There was good reason for the wild celebration in the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room Saturday night, with champagne bottles and emotions bubbling over. This was one the Canadiens had not been expected to win.
In the past, Montreal accepted Stanley Cup victories as its due, in almost blase' fashion. With 22 photographs of Cup champions on the Forum walls, there was more despair for failure than joy for success.
Saturday, though, a new generation was celebrating. It had been seven years since the last triumph, and only two of the 20 players in uniform, Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey, had been part of it.
Eight rookies were in the lineup, and few had dreamed of a Stanley Cup ring when the Canadiens finished seventh overall during the regular season.
No team that low in the standings ever had won the Cup, but Philadelphia (2), Quebec (4) and the New York Islanders (5) disappeared during the first round, and Edmonton (1) and Washington (3) went out in the divisional finals.
The Canadiens avoided their usual draining war with Quebec, and, as it developed, their toughest battle was in the Adams Division final against Hartford (11), in which Claude Lemieux's overtime goal won the seventh game. The last two obstacles, the New York Rangers (14) and Calgary Flames (6), had been worn down by previous opponents, and each succumbed in five games.
Montreal was blessed with outstanding goaltending from rookie Patrick Roy, who at age 20 became the youngest Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, and an overpowering defense led by Robinson and Rick Green.
"Patrick was very important early in the playoffs, because a lot of the guys didn't believe in themselves," said Coach Jean Perron, a rookie himself. "He didn't have to work as hard in the last series, because the team played better in front of him."
"Their defense was the difference," said Calgary Coach Bob Johnson. "We just couldn't penetrate. We couldn't challenge Roy.
"They played so well in front of their net. Green played well. Robinson played well.Chris Chelios played well. Everyone played well. They were great protectors. Roy may have won, but we never got to him."
The Stanley Cup rings will help atone for many of the stories Green and Ryan Walter had to read in the past few years, about how their 1982 trade to Montreal for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin had been so one-sided that it destroyed the Canadiens and made the Capitals an instant contender.
When it was suggested that it must be nice to put the Langway trade in the past forever, Green smiled and replied: "Rod Langway, who's he?"
Green and Walter stood together, arm in arm, on a table for postgame interviews, and Walter said, "Rick played the series of his life. He's played great for the last two months. He's my hero."
For a while, it seemed that neither Walter nor Green would be able to play in the Stanley Cup final. Walter fractured his right ankle on March 29 and missed the first three postseason series. Green, after recovering from a broken thumb, was felled by an inner-ear infection in Game 3 against the Rangers and was bothered by dizzy spells for a week.
Both were back when the final series began, however, and both were key figures in the Canadiens' grinding defensive play that prevented the Flames from getting untracked.
"I'm just glad I was able to help," Walter said. "When I was first injured, my goal was to get back for the Stanley Cup finals, and it didn't look good. But I really worked hard, and Jean was good enough to have faith in me.
"I can't believe it. It's worth every win of the last eight years to get this one. It's an incredible feeling."
Although most of the Canadiens conceded that they never dreamed of the Cup when the playoffs began, Green and Robinson were in the minority who felt there was a chance. "Once we started hitting our stride in the first series of the playoffs, I got the idea we could be here," Green said. "We had to keep the goals down, first thing, and we figured if we could do that, we could get enough goals to win it."
"To be honest with you, when I saw the young guys at camp, the type of club we had, I thought we stood a good chance of winning the Cup," said Robinson. "It was almost a Cinderella story all year. Guys kept getting hurt, and we kept filling the gaps."
The Flames, who ended Edmonton's two-year reign in the Campbell Conference, had reason to be proud. They played 102 games, the most in NHL history, and were missing key players such as Gary Suter, Colin Patterson and Carey Wilson because of injuries.
Yet, playing their 19th game in 37 nights, the Flames trimmed a 4-1 deficit to 4-3 in the last four minutes Saturday, and only a big save by Roy on Jamie Macoun with 14 seconds left prevented a tie.
When it was over, perhaps nobody stood taller than the Calgary fans. While the Flames were still on the ice, the crowd chanted, "Thank you, Flames." When their heroes had departed, the fans were still there, applauding the Canadiens.