1. Dec. 31, 1975 - Montreal Canadiens vs. Red Army
MTL 3, USSR 3
The most compelling New Year’s Eve game in the history of the Canadiens organization didn’t even take place against another NHL team, but rather an all-star squad of many of the era’s best Soviet players. With heaps of national pride at stake as the hockey superpowers clashed at the Forum for the historic exhibition match-up, it’s often referred to as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.
The night was clearly all about hockey as while the tilt came complete with all the intensity and hard play fans could have expected, it was also recognized as being an extremely clean game where the real focus was the skill-level of each squad. By the time the dust settled, the teams had tied 3-3, and while they may have been equal in the goals department, much of the credit for the Soviet’s outcome went to legendary netminder, Vladislav Tretiak, who stared down 38 shots from the Habs’ well-oiled machine, compared to his team’s 13. The Canadiens’ New Year’s Eve performance against the Red Army is often seen as the basis for the highly-skilled brand of hockey that launched the club into a new dynasty that saw them capture four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1976 to 1979.
2 - Dec. 31, 1955 - Montreal Canadiens vs. Chicago Blackhawks
MTL 7, CHI 3
The Canadiens New Year’s Eve game against the Blackhawks at the end of the 1955 calendar year, perhaps more than any other, set the stage for what was to come for Canadiens fans in the coming seasons.
The Dec. 31st showdown with Chicago represents the Canadiens’ biggest New Year’s win in franchise history, as they routed the Blackhawks 7-3. After scoring his 500th career goal (including playoffs) in the Habs’ previous match, Maurice Richard along with teammates Jean Béliveau and Dollard St. Laurent, all enjoyed three points night, while Ken Mosdell lit the lamp twice. In fitting fashion the game also took place during Toe Blake’s first season as the Canadiens bench boss following Dick Irvin’s departure for Chicago, not to mention the first year of the Habs’ unprecedented run of five consecutive Stanley Cups.
3 - Dec. 31, 1984 - Montreal Canadiens vs. Quebec Nordiques
MTL 4, QUE 4
For three consecutive New Year’s Eve match-ups from 1983 to 1986, the Canadiens enjoyed the short-lived December tradition of squaring off against bitter provincial rivals the Quebec Nordiques on New Year’s Eve. The closest the Nordiques ever got to having something to celebrate from the outcome of those three games was when they tied the Habs in 1984, but considering the circumstances, even that must have been a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
After Mario Tremblay scored to tie the game 2-2 seconds into the start of the third frame, Quebec answered back with two goals of their own. With the clock winding down and less than a minute of action remaining, it looked like Montreal fans would finally have to swallow a New Year’s Eve loss at the hands of the hated Nordiques. Until of course, Ryan Walter and Pierre Mondou both popped in clutch goals with less than 50 seconds remaining in the match to steal the victory right out from underneath Quebec’s nose and earn themselves a tie that likely felt much more like a win that Dec. 31st.
4 - Dec. 31, 2010 - Montreal Canadiens vs. Florida Panthers
MTL 3, FLA 2
Exactly one century after the Canadiens played their first-ever New Year’s Eve game, they got to enjoy another memorable one, thanks largely to the newest player on their roster at that time. With the New Year being all about change and fresh starts, high-scoring defenseman James Wisniewski got to enjoy exactly that when the Habs picked him up from the NY Islanders on Dec. 28, 2010.
The Wiz showed what a difference maker he could be, when, after the Canadiens fell behind 2-0 in the game, the latest addition to the lineup led the charge and helped give the team a reason to celebrate that night. Wisniewski potted the first goal of the evening for the Habs; assisted on the second and then blasted in a rebound in overtime to put the game on the ice and likely earn himself a few quick friends in the locker room at the same time.
5 - December 31, 1910 - Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Hockey Club
MTL 3, OTT 5
When the Canadiens faced off against Ottawa on Dec. 31 over 100 years ago, it was a game of firsts for the Habs in more than one way. For starters, it was the first game of the 1910-11 campaign for the fledgling Canadiens organization. It was also the first New Year’s Eve game ever played by the team in franchise history.
But more importantly, it also marked the first time that Georges Vézina stepped between the pipes to guard the Canadiens goal. He may not have won that initial outing with the CH, but it’s safe to say that things worked out pretty nicely for both parties. Vézina went on to play in nets for the Habs’ next 366 consecutive games, helping the team claim the first two Stanley Cups in its history.
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