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Kings vs Rangers

Excerpt of Chapter 11 of 'The Wait is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup'

Thursday, 06.05.2014 / 2:12 PM / Kings vs Rangers - 2014 Stanley Cup Final

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Excerpt of Chapter 11 of 'The Wait is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup'
This excerpt from "The Wait is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup," by NHL.com editor John Kreiser, is the final section of Chapter 11: Scaling Mount Vancouver, dealing with Game 7 of the Final.

The New York Rangers are in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, four wins against the Los Angeles Kings short of claiming their first championship since 1994, a moment which remains one of the proudest moments in the history of the Original Six franchise.

While waiting to see what the future holds for the Rangers, here is a look back at the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, a seven-game victory against the Vancouver Canucks, as detailed in "The Wait is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup," by NHL.com editor John Kreiser. This excerpt, the final section of Chapter 11: Scaling Mount Vancouver, deals with Game 7 of the Final.

June 14, 1994, dawned sunny and warm, a perfect "summer starts next week" kind of day. It was a day the Rangers and New York hockey fans knew they would never forget; the question was how they would remember it.

"I remember Game 7 -- you can't sleep,” goaltender Glenn Healy says. "You leave the house that day, and I remember I said to my wife, 'This is either going to be one of the best days of our lives or one of the worst.' We don't know. We'll see in 12 hours. You're watching TV and they've got the New York Stock Exchange on, and the brokers on the exchange floor are chanting, 'Let's go Rangers.'"

General manager Neil Smith, whose attention was split between worrying about how his team would perform and what would happen after the game -- win or lose -- says the time before the game is forgotten.

"I can't even remember -- I've asked myself many times, 'What did you do the night before? How did I sleep? How did I feel waking up?' I can't remember any of that. I just remember being at the game and hoping -- you know you've got the better team, but anything can happen.

"To be honest, I can't remember everything that went on that day, at work and when I left home. It's all a blur. I do remember it was very difficult sitting there for that game. You really didn't think about it going the other way. If you did, you'd drive yourself crazy."

Defenseman Doug Lidster, playing in a winner-take-all game against the team with which he had spent his entire career until the previous summer, remembers that the atmosphere before Game 7 was a lot different that the party-time hoopla prior to Game 5.

"I don't recall the exact emotions before Game 7. I do recall that it was different than Game 5," he says. "I don't remember the exact atmosphere before Game 7 other than it was a little 'businesslike' coming into the building. I don't remember the coaches doing anything different. The only differences were coming into the building; I don't remember anything in particular being said in terms of adjustments or whether we were quiet."

Coach Mike Keenan, who had been preaching "Stanley Cup" to his team from the time the Rangers went to London nine months earlier, opted for visual reinforcement rather than a game-day speech.

"At the start of the year, Mike Keenan, in the first meeting we had, showed us video of the [1969] Miracle Mets and the parade down Broadway," Healy remembers. "Before Game 7, there were no big speeches; he showed us that video again. That was what we started the season with, and we were 60 minutes away from doing what we had started the season with. We watched that video, and that was all we needed."

To say the atmosphere at the Garden was electric would be an understatement. It wasn't the "Let's get ready to party" vibe that enveloped the building prior to Game 5; this was more like desperation, with the 18,200 fans knowing that they were going to see something they might never see again.

Playing at home was the reward the Rangers received for their regular-season dominance.

"We played all year to have Game 7 at home; during the regular season we played well enough to earn it," defenseman Jeff Beukeboom remembers. "Whether we were worried -- I'm not sure what the best word is for it; we were definitely prepared, maybe just a little nervous in a positive way, where we knew that the series was going to end regardless. We felt confident because we were going to be playing our last game in Madison Square Garden."

The noise generated by the crowd appeared to carry the Rangers with it.

"I remember John Amirante signing the national anthem, and you couldn't hear him sing," Healy says. "That's how loud it was, and it led to a two-goal lead. You just knew it was right, it was meant to be."

Whatever jitters the Rangers had after losing Games 5 and 6 disappeared as soon as the puck dropped in Game 7. They had the better of the play in the early minutes of the game and grabbed the lead 11:02 into the game after a superb passing play that was started and ended by Brian Leetch.

He began the play in his own zone when he fed Messier, who carried the puck down ice and past Bure, the Vancouver superstar, along the right wall. Mark Messier made a backhand pass against the grain to Sergei Zubov, who held the puck as he closed in down the right side. In a play that seemed to go in slow motion, Leetch leaked down the left side, came into the circle, and took Zubov's pass. With Adam Graves occupying a Vancouver defenseman in the slot, Leetch got below the left faceoff dot and zipped a shot into the open side of the net before goaltender Kirk McLean could get from his left to his right.

It became 2-0 less than four minutes later on a goal by Graves, who hadn't scored in his last 10 postseason games after setting the franchise record with 52 goals during the regular season.

Vancouver defenseman Jyrki Lumme was called for cross checking at 14:03, and the Rangers controlled the puck in the Vancouver zone. Kovalev fed the puck from left to right to Graves on McLean's doorstep. Graves, whose back was showing the effects of the pounding he took from opposing defensemen, zipped a shot past McLean's stick at 14:45 for a 2-0 lead.

The score stayed the same for the rest of the period, and the roof nearly came off the Garden as the Rangers skated off with a two-goal lead after 20 minutes.

Smith, for one, remembers that the early cushion took a lot of the tension out of the air.

"We got up on them when Leetch scored, then Gravy got one on the short side, so we were up 2-0 after one period," he says. "I felt really good then, because we were pretty good when we were playing with a two-goal lead."

But angst is standard equipment for Rangers fans, who got a full dose early in the second period when Beukeboom suffered a knee injury following a collision with Vancouver forward Shawn Antoski and couldn't return.

Smith probably felt better when Vancouver defenseman Jeff Brown was called for interference at 4:39 of the second period, giving the Rangers their second power play and a chance to bolster their lead. Instead, it was halved. Vancouver's Trevor Linden not only drew a penalty that would have evened the sides at four skaters apiece, but before the Rangers could touch the puck to draw a whistle, he barged through the defense, broke in on Mike Richter, and put the puck past him at 5:21 to cut the margin to 2–1.

But the power play got another chance when Dave Babych was called for tripping at 12:46, and this time it came through. Zubov moved the puck from the blue line to the slot, where Messier, Graves, and Brian Noonan all had chances. Messier finally shoveled home a rebound at 13:29 to restore the two-goal lead, one that the Rangers took to the dressing room to prepare for the final 20 minutes of their season.

With the Stanley Cup so close he and his team could practically touch it, Smith remembers being on pins and needles as the third period approached.

"Of course, you're scared, you're nervous," he says. "Your whole life, your whole world, is in front of you. You try to keep the faith as much as you can."

But the Canucks came out with an early push in the third period. Esa Tikkanen was called for hauling down Bure at 4:16, and Linden scored his second goal of the game 34 seconds later to make it a one-goal game again.

The scoreboard clock said there was 15:10 remaining in regulation time. To the Canucks, it must have seemed like a lot less, but to the Rangers, it felt more like 15 years.

If there's one common memory the Rangers who played that night shared two decades later, it's how slowly the clock seemed to move.

"I never watched the game until about a year ago," remembers Lidster, who picked up extra ice time after Beukeboom's injury. "I'd seen clips; you always see highlights here and there. But during the lockout, I sat down and watched -- and the last 15 minutes did go forever."

"I was counting by twos," Healy remembers with a laugh. "As the game was winding down, I look behind me and there has to be like a thousand riot police behind me and around the ice. People are cracking champagne and I'm thinking, 'How did they get the champagne in here?'"

For Beukeboom, who could do nothing but sit and watch, the last few minutes were exceptionally difficult to bear.

"It was especially tough for me, because I was injured and couldn't play," he remembers. "It was very tense. As a team, you prepare for any situation, and we were prepared for it. Everyone stepped up and did his job, from the goalie out. It was a total team effort; everyone stepped up and played."

Everyone may have played, but the one with the most eyes on him was Richter, who at times seemed to be the only one in a white sweater standing between the Canucks and a tie game. Richter denied Bure and Nathan LaFayette. After McLean stopped a pair of excellent scoring chances by Larmer, Martin Gelinas's shot hit the outside of the post with Richter stretched as far to his left as he could. With about five minutes remaining and all 18,200 fans at the Garden on their feet, LaFayette rang a shot off the post.

With less than a minute left to play, Richter somehow saw Bure's blast through a maze of legs and sticks and made a pad save that kept the Canucks from tying the game.

Even two decades after that night, Smith gets nervous just talking about the final few minutes.

"We led 3-2 and it seemed like the time would never end," he remembers. "The only way to stay sane during that is to tell yourself, 'It's going to be OK, it's going to be OK; we're going to win.' That's the only way to do it; otherwise, you'd just go nuts. I remember doing that.

"The last 15 minutes seemed like 15 years. It was great hockey. It was crazy. You're literally just hanging on. But it was great for the fans. If you're looking for sports to give you thrills and chills and drive your adrenaline, nothing could drive your adrenaline like that game."

For Lidster, it was a matter of staying focused on the task at hand -- keeping the puck out of his net. With the stakes as high as they can get in hockey, anything went.

"First of all, everyone is hooking and holding in a way you'd never get away with today -- I remember one play where Craig MacTavish basically latched onto his check and rode him from the slot all the way into the corner," he remembers. "There was so much time between the faceoffs. I don't recall thinking, 'We've got to get this over with.'

"The one thing I do remember is that I enjoyed the game. I remember thinking, 'It doesn’t get any better than this.' This is what we grew up dreaming about. We practiced and prepared ourselves for this. It was only two weeks earlier that I was sitting up in the press box. That was one of the mental messages I told myself -- that I was fresher than these guys; that you have your opportunity, make sure that you seize it. Don't sit back -- go out and get it."

MacTavish remembers being conscious of the fact that the Rangers had blown leads in the final minute of regulation twice against New Jersey as well as in Game 1 against the Canucks. He was determined not to see that happen again.

"The thing that added to it was that we had given up so many goals late in games with the goalie out that we were all on a heightened sense of anxiety and alert," he says.

With 38.7 seconds remaining and McLean on the bench for an extra attacker, there was a faceoff in the Rangers' zone. Messier won it, but his teammates couldn't clear the puck. Messier won another faceoff and the same thing happened -- the Canucks were able to keep the puck in the Rangers' zone; the Rangers spent every ounce of energy they had to get it out.

With the clock ticking below 10 seconds, Steve Larmer finally slung the puck out past the blue line and down the left-wing boards. To almost everyone in the building, the game was over and the Cup was won.

But "almost everyone" didn't include linesman Kevin Collins. As the puck slid down the ice, Collins decided that the Rangers would be called for icing if it reached the Canucks' goal line. Bure touched up, the whistle blew, and the celebrations that had begun were put on hold.

Smith is still amazed that Collins called icing on the play.

"No one can still get over that," he says. "If you watch the replays, Bure gave up on it. We dump it down and he's going after it and he just quits, but then he looks at Collins and goes and gets it.

"I know Brian [Leetch] had already thrown his stick in the air, and then the whistle blew. People were in pandemonium; they were just sick to their stomachs that there was this one last faceoff."

MacTavish, the last player in the NHL to go helmetless, had been acquired for just this type of scenario -- a must-win faceoff in a big game. Instead of using one of their regular centers, the Canucks sent Bure, their best goal-scorer but not a center, to oppose him.

MacTavish remembers having only one thing on his mind.

"It was a pretty simple strategy on my part," he says. "I just didn't want Bure to be able to shoot it at the net."

The faceoff was to Richter's right. MacTavish lined up in the circle, with Messier, Larmer, Leetch, and Lidster on the ice against Bure and five attackers. MacTavish won the faceoff into the corner, and Larmer pinned his man into the boards as time ran out and the sweetest sound in franchise history -- the final buzzer -- echoed through the Garden.

Fireworks exploded, Messier jumped into the air and the Garden exploded into a frenzy of celebration unlike any in its history.

Excerpted with permission from "The Wait is Over: The New York Rangers and the 1994 Stanley Cup" by John Kreiser. Copyright 2014, Sports Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. It can be purchased at: Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com and Indiebound.org.

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