"Everyone in this room is going to be disappointed if we dont get to the end. I think we have a team capable of getting to the end."
When the Dallas Stars commenced their 2000 playoff run on April 12, I had one personal wish: that Guy Carbonneau would stay healthy and play as many games as possible. With Carbos career winding down, every playoff game in which he appeared was precious to me.
I had a special playoff ritual for this year. Before each game I placed a lucky kiss on the knob of the Sher-Wood that hangs in my kitchen. It was the stick Guy was using when he broke his wrist on March 5, the stick he gave me on March 23 as he returned to the ice for the rest of the regular season. To me the Sher-Wood was a symbol of triumph over injury, a token of the happy fact that Guy Carbonneau was still playing hockey.
Still playing, yes but the long grind of the post-season would test the veterans mettle. Although hed had his best regular season in six years, it had been a taxing one. Instead of playing 50 games as GM Bob Gainey anticipated when Carbonneau was signed for the year, the leagues oldest player was called upon all season to fill in gaps left by injured teammates. In a year when the Stars started out barely recovered from their Cup run, the 40-year-old worked feverishly, playing hard in 69 games, and leading his team to a league all-time record for penalty killing. This Guy did while injured himself, playing with a disk problem that often caused numbness in his hands and he entered the post-season still sporting a playing cast on that fractured wrist, which would require surgery when the playoffs were finally over.
So I wondered how much, and how well, Guy Carbonneau could play in this his 17th stint in the NHL playoffs. The Sher-Wood not withstanding, it would take more than luck. For the Stanley Cup Playoffs are about survival: The last team left standing gets the prize, and along the way there is incomprehensible pain and struggle, both physical and mental. The Dallas Stars were not favored to win in 2000, and the two months ahead looked torturous. This was the task at hand for a man whose contemporaries had nearly all been put to pasture some time ago.
One of those contemporaries, Kevin Lowe, was coach of the the Stars first round opponent, the Edmonton Oilers. Carbonneau and Lowe were both drafted in 1979, and were rivals during the Gretzky years as one played for Edmonton and the other for Montreal. In Game 1 one stood behind the bench, while the other was still on the ice, going head to head with the young, fast Oilers of a new generation. In that first game the aged Carbo got an assist, took a penalty to save a goal, and headed up a four minute penalty kill that only allowed one shot (the only one the Stars allowed shorthanded all night). Dallas won, 2-1.
After a sound 3-0 victory in game two, the Stars traveled to Edmonton. There they had to deal not only with the Oilers on faster ice, but with the young and virulent Oilers fans. The Edmonton faithful were loud and merciless both at the Stars hotel (with a 4 a.m. "wake-up call") and in the stands at the Skyreach Centre. The Oilers players were no kinder, handing Dallas a 5-2 loss in Game 3.
Game 4 was just as brutal. Guy took a 10 minute misconduct early for arguing a high-sticking penalty on Richard Matvichuk, and two goals were scored by each side while he sat in the box. A loss would mean a definite return to the unpleasant environs of Edmonton, something no one wanted. Carbo rose to the occasion and scored the game-winning goal, a 40-foot wrister. "I took a stupid 10 minutes and when I got back to the bench I wanted to make up for that," said Guy. "I guess that goal was a good answer." Assisting were two other former Canadiens captains, Mike Keane and Kirk Muller. "We kind of passed the torch of captaincy to each other on that one," Muller said. "Carbos a great defender, but hes got better hands than people think. That was a great shot."
Given the chance to avoid returning north, the Stars clinched the round in Game 5. With a goal, an assist, and a +2 for the series, Carbo shook hands with Kevin Lowe and moved on to the conference semi-finals.
for the Sher-Wood, five games. Still playing.
Praise for Guy and other ex-Habs (courtesy of The Edmonton Journal)
of the Dallas Morning News)
4/12/00 "Fans can count on opponents having Stars in their eyes"
4/18/00 "Stars need to step up their effort"
Diane's Playoff Diary
4/12/00 "The First, Unblemished Day"
4/18/00 "Thanks for the Pep Talk"