Damphousse Lurks, and Rangers Cringe
By Robin Finn April 18,1996 New York Times
Unlike Mark Messier, Vincent Damphousse does not have a Stanley Cup ring for nearly every finger. Unlike Messier, Damphousse is not nursing tender ribs that sometimes puts a telltale hitch in his glide.
And also unlike Messier, Damphousse has already scored two goals, including the overtime game winner,in this one-game-old conference quarter final between New York and Montreal, two clubs that completed the regular season at a limp.
Not that Damphousse himself, with 55 points in his last 38 games, entered the post-season at a crawl.
Damphousse was a leader and a hero for the Canadiens on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, where it has become customary to afford Messier that distinction.
Moreover, the 28-year-old Damphousse, whose cronies call him Vinnie, did his all-out job on offense, despite his daunting dual assignment as Messier's involuntary shadow.
Damphousse, a gritty, gutsy, but undervalued left wing before Mario Tremblay assumed the Montreal coaching duties in October, was promoted to be the center of his team's second line and to harass the top center of every other team.
Tremblay noticed a mean streak in him. Damphousse reminded Tremblay, the coach, a little of Tremblay, the player: fearless, relentless, beyond intimidation.
When granted the extra responsibility, Damphousse - the two-way center - became twice the player he had been before. Not only did he keep tabs on big shots like Messier and Eric Lindros, but he piled up 94 points. A big brother to his teammates, 14 of whom are under 25, he proved a big pain to the opposition.
"Vinnie's had a great year for us, so I wasn't surpised to see him keep this up against the Rangers," said Jocelyn Thibault, the 21-year-old goalie who halted 43 Ranger shots on Tuesday.
When the Rnagers, with considerable logic, were sizing up the Canadiens as a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears playoff underlings, possibly they forgot that there is an exception to every rule. Possibly they forgot about Damphousse who, although he had never faced their club in the playoffs, already had 66 playoff games under his belt and a 1993 championship ring on his finger.
Certainly, before their 3-2 overtime defeat at home, the Rangers wished they had remembered that the Canadiens had won 11 consecutive playoff overtime games before extending that record to 12 on Tuesday. Damphousse was on the ice for the entire dozen.
The bulk of the Canadiens' personnel may have changed since that overtime streak began in 1993 - besides Damphousse, only three players, Benoit Brunet, Lyle Odelein and Patrice Brisebois, remain from that championship season - but the team's philosophy on overtime playoff games has not.
"The guys were banging and digging for the puck; we wanted that puck," said Damphousse, whose game winner at 5 minutes 4 seconds was assisted and screened by Brunet. "He pulled their two guys with him, set me up with a nice line, and I just tried to shoot between everyone's legs."
These new Canadiens are a team built to rush, not to crush, but that doesn't automatically make them crushable. As Messier discovered time and again, especially when Damphousse struggled past him for the umpteenth time and menaced Mike Richter with the game winner, you can't crush what you can't catch.
"In the end, we just tried to get in there with our speed and get the game won," said Damphousse, whose 21st career playoff goal accomplished precisely that. "We may have the second-youngest team in the league and most of our guys have little or no playoff experience. But we're anxious to show we can do it even though we're young."
On Tuesday, Rangers coach Colin Campbell admitted to being "aware of" but not "concerned with" the fleetness of this youth corps.
"When you're not a big team, you have to have another asset, and theirs is speed," he said. "They're a pretty good rush team."