The Montreal Canadiens visit Capital Centre tonight at 7:30 for their 19th game against the Washington Capitals. The series stands at 18-0, so it's apparent there are no experts locally on the subject of how to beat the Stanley Cup champions.
Left wing Dave Forbes, the newest Capital, played last year for a Boston team that dealt Montreal three of its eight defeats in the 80-game regular season. But if the Bruins thought they had devised a winning formula, they were convinced otherwise during the Canadiens' four-game sweep of the Stanley Cup final.
"We tried in Boston last year, but we couldn't come up with any solution," Forbes said. "They have talent on talent on talent. We just have to be at our absolute best, hope we get the breaks, hope everything goes our way. We've got to have great goaltending and just try to outwork them."
The subject of goaltending gave coach Tom McVie's agile brain considerable exercise and he suggested, "Maybe we can use both of them at once."
In one meeting last season, McVie alternated Bernie Wolfe and Ron Low for five-minute stretches, so neither had to cope with 60 minutes of Montreal pressure. If the strategy had no particular bearing on the outcome of that 7-2 contest, it paid off two nights later when Wolfe shut out Detroit.
Wolfe has been playing brilliantly and was the winner in the 2-1 opening-night decision over Pittsburgh. But Gary Smith also played well, in Saturday's 4-2 loss at Cleveland, and McVie, his mind tilting back and forth, wondered if perhaps a new mask in the nets might change the club's fortunes against a Montreal team that has already beaten Wolfe 10 times.
McVie is a 10-time loser to the Canadiens, but three of those games - all at Capital Centre - were decided by one goal, including the 2-1 season finale in April that the Canadiens celebrated by offering playoff-type handshakes to the valiant losers.
"That was a hard-played, hard-hitting contact game and we hung onto them for 60 minutes," McVie said. "If we play like that again for 60 minutes, maybe our shots will go in and their two won't.
"I'm excited about playing them. Being pessimistic is not going to help and feeling sorry is not going to help. It's a very difficult task, but you have to go into the game feeling you can win. If you never give up and never get discouraged, even though it seems like fighting against thunder, you'lle be rewarded.
"We'll beat them the same way Churchill beat Hitler. The British never gave up. Nobody gave them a chance, but in the end they won. Germany had all that high-powered army and equipment, just like the Canadiens have everything a hockey club could want."
Montreal has lost only one player, winner Jim Roberts, from its 60-8-12 record-setter team of a year ago. Roberts, 37, was dealt to St. Louis and replaced by Pierre Mondou.
All the others are back, including scoring champion Guy Lafleur (136 points), 60-goal scorer Steve Shutt, top defenseman Larry Robinson and playmates Serge Savard and Guy Lapointe, and Vezina Trophy goaltenders Ken Dryden and Bunny Larocque, who have a shutout apiece this young season. Montreal has not yielded a goal in its last 137 minutes 18 seconds.