MONTREAL — It’s a classic goal in that it is the exact type of goal scored in June, when time and space is beyond limited because the implications are as high as they can be, when pure desperation often prevails over skill, and when the puck needs to bounce just right to cross over the line.
Oh, and then there’s the fact that it won the Montreal Canadiens the 1993 Stanley Cup.
Not that Kirk Muller knew, when he stood at the lip of Kelly Hrudey’s crease and swiped home a failed wraparound backhand attempt from Vincent Damphousse to put the Canadiens up 2-1 over the Los Angeles Kings at the 3:51 mark of the second period of the fifth game of the 1993 Cup Final, that his goal would count as the winner. And there’d have been even less indication he had just forged what would become the most significant hockey memory of his life.
The Kingston, Ont., native was 27 years old and smack in the prime of his career, and he had to be thinking he was far from the pinnacle.
Alas, he wasn’t.
Muller would play 10 more years and ply his trade with four other teams before hanging up his skates, and that goal would count as the second to last one he’d ever score in the Stanley Cup Finals (he scored an insignificant goal for the Dallas Stars towards the end of a 7-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of the 2000 Final).
But thanks to the Canadiens buckling down — holding the Kings in check and getting insurance markers first from Stephan Lebeau and Paul DiPietro — Muller will always be able to say he’s part of one of the most exclusive clubs in professional sports.
“Everyone’s probably watching all these sporting events that are going and it’s amazing,” he said (in reference to Sportnet’s NHL Rewind broadcasts) during a conference call held with Canadiens reporters last Thursday. “I’ll just sit back and look over different decades, great hockey and sports moments and everything. And then you sit back and think: Well, when people ask me about the Stanley Cup and scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal, I always say it wasn’t so much about just that year, about being with a great group of guys and doing something that you never forget; it’s a dream that you have when you’re just a kid.
“It’s about as innocent as you could think of, is playing and growing up in Canada, playing outside just like so many. And you hear this story over and over with people, but just think of: You’re a young kid and you dream of scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in the NHL and it actually comes true.
“You just know that you could just finish your career and go, ‘I did what my biggest dream was to do, is to win a Cup and score a Stanley Cup-winning goal.’ And to score it in Montreal at the old Forum, and to score it in front of all my family that was there and the fans of Montreal — I mean, I can’t have a more memorable moment in my head, these days, as an athlete to say, ‘Wow, I’ll never forget that moment.’
It is out of pure chaos that the moment was created. A mad scramble, a broken play, and a perfectly-placed shot that squeezed between Hrudey’s pad and Jari Kurri’s skate.
It was a twist of fate much like the many unexpected turns that spun the Canadiens towards their 24th Cup. It came after a remarkable come-from-behind series win over the supremely talented Quebec Nordiques in the first round, after unheralded Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders teams had knocked off behemoths in Boston and Pittsburgh to offer Montreal a more favourable path to the final, and just a couple of days after the team had won its record 10th consecutive overtime game of those playoffs.
The legend of the ’93 team was shaped around charismatic coach Jacques Demers, around the heroics Eric Desjardins and John LeClair provided, around the defensive job Guy Carbonneau did on Wayne Gretzky, and it centred on what might be considered the finest work of Patrick Roy’s Hall of Fame career.
But Muller’s 10 goals in those playoffs were the second-most of any Canadiens player, and the timing of his last two — to give the Canadiens an early 1-0 lead in Game 4, and to win the Cup in Game 5 — can’t be forgotten.
That last one especially.
“I’m sitting in my office right now,” Muller said. “I’ve got the gloves and the puck and everything from that. I didn’t collect too much when I played, but I made sure that I collected that memorable moment and kept that kind of stuff right here in my office.”