Eighteen years ago tonight, Mark Messier backed up his guarantee that the Rangers would avoid elimination with a third-period hat trick that rallied New York to a 4-2 win at New Jersey in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers went on to win Game 7 and then beat Vancouver to end a 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
Fast-forward 18 years and the scenario is almost exactly the same -- the Rangers enter Game 6 of the conference finals in New Jersey needing a win to force a Game 7. A win by the Devils will move them into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2003.
Messier, who retired eight years ago, will be an interested spectator this time in his role as a special assistant to GM Glen Sather, and both teams are downplaying any historical connection between Friday's game and the showdown a generation ago, preferring instead to focus on the present.
Here are five things to keep in mind as the action unfolds in Game 6:
1. To say that the Rangers need a better night from goalie Henrik Lundqvist would be an understatement. Lundqvist stopped just 12 of 16 shots in Game 5, and his .750 save percentage was his worst in a playoff game since he made just 12 stops on 17 shots in a loss to Pittsburgh in Game 3 of the 2008 conference semifinals.
2. At some point, the Rangers have to generate some scoring in the opening period. New Jersey has outscored New York 6-1 in the opening period during the first five games -- Brandon Prust's goal Wednesday ended the Rangers' drought of 95:41 in first periods in this series.
3. This is only the third game in the history of the Rangers to be played May 25. In addition to the famed 1994 win in New Jersey, the Rangers were eliminated by Philadelphia in 1997 when they lost 4-2 at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 of the conference finals.
4. The Devils allowed only 27 power-play goals in 82 regular-season games while setting a League record with an 89.6-percent success rate on the penalty kill. The playoffs have been a completely different story -- New Jersey has allowed 16 power-play goals in 17 games, and the Devils' 72.9-percent success rate was by far the worst of any of the four teams that made the conference finals.
5. Barring an unexpected catastrophe, goalie Martin Brodeur will be making his 188th consecutive playoff start for New Jersey. The last New Jersey playoff game that Brodeur didn't start was Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Boston on May 11, 1994 -- Chris Terreri beat Boston 5-3 to move the Devils into the conference finals against the Rangers. Brodeur is the only player from that 1994 series who still is active in the NHL.