The Calgary Flames won the opening game of their Stanley Cup final series before a sellout crowd of 20,062 Sunday night at the Saddledome on a second-period goal by Theoren Fleury, the feisty little center who this time last year was still playing major junior hockey in Moose Jaw.
Just a few months ago, Fleury was playing for the Flames' affiliate in Salt Lake City.Fleury's game-winner in the Flames' 3-2 victory was a shot between the legs of Canadien goalie Patrick Roy and came after a surprisingly busy first period in which four goals were scored.
Fleury, a 5-foot-6, 155-pound scrapper with an angry-looking cut over his right eye and a friendly-looking smile on his face, said the goal was a Mother's Day gift for a lady watching on television back home in a small farming community in western Manitoba.
Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be too tiny for the big time.
Fleury knew better. He knew it was only a matter of time before he got his chance to play in the National Hockey League.
How much time?
He says he would have played junior hockey forever if that was the only way he could keep playing hockey. No matter how many years he had to spend riding buses across vast expanses of Canada, he would never have quit.
But when the Flames sent him to Salt Lake, he saw his chance.
When the Flames called him up from Salt Lake on New Year's Day, it was a dream come true.
And he's not going to let it go.
As Calgary Coach Terry Crisp put it: "Fleury has come up the hard way. He's a little guy who plays like a big man. He's a pest.
"He's a little guy who plays like a big man. He has a lot of speed and they have to respect his speed. But he has touch around the net, too. If you give him too much room to allow for his speed, he gets you with that touch.
"He works on that line with the big guys (Tim Hunter and Brian MacLellan), and they're like the snowplows clearing the path for him. We're hoping he does a lot of damage that way."
"I have to play my game," Fleury was saying after Sunday night's victory. "Hitting, scoring, just being a spark."
After he had penetrated behind Montreal's vaunted defense, he just put his head down and fired at Roy.
"I wasn't looking," Fleury said. "I just wanted to get it away as quickly as I possibly could. You don't want to give him a chance to set. I didn't see the five-hole. I just shot it."
It went in at 11:45 of the second period, breaking a 2-2 tie that had developed early in the first period, a surprisingly busy first period for what was supposed to be a defensive battle.
Terry Crisp said: "Standing behind the bench after all the prelude and hoopla about our style and their style, I couldn't believe it was bing, bing, bing, bing. Four goals scored in the time it takes to blink an eye.
"I know for myself, and probably for Coach (Pat) Burns, too, it was, `Wow, where did our defense go?' "
The defense was back in the second and third periods, and the Flames were able to protect the lead Fleury gave them.
Both Roy and Flame goalie Mike Vernon made a lot of key saves once the game settled down.
The Flames took a 2-1 lead in the first period on two goals by defenseman Al MacInnis less than two minutes apart.
But MacInnis also took the blame for a power-play goal Montreal's Stephane Richer scored earlier.
Richer took advantage of the hooking call on Flame winger Jim Peplinski to give the Canadiens the lead just 2 minutes 43 seconds into the game.
Richer beat MacInnis into the zone to take the shot from the top of the left circle and beat Vernon on the glove side.
"I have nobody to blame but myself," MacInnis said. "With Richer's speed, he got a step on me and beat me to the outside.
"I was certainly relieved when I scored my first goal. I felt like I owed the team one."