LeClair working overtime to be hero for Canadiens Montreal 1 win away from title

June 09, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers calls John LeClair "Long John, the Mountain Man."

LeClair's playoff beard certainly makes him look the part; he could have carried a musket for the Green Mountain Boys a couple hundred years ago in his native Vermont.

Long John has pulled the Canadiens to within one victory of their 24th Stanley Cup after scoring Monday night in overtime -- for the second successive game -- to give Montreal a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 set for Montreal tonight.

The winning play began when Montreal goalie Patrick Roy whacked a rebound long enough to serve as an outlet pass. LeClair carried the puck in two-on-one on Los Angeles goalie Kelly Hrudey. LeClair said afterward he was thinking pass, but he eventually shot it, Hrudey coming way out on the left side of the crease.

Hrudey stopped the shot, but the puck rolled loose with Hrudey down. LeClair, behind the goal line, was in no position to hit the open net, but he threw it into the crease, where it met Kings defenseman Darryl Sydor. The puck bounced off Sydor, into the open net, and the game was over, with 5:23 left in the 20-minute overtime.

"I was trying to jam it in myself, but I had a little help," LeClair said after his fourth goal of the playoffs.

Demers was beaming afterward -- not just because of the 3-1 lead, but because LeClair has been something of a personal project for the first-year coach. LeClair, who will be 24 next month, is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound left wing. This past season, his second in the NHL, he scored 19 goals, which isn't terrible, but wouldn't seem to predict stardom, either -- unless you're listening to Demers, who compares LeClair to Pittsburgh's Kevin Stevens, another big New Englander who developed late.

"John LeClair is going to be a star in this league," Demers said Monday night. "I told him a few months ago he's going to be a very wealthy man."

LeClair typifies the no-name Habs, who somehow keep grinding out the wins. Monday night, they won their 10th consecutive overtime game, even though they blew a 2-0 lead in regulation and were out-chanced until the final sequence.

Los Angeles, which was within an illegal-stick penalty of a 2-0 lead in the series last week, now faces near-impossible odds after gettingswept at home.

"We played a great game," Kings coach Barry Melrose said. "They won three in a row, now we'll have to win three in a row. . . . We outworked them tonight. . . . It hurts when you give a lot and don't get anything back.

Demers, of course, cautioned that the Kings weren't dead. The Kings came back from a 3-2 deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the semifinals, but, 3-2 isn't 3-1.

"Wayne Gretzky's team is never a beaten team," Demers said. "As soon as you think you've beaten Gretzky, he'll beat you."


CANADIENS VS. KINGS (Canadiens lead series, 3-1) Game 1 Kings, 4-1

Game 2 Canadiens, 3-2 (OT)

Game 3 Canadiens, 4-3 (OT)

Game 4 Canadiens, 3-2 (OT)

Tonight at Montreal 7:30

Saturday* at Los Angeles 8:40

Tuesday* at Montreal 7:30

* If necessary


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