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Remembering 1994: Fifteen Years Later

June 14, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments

Today is June 14, 2009. It was 15 years ago on this very day that Sam Rosen said:

The waiting is over. The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions!!!!! And this one will last a lifetime.

Echoed MSG partner John Davidson:

No more curses. This is unbelievable!

All this time later and it’s still hard to put into words how great it felt to finally see my favorite team end what became known as The Curse- finishing off a 54-year drought with The Captain, Mark Messier delivering on his promise to bring a Stanley Cup back to the heart of the city.

Predictably, it didn’t come as easy as it looked with the Rangers blowing a 3-1 series lead to Pavel Bure and the Vancouver Canucks, who stunned Madison Square Garden with a Game Five 6-3 win after the home club had rallied to tie it. With the series back to British Columbia for Game Six, it was inevitable that the Canucks wouldn’t allow the Rangers to celebrate in enemy territory. After a convincing 4-1 win, suddenly the series was tied with the do-or-die game back at MSG three days later.

Perhaps the extra day off benefited them because they were clearly reeling. Not only did they suddenly have to deal with the weight of a city starved for a championship but also had to contend with heavy rumors that Coach Mike Keenan would bolt for Detroit. As it turned out, he left for St. Louis.

When the two clubs finally took the ice for Game Seven, that didn’t matter. Now, it was all about the biggest game of what had been a memorable 1993-94 season. Here’s a look back at the long journey to get there:

The Rangers followed a disappointing playoff miss the year prior coming back strong finishing 52-24-8 for a franchise record 112 points, winning the President’s Trophy. They were led by Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves, who passed Vic Hadfield by scoring 52 goals which at that point was the most in a season by a Ranger. There also was the surprising Sergei Zubov, who in his first full NHL campaign paced the club with 89 points (12-77-89). Not bad for a former fifth round pick.

Perhaps the most intriguing performer was enigmatic 21 year-old rookie Alexei Kovalev, who had his ups and downs under Keenan- in and out of the doghouse or as JD often referred, “Chateau. Bow wow.” Despite the relationship, the veteran coach brought in by GM Neil Smith knew he’d need production out of the talented former first rounder if the club was to accomplish its goal Keenan set out in training camp. He asked his players to envision bringing Lord Stanley back to the franchise along with what a ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes would feel like. In order to accomplish it, everyone had to buy in which meant getting the most out of the gifted Kovalev. The Russian finished the season strong totaling 23 goals and 33 assists for 56 points. His inspired play would be a sign of things to come that Spring torching the Islanders during a first round sweep while also scoring one of the biggest goals that started a memorable comeback against New Jersey.

When you construct a championship roster, so many things have to fall into place. Sometimes, that includes sacrificing a few players. Smith took such risks trading popular defenseman James Patrick and Darren Turcotte to Hartford in a three-team deal involving Chicago, acquiring experienced forward Steve Larmer and grinder Nick Kypreos. Both immediately fit in with the talented Larmer used a lot by Keenan in a checking role while contributing offensively. He often played with underrated center Sergei Nemchinov and pest Esa Tikkanen, who is best known for his pucker up to Keith Jones during the Rangers’ five-game second round ouster of the Caps. Kypreos played mostly on the fourth line as an energy guy who meshed well with enforcer Joey Kocur and Greg Gilbert. When they weren’t in the lineup, they became known as The Black Aces. A cohesive group who stayed ready in practice keeping the team loose. That included Ed Olczyk, Mike Hudson, Mike Hartman, Doug Lidster, Peter Andersson and veteran backup Glenn Healy.

While the team was vying for tops in the Eastern Conference all year with the Devils, Smith sought to get the missing pieces at the trade deadline including a couple of Keenan’s former pupils Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan from Chicago. He sacrificed the talented Tony Amonte, who went on to a solid career totaling over 400 goals and 900 points. As history tells us, it worked out quite well for the Blueshirts with Matteau providing a couple of memorable double overtime goals including the heroic Game 7 winner, eliminating the Devils in unforgettable fashion advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1979. A moment which forever is remembered for former WFAN play-by-play man Howie Rose’s call:

Amazingly enough, to this day, Rose- who went on to become the TV voice of the archrival Islanders and the official radio voice of the Mets- thought he’d blown the call thinking he’d gone overboard. Something one of the most respected and professional broadcasters prides himself on. However, when it was replayed later that night by WFAN’s Schmoozer, Steve Somers, calls poured in about how great a call it really was fitting such an exciting moment for a franchise that had given fans plenty of torment.

To think that they needed Messier’s Guarantee followed by one of the most clutch playoff performances of all-time rallying the club back from two-zip down with a natural hat trick at The Meadowlands in Game Six just to get the series back to The Garden for that fateful night. The deciding game was even better with an unreal Leetch spin-a-rama goal holding up until 7.7 seconds remained when somehow a desperate Claude Lemieux found Valeri Zelepukin in front for the equalizer before a stunned MSG. Were they about to blow it again? The two OT classic didn’t lack drama with both sides coming oh so close to ending it. You had Messier flat out robbed by a 22 year-old kid goalie Martin Brodeur. You had Bobby Holik dangerously close on a wrap around which Richter gloved. As I frantically watched with my brother and Dad, there also was that scary moment where Rosen called out, “Where’s the puck,” before it was calmly cleared out of trouble by Larmer. And then finally, it abruptly ended on an innocent looking play where Viacheslav Fetisov couldn’t control a bouncing puck allowing a streaking Matteau to pounce and sneak a wraparound by Brodeur with Tikkanen in front. Then, a wild celebration with my Dad not even aware we’d won until I told him. Maybe that’s what happens when you grow up with this team and watch Bobby Orr skate the Cup around MSG. It became so unexpected.

All that just to reach the final hurdle against a pesky yet talented seventh seeded Vancouver team that had already upset three higher seeds, including Calgary in Round One on Bure’s memorable sudden death breakaway goal before taking care of Dallas and Toronto in easier fashion.

It wouldn’t come easy with the Canucks proving right away their run wasn’t a fluke using a clutch performance by Kirk McLean (52 saves) to sneak past the Rangers 3-2 in Game One with Greg Adams notching the winner. But just as they had the previous round following a tough OT defeat to drop home ice, the Blueshirts bounced back with Messier setting the tone with physical play while also setting up deadline acquisition and former Oiler teammate Glenn Anderson (traded from Toronto for popular Ranger Mike Gartner). Clinging to a 2-1 lead just as in the first game, this time the home club prevailed when a Leetch backhand clear from 180 feet went into an empty net sealing it.

Following Bure’s ejection when he hit Jay Wells in the face with his stick cutting him, the Rangers took care of business scoring five unanswered in a 5-1 Game Three win to reclaim home ice. However, the Canucks had all the momentum in Game Four up a goal when Leetch took down Bure on a breakaway with 13:29 left in the second. Bure would be rewarded with a penalty shot. The most dangerous finisher in the game versus Richter, who earlier that same year in the All-Star Game won by the East at MSG denied Bure on a similar play. Only it was a clean breakaway with the Vancouver sniper going forehand deke. Could the Ranger netminder duplicate that during such a pivotal moment of the SCF? We give you the first turning point of the series:


Inspired following the momentum turning save, the Rangers went on to score three straight goals including one from Leetch and another he setup to Kovalev, whose forehand deke finish wound up as the EA Sports NHL ’95 cover. In the 4-2 win that moved them one huge victory away from Lord Stanley, the eventual Conn Smythe winner finished with a goal and three assists.

Just when it seemed the Rangers had it (heck the whole town was going crazy already annointing them), Vancouver showed its playoff mettle after blowing a three-goal lead in the third with Messier tying it. Instead of sulking, they cameback on the next shift with the electrifying Bure setting up Dave Babych for the winner. The Canucks went onto score two more including Bure banking one in off a skate on their way to a 6-3 win extending the series.  I wasn’t confident figuring there was no way the ‘Nucks would lose all three at Pacific Coliseum. They proved me right with Jeff Brown tallying twice and Geoff Courtnall adding a huge insurance marker which wasn’t ruled a goal until the Rangers thought they’d cut it to 3-2. But after the stoppage, video review confirmed that Courtnall had stuffed the puck past Richter negating the Rangers’ goal.

Just like that, a series full of twists and turns was going the distance for a do-or-die Game Seven. Could Ranger fans take another one of these games after last round? I’ll admit to being awfully anxious but had a quiet confidence that they wouldn’t let us down on home ice. I can still recall my history teacher Mr. Bennett even talking about during class. He even created a pool with students getting the chance to win a friendly pool if you had the winner and the right score. Being superstitious, I didn’t participate but foretold the final score thinking 3-2. I just hoped it would be in favor of the home team I lived and died with.

Later that night, there was no more talk and just time for the Canucks and Rangers to settle it once and for all. Who would deliver in such a pressure packed situation? It still makes me tingle thinking back. We all had our usual seats in the TV room upstairs with myself sitting on the rug stomach down hoping to see my favorite team finally do what my Dad thought impossible.

I felt like the first goal would be huge because they hadn’t played well. If the Canucks got it, yikes. But thankfully, that didn’t happen. Instead, Messier made a great play backing up the Vancouver D before dropping to Zubov, who patiently waited before passing across for a wide open Leetch, who waited and waited before calmly shooting into an open side with McLean out of position.

Canucks 0 Rangers 1

Finally with momentum, the Ranger power play went to work. No. Not the powerless one we are forced to watch these days but the best PP in the league back then thanks to Leetch and Zubov. It was Zubov, who made a great play at the blueline getting the puck in on-side past two Canucks right to Kovalev creating a two-on-one down low. He quickly fed for an open Graves in the slot, who buried his first of the series.

Canucks 0 Rangers 2

Boy, were they playing well. If they could just get one more, I felt really good about the outcome. However, McLean and the Canucks wouldn’t go away. Instead, while shorthanded in the second, captain Trevor Linden scored a great SH goal beating Richter with a backhand upstairs on a breakaway.

Canucks 1 Rangers 2

The nerves were creeping back in knowing this Vancouver team wasn’t going down easily. Then, the Rangers got another man-advantage. It didn’t take long for them to restore order with three guys in the area searching for the rebound before it got pushed past McLean. To this day, Messier is credited with Cup winner. Fairly appropriate since that’s what he was brought in to do. However, it’s hard to tell if it was his goal. Noonan and Graves also were in the area and one might have nudged it. Nobody ever complained about The Captain getting the winner. So, we’ll just leave it at that and let other hockey fans debate it. All I know is it became a necessity.

Canucks 1 Rangers 3

The Rangers would take the two-goal lead to the locker room. Twenty minutes were all that separated them from their destiny. The Stanley Cup. Could they really do it? Before we could even breathe, there was Linden scoring his second of the game on a power play, easily beating Richter with a one-timer. Suddenly, the margin for error was gone and there was a ton of time left.

Canucks 2 Rangers 3

Now, in this game, Linden was flat out awesome. But the Rangers also had to deal with the dangerous Bure, who every shift scared the Hell out of us. I can recall an early shift where he did everything but score controlling the puck skating around our entire D, who surrounded Richter like a brick wall. Eventually, he sent a shot from an angle wide of the net and after the shift, slammed his stick in frustration. I can’t say enough about the defensive work done by Jeff Beukeboom and Kevin Lowe along with the forwards. Without it, there’s no way they win. Leetch also was really good defensively that Spring. Something which gets lost because he was an offensive defenseman who won the Norris twice (1992, ’97). That’s what he’ll go in the Hockey Hall of Fame for this Fall.

Down a goal and desperate to get it tied, the Canucks pressed and pressed. It seemed like the clock was winding so slowly. The Rangers hit a post earlier which would’ve given us a little breathing room.  I think it was Lowe or Zubov. No matter who, it didn’t matter cause it was still a one-goal margin. Then Vancouver turned it on with less than 10 minutes left. First, Martin Gelinas came close hitting the outside of the post with Richter down. Then, came a more nerve wracking moment when a centering pass got through to unknown Nathan Lafayette with under six minutes to go. Here’s how it sounded on MSG, which coincidentally is reairing the game tonight at 8 ET/5 PT:

Till this day, I don’t know how that stayed out. But Richter did get his glove across. Whether he got a piece is debatable. If so, then it was miraculous. But hey. His best friend still saved him. At that point, I had so many knots in my stomach that I thought we’d never see the finish. The Canucks sure made it tough. Still, the Rangers settled down playing better defense in the final five minutes taking away the blueline. Actually, I should say four because the last 60 seconds were scary.

As the clock reached down to a minute, I could hardly contain myself. Would it happen or would the feisty Canucks find another way to tie it late a la Game One when they snuck one through Richter? All I know is the team did a great job keeping the Canucks to the outside throwing checks until the puck was cleared down with under 10 seconds left. That was it! Right? Wrong. Somehow, it was whistled icing even though a dejected Bure stopped skating. I guess it was only fitting that time was put back on even if you could hardly hear what was being said with the Garden in a frenzy. Never have I heard a building so loud. I can only imagine what it must’ve felt like to be there for such a history making moment.

One more faceoff win was all it would take to be crowned champs. Precisely what Craig MacTavish was acquired from Edmonton for Todd Marchant for. With only 1.6 remaining, it was just enough time for Bure to go forward with the puck. Messier and MacTavish talked it over and then when the puck was dropped, the veteran pivot fell on Bure with the puck pushed to the boards. The game was finally over! They’d really won. Here’s how the historic moment sounded:

My favorite memory is watching my teary eyed Dad in disbelief that it had actually happened. To see him so overjoyed meant everything. This wasn’t about me or my brother but about true fans like our father, who’d waited for this moment so long. This was about your parents and grandparents who never thought they’d see it. That’s always what I’ll remember most. There were cars honking in the streets proving that back then, yes! Hockey really did exist and people in this baseball-sessed town cared. It was truly special uniting a city together. Though the Knicks fell short a few days later against the Rockets overshadowed by the OJ Saga, that summer shall always remain my favorite.

Of course, it goes without saying that we went to the parade parking the car and taking the Ferry ride across to Lower Manhattan for the grand trip of our heroes down the Canyon of Heroes. I remember a lot about that hot June summer day. It was so humid but I can still hear the “Let’s Go Ranger” chants on the Ferry with many drinking alcohol. I can also remember pushing through a tight sidewalk just to get to City Hall to catch the presentation and speeches. The “One More Year” chants for Keenan even if it wasn’t to be due to a power struggle he lost to Smith. None of that mattered. For one year, everything came together to win the greatest trophy in all of sports. Nobody can ever take that away.

It’s true enough that MSG has milked it for all its worth. As negative as I can be given how far away the current team is from seriously competing with the Pens and Red Wings, I hope one day we can have another special moment. Only this time, it will be with my family at our second home. The Garden. It really can’t come soon enough. Still, nothing beats 1994 because of all the incredible storylines. A long, hard fought journey with the Rangers earning it. When you see what happened to Detroit a couple of days earlier, it makes you appreciate it that much more. That’s why the Cup is the hardest trophy to win. Because anything can happen.

I’m thankful for that memory and look forward to many more.

As Graves echoed after we won:

19—40! 19—40!!! 19—40!!!!!

Thank you 1993-94 New York Rangers for that special night.

Forever a Ranger fan,

One Battle of NY blogger

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  1. Remembering 1994: Fifteen Years Later | Long Distance Inc on June 14th, 2009 8:17 pm

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  3. Remembering 1994: Fifteen Years Later | The Battle of New York … on June 14th, 2009 10:06 pm

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