to a convincing defeat.

The Maple Leafs grabbed the Montréal Canadiens by the scruff of the neck last night, took the initiative from the outset and booted the intruders from one corner of the Gardens to another for 60 minutes. And still lost. By three goals. Yikes.

Fifty times the Leafs successfully took dead aim at cherubic Jocelyn Thibault in the Habs net and 49 times Thibault got one body part or another in front of the hurtling, bouncing rubber. Les Habitants, by contrast, launched only 20 pucks at the Leaf net and came up with their fifth win in six games, by a 4-1 score.

“I don’t know what to say,” muttered a dispirited Leaf head coach Pat Burns.

With zero wins in eight games and 14 goals in those matches, no victories since January 10 and a 3-7-3 record in 1996, the Leafs have hit a huge pothole in a journey some felt pointed to the Stanley Cup after the acquisition of Kirk Muller from the New York Islanders 12 days ago.

In five games with Muller, the Leafs are 0-3-2 and the former Montréal captain has one point despite playing on a line with Doug Gilmour and getting lots of power-play minutes.

“Winning is what it’s all about. This feels funny,” Muller said. “But I don’t think we can change much. Except for scoring.”

The performance seemed to raise more questions. Were the Leafs that good to so completely outplay a much improved Montréal contingent, or were they just bad enough to make mistakes at the wrong time? Certainly not the sign of a Stanley Cup contender.

“There’s no magic in getting out of a slump like this,” winger Mike Gartner said. “It’s just a lot more of what we’ve been doing. If we’ve got to take 70 shots, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The Leafs looked to have a solid shot at procuring at least a tie or a shot at overtime when they trailed 2-1 with 11 minutes to play and had already peppered the 21-year-old Thibault with 45 shots. But then came an ill-advised Dave Ellett pinch and a 2-on-1 break for the Habs featuring the suddenly terrific tandem of Vince Damphousse and Martin Rucinsky.

“We got over-anxious at the end and ended up pinching at the wrong time,” Burns said. “Then (Todd Gill) plays the 2-on-1 badly and the backchecker (Bill Berg) stops skating.”

Rucinsky, who ended up with two goals and an assist, flipped a perfect pass to Damphousse over Gill’s extended stick and Damphousse slipped the puck around Félix Potvin with a forehand move that produced a roar from a Maple Leaf Gardens audience seemingly split 50-50 between Leaf and Hab partisans.

Damphousse and Rucinsky have combined for 32 points in the last six games, with Rucinsky scoring nine goals and adding nine assists.

“We knew (Rucinsky) was good, but not that good,” Montréal head coach Mario Tremblay said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s playing like a superstar.”

The Canadiens, woeful on the road last season with three victories in 24 games, are now 13-13-1 away from Montréal this season. Since taking the job, Tremblay has posted a 26-15-9 record, while the Habs are 14-9-5 since dealing Patrick Roy to the Colorado Avalanche in a package that delivered in return both Thibault and Rucinsky.

By contrast, the Leafs are on their longest streak without a win since Burns took the coaching job in 1992.

The victory gave the Habs a sweep of the two-game season series with the Leafs. Montréal also won October 21 at the Forum by a 4-3 score in Tremblay’s first game behind the Canadiens bench after taking over from Jacques Demers.

The Leaf shot total was their second highest of the season, bettered only by the 58 shots aimed at Los Angeles Kings netminder Byron Dafoe in a 2-2 draw October 28.

Leaf defenceman Jamie Heward played in his first NHL game in place of Rob Zettler and saw most of his action on the power play.

The Leafs leave today for a three-game California road trip that begins tomorrow night in San Jose against the Sharks.

Story originally published in The Toronto Star, February 4, 1996

1st Period
TOR PEN – 02:52 – Sundin, tripping
MTL PP GOAL – 04:11 – Rucinsky (Turgeon, Malakhov)
MTL PEN – 04:16 – Brashear, fighting major
TOR PEN – 04:16 – Domi, fighting major
TOR GOAL – 09:51 – Sundin (Craig, Warriner)
MTL PEN – 12:51 – Brisebois, interference

2nd Period
MTL GOAL – 05:01 – Murray (Stevenson, Koivu)
MTL PEN – 09:04 – Damphousse, hooking
TOR PEN – 09:04 – Yushkevich, cross checking
MTL PEN – 09:32 – Savage, holding
TOR PEN – 12:43 – Momesso, roughing
MTL PEN – 12:43 – Murray, roughing
MTL PEN – 14:48 – Odelein, interference

3rd Period
MTL GOAL – 09:05 – Damphousse (Rucinsky, Recchi)
MTL PEN – 14:19 – Damphousse, cross checking
TOR PEN – 15:51 – Andreychuk, tripping
MTL EN GOAL – 19:31 – Rucinsky (Recchi)

MTL – Thibault (W, 49-50)
TOR – Potvin (L, 16-19)

MTL – 8+6+6 = 20
TOR – 17+21+12 = 50

MTLGoaltenders: Jocelyn Thibault. Defence: Patrice Brisebois, Rory Fitzpatrick, Vladimir Malakhov, Lyle Odelein (A), Peter Popovic, Stéphane Quintal, Craig Rivet. Forwards: Donald Brashear, Valeri Bure, Vincent Damphousse (A), Saku Koivu, Andrei Kovalenko, Chris Murray, Mark Recchi, Martin Rucinsky, Brian Savage, Turner Stevenson, Pierre Turgeon (C).
TORGoaltenders: Félix Potvin. Defence: Dave Ellett (A), Todd Gill (A), Jamie Heward, Jamie Macoun, Larry Murphy, Dmitri Yushkevich. Forwards: Dave Andreychuk, Bill Berg, Mike Craig, Paul DiPietro, Tie Domi, Dave Gagner, Mike Gartner, Doug Gilmour (C), Sergio Momesso, Kirk Muller, Mats Sundin, Todd Warriner.

MTL – 26-20-6 (.558)
TOR – 22-20-9 (.520)


Vincent Damphousse (MTL)
⭐⭐ Jocelyn Thibault (MTL)
⭐⭐⭐ Martin Rucinsky (MTL)