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Canadiens' Pacioretty grew up idolizing Rangers

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has had his share of memorable moments in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored each of Montreal's series-winning goals, against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and the Boston Bruins in the second round.

But Pacioretty is the first person to admit that some of his oldest and most enduring playoff memories took place at Madison Square Garden long before he was selected by Montreal in the 2007 NHL Draft.

The U.S. Olympian couldn't help but share some of them as he prepared to play the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday at MSG (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

A Rangers fan growing up in New Canaan, Conn., Pacioretty was inspired to play hockey by New York's run to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994. Pacioretty was 5 years old at the time and his father, Raymond, was a longtime Rangers fan.

"I remember watching the 1994 Stanley Cup from my home. That's when it kind of took off that I wanted to be a hockey player," Pacioretty said. "Right around the age that I started [playing]."

So it's more than a little surreal for Pacioretty that he now must go through the team he idolized as a child in order to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens trail the Rangers 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.

Entering his first playoff game at MSG, Pacioretty likely will at some point think back to the players he watched as a child, starting with the man who led New York to that 1994 Cup title.

"I liked [Mark] Messier obviously in the early days. My favorite line was the [Theo] Fleury-[Eric] Lindros-[Mike] York line; the Fly Line," Pacioretty said. "I wore No. 93 for Petr Nedved. It seemed like it changed every year, whoever had a good year."

Pacioretty admits when it came to favorite players he was something of a bandwagon-jumper growing up. But that bandwagon never veered outside the Rangers locker room, and it wasn't long before his NHL career and Rangers fandom converged.

Early on with the Canadiens, Pacioretty was placed on a line with Alex Kovalev, the former Rangers star who played on that 1994 Cup team. It wasn't just the younger Pacioretty who was thrilled by the news he would be playing with Kovalev.

"I think it was more cool for my dad. He couldn't believe that," Pacioretty said. "In the preseason I was on a line with Kovalev and I found out right before the game. I called my dad and he drove up six hours as soon as he got off the phone. Looking back, it's amazing the way life works. I'm honored to have played with him."

Pacioretty's most vivid moment as a Rangers fan remains Messier's guarantee that the Rangers would beat the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Final. Messier famously backed up that guarantee with a hat trick. The Rangers would go on to win Game 7 of that series before defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final.

"I remember when it was said. Even back home everyone was talking about it. I remember my dad telling me about it," Pacioretty said. "It was amazing that a guy like him could bring them in to win the Cup. That's exactly what he did."

Pacioretty stopped short of making his own guarantee against his boyhood team. But he'd like nothing more than to make a similar impact on this series.

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