Potvin still 'sucks' at Madison Square Garden

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

NEW YORK — It is on a visit to storied Madison Square Garden that you are reminded of the fact the Senators really do have one great, hard-hitting defenceman.

Unfortunately, he’s only on their broadcast team.

A quarter of a century into his retirement from a Hall of Fame playing career, Denis Potvin is still serenaded by the loud and often obnoxious fans at MSG. Whether he’s present or not. At least once during every Rangers home game, the crowd erupts into a humming rendition of the classic song Let’s Go Band. The only lyrics they sing: “Potvin sucks.”

“There’s nobody they dislike more than me,” Potvin, now the analyst for Senators games on Rogers Sportsnet, said with a grin before Sunday’s Ottawa-New York tilt.

The claim is backed up by a recent poll asking Rangers fans who they hate most. The best New York Islanders defenceman ever won in a landslide.

Their spite stems from an incident at MSG some 31 years ago. The Rangers, who had not won a Cup in almost four decades, had a real shot in the 1979-80 season. That is, until one of their best players, Ulf Nilsson, suffered a broken ankle on a hit by Potvin.

“In that corner over there,” Potvin said, nodding to the scene. “His foot got caught in a rut. When he tried to pivot away from me, the ankle stayed where it was. I hit him upper body. Shoulder to shoulder. It’d even be a clean hit today.

“The Rangers fans couldn’t swallow that. But the thing that really hurt is that we came back and won the Cup the next four years in a row.”

More often than not, walking over the Rangers to do it.

“I think that’s what perpetuated it,” said Potvin.

Like Dany Heatley at a hostile Scotiabank Place last Thursday, Potvin used the venom as his kryptonite.

“My feeling was always, ‘Oh yeah? Well watch this’ and I’d take a run at another player,” he said. “The more you boo a guy, the more he’s going to want to use that negative energy against you.”

Potvin played some of his best hockey against the Rangers, and in New York. It’s where he broke Bobby Orr’s points record (915) by a defenceman. He scored his first two goals, in his first game, against former Rangers goalie Eddie Giacomin. 

He also vividly recalls the rivalry at its hottest, back when the Islanders would be escorted by 12 New York police officers on horseback as they made their way to the midtown tunnel, then back to Long Island, after games. 

“In the early days, it wasn’t fun. It was kind of dangerous,” said Potvin, noting he still had to keep his head up at MSG after his career ended. “I had two police officers on either side of me in the box when I was broadcasting in the early days.”

The feelings have softened with the passing of time. 

“Now they yell 'Potvin sucks' with a smile on their face,” said Potvin. “I think most of them don’t even know why they’re yelling. I’ve had a lot of comments like, maybe it’s something that Felix Potvin did.

“Now it’s generational. Parents passing their tickets down to their sons, saying ‘make sure you yell Potvin sucks’ when you go to the games.”

But for them to still remember him every night, 25 years after his retirement, he should be honoured.

“In New York, it’s become a rallying cry,” he said of the Potvin Sucks chant. “You’ll hear it at Yankee Stadium, you’ll hear it at Giant Stadium and of course you’ll hear it here every game night. 

“It’s kind of an odd thing, but hey, I had some impact, I guess.”

Starts and stops

Brian Elliott, who has shutouts in two of his last three starts but only one win to show for them, sat on the bench with an “upper-body” injury he suffered late in Saturday’s 1-0 shootout loss to Buffalo. Probably strained something carrying the hopes of a team that had so much trouble getting the job done at the other end of the rink ... Celebrating their birthday Sunday was Senators GM Bryan Murray (68) and play-by-play man Dave “The Voice” Schreiber (66) ... It is just for fun I’m reminding you that, while D Brian Lee sat as a healthy scratch for his 20th game, the Rangers’ Marc Staal is quarterbacking his team’s power play and wearing an alternate captain’s ‘A’. You knew the Senators took Lee ninth overall — when they could have had Staal, who went 12th — in the 2005 draft, right? ... The Senators hope the win is the same kind of stepping stone to better things as it was a season ago, when G Mike Brodeur was summoned from Binghamton of the AHL and backstopped them to a 2-0 tide-turning victory that snapped a five-game sked and started an 11-game winning streak. “It’s in the back of our minds,” said Chris Kelly. “We had a great day in Central Park there after being on a tough spell ... that was in the back of our mind, and it’s in the front now.”

Trick-y question

So, Chris Kelly, when was your last hat trick before Sunday’s at Madison Square Garden? “Against these guys in pre-season,” the Senators centre said matter-of-factly. How about in a real game? “Real game?” Kelly responded with feigned indignance. “I had to take a nap like it was a real game. I had to eat pre-game (meal) like it was a real game. I had to show up like it was a real game ... I can’t remember. I think junior.”

Seeing the light!

When Kelly scored to end the Senators’ drought at 202:57, naturally there was a sense of relief. “Guys were jumping on the bench,” said Mike Fisher. “I don’t know if it was disbelief or excitement or what. We saw that red thing behind the net and we didn’t know what it was. It was a big goal for us ... Who knew he had two more in him?”

Goal-den memories

Nobody not named Liam will remember this, but the time the Senators ended their previous record scoreless drought (Nov. 26, 1997) it was Daniel Alfredsson who did the honours in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Red Wings. Assists on the short-handed goal went to Shaun Van Allen and Magnus Arvedson. Alfredsson was on the ice and the first to congratulate Kelly when he ended the team slump Sunday.


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