Habs salute greats in win

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Forget Kostitsyn, Plekanec and Kovalev.

The Montreal Canadiens' top line this season is going to be tradition at centre, ceremony digging in the corner and nostalgia heading for the net.

The Habs started the home portion of their 100th season last night against the Boston Bruins with another sweet embrace of their glittering past.

The club's salon des anciens would have made a rapper blush with all the bling on display before the game as former greats like Henri Richard (a record 11 Stanley Cups), Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lafleur, Guy Lapointe, Larry Robinson, Murray Wilson, current GM Bob Gainey and 90-year-old Elmer Lach and 88-year-old Emile "Butch" Bouchard -- the two oldest surviving Canadiens -- gathered to mark the introduction of the club's Ring of Honour and kick off the year-long celebration.

There are few teams that do ceremony quite like the Habs, but then again, few have as much with which to work.

"This is going to be a great year with all the tradition," said newcomer Alex Tanguay, who snapped home the winner in the shootout as the Canadiens blew a 3-0 lead and escaped with a 4-3 victory. "Seeing all those guys up near the roof before the game -- Gainey, Robinson, Richard, it was special."

The spotlight shone last night on the Ring of Honour, located in the upper reaches of the Bell Centre, which features the name, number and photo of each of the 44 players and the name and photo of the 10 builders the Canadiens have sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lafleur, among others, was standing by his tribute when the spotlight hit it.

He has been an outspoken critic of the Habs during the lean years, making headlines last year when he characterized the Canadiens as having "four fourth lines."

CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC

But Lafleur and the other Habs greats are cautiously optimistic about this year's team, which has become based more on speed and skill under Gainey's watch, a team which has come to embody the flair and style which characterized "The Flying Frenchmen."

"They started to play last year after my declarations. They responded. If there hadn't been a reaction, that's a problem, but they responded to it," said Lafleur. "This is a better team than last year. They're more balanced offensively, more defensive-minded. It's a young team. Maybe there's a little lack of experience, but that will come with time," said Lafleur.

"They're a speed and skill team and that's like the old, traditional Canadiens teams," said Steve Shutt, the winger who scored 60 goals with his quick hands and his ability to read and interpret the artistry of Lafleur. "They also got some depth, which is critical, and some toughness, too."

SOMETHING SPECIAL

There's the sense that this team, pushed by the connection this year to past glories, is capable of something special.

Cournoyer takes nothing for granted.

"I remember in '67 we were sure to win against Toronto and we lost," said Cournoyer of that year's final. "I think that was a good thing to happen to me for the rest of my years. I never won a Stanley Cup before the season started. We know a lot of things can happen during the year, but you know if you have a good team, the more you win, the more you want to win. Everybody is saying this team can win the Stanley Cup, but thinking it and doing it are two different things. I don't know if we have a perfect team to win a Cup yet.

"What I like about the Montreal Canadiens is it's a fun team to watch."

It was fun for the Habs faithful last night, Les Glorieux giving them another celebration of the past and a hint of what might lay ahead.


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