November 1999 was the last time the Montreal Canadiens won a game in San Jose. However, you would have to go back an additional two seasons, to November 1997, for the last time that the Montreal Canadiens were able to defeat the San Jose Sharks in regulation time on the road.
Since then the Canadiens have gone 1-8-2 in 11 games, including an overtime win in 1999, and two extra-time losses. Seven times the teams did not face each other in San Jose. Then there was the lost season of 2004-05.
But let’s go back to the 1997-98 season to relive that game. The Canadiens were limping along in the post-Patrick Roy world. They were hoping to forget the Mario Tremblay era behind the bench by replacing him with promising rookie coach Alain Vigneault who was fresh out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
That was pretty much the only change by the Canadiens that season, as they brought back most of the 1996-97 team, but hoping for better results with a new head coach.
The team was captained by Vincent Damphousse, who took on the captaincy the previous season after Pierre Turgeon was traded away. There were also two candidates to the throne close-by: Marc Recchi and Shayne Corson, the man who came back to Montreal as part of the Turgeon deal.
Once Damphousse was traded in 1999, the vote for next captain came down to Corson and another player, it wasn’t however Recchi as he was gone two weeks before Damphousse, as part of a massive salary purge by general manager Rejean Houle.
In November 1997, Corson started proving the doubters of the trade wrong, as he was having one heck of a start to the season, with 19 points in 15 games. Corson was playing on a line with Mark Recchi and youngster Saku Koivu. It was this top line, in fact, that gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead halfway into the first period on goals by Koivu and Patrice Brisebois. Both goals were assisted by Recchi and Corson.
But the Canadiens struggled to maintain momentum in the first period. They kept taking penalties. San Jose took advantage to score the first of three power play goals on the night.
The penalty kill was a big concern for the Canadiens as they were among the worst teams in the league in that regard, having allowed 12 powerplay goals on 32 chances over the previous seven games.
Part of the squad was the aging superstar Stephane Richer who the Canadiens brought back to the fold the previous season by sending tough guy Lyle Odelein to the New Jersey Devils in a one-for-one trade. Richer missed some games with a calf injury, then was scratched against the Coyotes for one of the first times of his career in the previous game. He would return to action against the Sharks, but his night’s work came to a quick end on his very first shift when he collided in the boards with Sharks forward Andrei Nazarov. Both fell awkwardly to the ice, resulting in a twisted ankle that ended Richer’s night. It was little consolation to Richer that Nazarov drew a penalty on the play. Richer would only miss one game, but the injuries started to pile up. After only a handful more appearances with the Canadiens he would be traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
By the second period the Canadiens had lost all momentum and were being peppered by shots. The game could have tilted the other way if not for the goaltending of Jocelyn Thibault, and the defensive work of Peter Popovic and Vladimir Malakhov who both stood out on this night. An interference call on Rich Brennan was the opening the Habs needed, and they certainly did not waste the chance as Corson scored a powerplay goal, assisted by Koivu and Malakhov, giving the Habs a two-goal cushion. But as with the first period, penalties led the Canadiens into trouble towards the end of the second as Martin Rucinsky took two consecutive minors. The Sharks capitalized on the second chance, to once again bring the game within a goal at the end of 40 minutes.
It only took the Sharks two minutes in the third to tie the game up, once again taking advantage of a Canadiens penalty, when Stephane Quintal took a roughing penalty on a retaliatory hit. The game was tied, and it seemed like it was all slipping away from the Habs. Both teams tightened up their defence significantly afterwards, with shots tied at eight apiece for the period. It was Rucinsky who bounced back by scoring with 90 seconds left in regulation, assisted by Valeri Bure and Damphousse, on Sharks starter Mike Vernon.
Corson, with a goal and two assists, was named the first star and Saku Koivu, with two assists, got the second star.
Of the two teams, only Patrick Marleau remains active in the NHL this season, playing his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, after a long career with the Sharks that began in 1997. Perhaps the departure of Marleau will be the omen that brings victory back to the Canadiens in San Jose.