1909 to 1931
Before there was an NHL, there were Montreal Canadiens. They were a charter member of the league's forerunner, the National Hockey Association (NHA), in 1909. In 1916, they beat the Portland Rosebuds of the Pacific Coast League to win their first Stanley Cup, and returned to the finals the following season, only to lose to the Seattle Metropolitans.
The Canadiens and four other NHA team executives formed the NHL in 1917. Two years later, they once again faced Seattle for the Stanley Cup, but tragedy struck with the series tied at two games apiece: a flu epidemic hit Seattle, and star Joe Hall died. The remainder of the series was cancelled.
In addition to Hall's death, the next season they lost Joe Malone (the most frequent scorer in NHL history - had he been playing with today's schedule, he would have scored over 100 goals a season). Malone was on loan from the dormant Quebec Bulldogs, but that team returned to the ice in 1919.
With rookie Howie Morenz completing a line with veterans Aurel Joliat and Billy Boucher, the Canadiens once again reached the top in 1924, defeating both Calgary and Vancouver in a convoluted playoff format. In 1925, the Habs lost to the Victoria Cougars (now the Detroit Red Wings), in the last year of the old Western Hockey League challenging for the Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens lost goaltender Georges Vézina to tuberculosis in 1925-1926, and finish last in the league. The following season, the Canadiens signed a suitable replacement in George Hainsworth, who would win the new Vezina Trophy for best goaltender. Hainsworth would be the league's best goalie for the next few years.
But despite consistently having one of the best regular season records in the league, the Habs stumbled in the playoffs until they won their third Stanley Cup in 1930, defeating the seemingly-invincible Boston Bruins. The "Flying Frenchmen" once again beat the regular-season champion Bruins in the 1931 playoffs, then beat the Ottawa Senators to win their fourth Cup.
1932 to 1966
The Canadiens' stars (Morenz and Joliat) faded out in the early 1930s, and they had the worst record in the league by 1935-1936. Stunned by such a horrible performance, the NHL gave the Habs rights to all French Canadian players for two years. They had the second-best record in the NHL in 1936-1937, but were stunned again by Morenz's death after a devastating hit by the Chicago Blackhawks' Earl Siebert. The Canadiens were once again mired in mediocrity for several more seasons, until a team led by the Punch Line of Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Toe Blake and Elmer Lach lifted the Cup again in 1944 after losing only five games in the regular season.
In 1944-1945, Richard made NHL history by becoming the first player to score 50 goals, doing so on the final night of the season. Despite the power, the Habs lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the semi-finals. The team was to be invigorated in the 1946 playoffs, winning their sixth Stanley Cup.
The 1950s were by far the most successful decade ever for the Canadiens, and it is believed by many that the Habs of this era were the best team in NHL history. Between 1951 and 1960, the Canadiens made the finals every year, winning six times (including five straight between 1956 and 1960). Toe Blake would elevate to coach the team, and they added more of the league's great players like Jean Béliveau, Dickie Moore, Doug Harvey, Bernie "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, goalie Jacques Plante (who, in 1959, became the first goalie to regularly wear a mask) and Maurice Richard's brother Henri.
Montreal fell into a state of unbridled love, if not obsession, with the Canadiens. At no time was this more evident then when Rocket Richard was suspended for the rest of the season in 1955 for attacking an official after disagreeing with his ejection from the game following a fight against the Red Wings. Montrealers rioted in the streets, causing millions of dollars in damage. The Canadiens had to forfeit the game, and would lose in the finals to the Red Wings.
Despite Rocket Richard's retirement in 1960, the Canadiens looked ready to win a sixth straight Cup in 1961, but they were stunned in the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks in the semi-finals. The Canadiens continued to suffer (relative) playoff frustration until they won the Cup again in 1965, in Yvan Cournoyer's rookie season, and repeated in 1966. The following season, the Canadiens lost to the Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup finals, the last time the two hated rivals met each other in the final round.
1967 to 1986
With expansion in 1967-1968, the Canadiens handily defeated the fledgling St. Louis Blues in the finals during each of the next two seasons. It might have been a third straight, if the Canadiens hadn't missed out on a playoff spot in 1970 on the final day of the regular season, thanks to a tiebreaker (and since Toronto missed out as well, it meant the only time in NHL history no Canadian teams made the playoffs.)
The Habs were back to their winning ways in 1971, defeating the Blackhawks to capture yet another Stanley Cup in goalie Ken Dryden's rookie season (starting a career where he would average an astonishing 2 goals allowed per game), in addition to long-time Leafs' star Frank Mahovlich's first in a Canadiens' uniform. After losing in the quarter-finals to the Bruins in 1972 (Guy Lafleur's rookie season), they would once again win the Cup over Chicago in 1973.
The Canadiens were upset by the New York Rangers in the first round in 1974, and lost out to the Buffalo Sabres in the 1975 semi-finals. But in 1976, they set a record in the NHL by losing only eight games in an eighty game schedule and went on to win the Cup again, thwarting the Philadelphia Flyers' hopes for a third consecutive championship. The team was led by Lafleur (who was in the midst of six straight 50-goal seasons), Cournoyer, Steve Shutt, Pete Mahovlich and Larry Robinson. The Canadiens would then go on to win three more consecutive Cups to close out the 1970s.
Most of the Canadiens' best players were retired or traded by the early 1980s (the major exceptions being Robinson and Lafleur). They would, however, pick up star Swedish center Mats Naslund, defenseman Bob Gainey, as well as Guy Carbonneau in the early 1980s. By 1985-1986, they once again had a top goalie in rookie Patrick Roy. Roy would lead the Canadiens to their only Stanley Cup of the decade that season, defeating the Calgary Flames.
1986 to Today
The Canadiens would continue to consistently perform through the early 1990s, winning another Cup in 1993 over the Los Angeles Kings. That season, they picked up scoring threat Vincent Damphousse from the Edmonton Oilers, in addition to having forwards Kirk Muller, Brian Bellows and Stephane Lebeau - all four of whom scored more than 30 goals each during that season.
By 1995, the Canadiens disintegrated and missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. The final straw came in December of that year, when Patrick Roy allowed nine goals against the Detroit Red Wings in one game and asked to be traded. This incident had been perpetuated by his dislike of then current head coach Mario Tremblay. He was dealt to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche along with Mike Keane for Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky, and despite solid players like Pierre Turgeon, Mark Recchi, Vladimir Malakhov and Patrice Brisebois at various points in the late 1990s, the Canadiens would stumble and eventually miss the playoffs three straight seasons between 1999 and 2001. There was even small talk of the team moving, especially after American investor George Gillett was the team's only interested buyer when Molson Breweries sold it in 2001.
In the fall of 2001, it was revealed that center Saku Koivu, who had been with the team since 1995, had cancer and would miss the season. Miracuously, he would come back and, along with the surprising strong play of goalie Jose Theodore, inspire the team for a run to the 2002 playoffs as the final seed in the Eastern Conference. They would then upset the Bruins in the first round, but lose to the cinderella Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.
On November 22, 2003, the Canadiens participated in the first outdoor hockey game in the NHL's history. They defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 in front of more than fifty-five thousand fans, an NHL attendance record, at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.
© Copyright 2003 by MontrealCanadiens.ca
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