Season 13: 1988-89
Carbonneau v. Bourque:
Face to Face
by Jean Gagnon
April/May 1989 Les Canadiens
Excerpted and translated from the French
Envision a playoff series between the Canadiens and the Bruins: if Pat Burns and company are going to win, they will need to neutralize one man in particular: Raymond Bourque. Easy to say! As for Bourque, he will help his team the most by trying to keep as far away as possible from one man: Guy Carbonneau. Not so simple either! Here therefore is a duel between two natural talents, two athletes who give no quarter on the ice, two phenomena who respect each other very much.
"Over the years, Bourque has proven that he is among the two or three best if not the best defenseman around," says Carbonneau. "Hes a player capable of controlling a game, like Coffey, Gretzky and Lemieux. He can slow or accelerate the way a game unfolds, whether his team is dominating or trailing. Bourque makes good use of his imposing physique, hes a good passer, he has a precise shot and he excels on defense. In short, he has it all," concludes Carbonneau.
Although more concise, Bourque is just as flattering: "Carbonneau is a very important player to his team, much more so than people imagine. Its very frustrating to play against someone capable of neutralizing you like he does."
There are some qualities in Carbonneau which Bourque really doesnt appreciate. "Hes always talking on the ice. Hes so confident that sometimes it seems almost like arrogance. That can really be murder. But I should confess its his game that irritates me the most."
Normally, its Carbonneaus job to contain the other teams best offensive player. Its up to him to keep Mario Lemieux from filling the net, to stop Denis Savard between two spinaramas, to see that Wayne Gretzky cant pass to his wings, or to distract Peter Stastny. When Steve Yzerman is on the ice, Carbonneau is never far from him.
But against the Bruins, he has to neutralize a defenseman, Raymond Bourque. "Its completely different," says Guy. "Playing against the Briuns and Bourque, Pittsburgh and Coffey, or Calgary and Gary Suter, that means youre up against a team with a defense that is mobile, quick, capable of moving the puck. Its necessary to stop these defensemen as soon as possible, preferably behind their own net, otherwise they can escape you. Above all, you cant let two or three of their teammates get near them."
Accustomed to facing the best opposing forwards, is it more difficult for Carbonneau to cover a defenseman like Bourque? "Not really. Im usually the third man in the other teams end and I react to what my wings do. Its not like watching a forward, who could be anywhere on the ice. Bourque is always facing me, hes the one who has to initiate the play."
The Bruins star player explains his viewpoint: "If you put a forward against a defenseman, the latter has a good chance of coming out the winner. He can shut down the play, force a long pass. Usually my opponents have a joint strategy to contain me. But with Carbonneau, its always in the offensive zone that he bothers me. Hes always in my way. Hes brave too. He constantly throws himself in front of shots, and never gets seriously hurt. Hes a little crazy. Id like to know how he does it."
This answer of Bourques makes Carbonneau smile. "Its nice that my reputation precedes me. Everyone knows I often throw myself on the ice to block the puck. So now defensemen hesitate before letting off a shot, give it a second thought, which allows me to gain a fraction of a second. And as for the risk of injury, I dont even think about it."
As Bourque says, you would have to be a little crazy to throw yourself in the path of a cannon shot like that of Al MacInnis and his ilk, wouldnt you? "Absolutely not," replies Carbonneau. "If my timing is right, Im not concentrating on whos taking the shot, but on the puck." Carbonneaus famous shotblocks are more likely to occur when the Canadiens are shorthanded, which drives Bourque nuts. "When you have the man advantage and a good play is unfolding, you absolutely have to keep the puck away from Carbonneau. Hes the player who causes me the most trouble."
And Bourque adds: "Each time Im readying for a shot on goal, out of the corner of my eye I see him getting ready to fly, and most of the time the puck doesnt reach the net. Its getting to the point that I dont want to take the shot, I know hell stop it. Id sooner pass the puck to one of my teammates."
Carbonneau stays so close to Bourque when Boston is on the power play because he knows the accuracy of his shot: "At the end of the season, Bourque always finishes in the top three in shots on goal. He never tries to charge the goalie, he concentrates on aiming for the net. That way theres an excellent chance for a rebound goal."
Bourque doesnt see Carbonneau as a simple kamikaze. According to him, his rival also has great offensive talent. "Even if Carbonneau is very proud of his defensive play, hes also not bad on offense. Wed better not be caught sleeping in our zone if he has the puck. Anyone who doesnt take him seriously will find him passing the puck between their legs and theres the goal. You have to watch him closely: hes fast, has good hands, anda rare quality these dayscan let fly a wrist shot or backhand without advertising it. When someone has all these assets, were talking about a complete player."
can Carbonneau play one-on-one with the best players in the league,"
say Bourque, "he can neutralize an entire play. Thanks to
his amazing sense of anticipation, Carbonneau is one of the rare
defensive players capable of controlling a hockey game. How many
defensive players have their name chanted by thousands of fans
during a game? Even if I dont like to admit it, I can think
of few players in NHL history who are comparable defensively."
Les Canadiens, Jan./Feb. 1989
Les Canadiens, Apr./May 1989
Les Canadiens, Sept./Oct. 1989