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 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 Managing Editor John Kreiser. This excerpt, from Chapter 11: Scaling Mount Vancouver, deals with the first two games of the final series.
To say the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden on the night of May 31, 1994, was festive was putting it mildly. For the first time since April 2, 1940, the Stanley Cup Final was opening in New York. Not coincidentally, that was the last time the Rangers had come home with the most famous trophy in sports.
Though the Vancouver Canucks had had a couple of extra days of rest entering Game 1, it was the Rangers who carried the play as the Garden rocked.
Each team had a man in the penalty box when Steve Larmer fired home the rebound of a shot by Alexei Kovalev to score the first goal of the series 3:32 into the game. The Rangers kept firing away at Vancouver goaltender Kirk McLean, outshooting the Canucks 15-10 in the opening period, but couldn't get another puck past him.
Bret Hedican quieted the crowd when he darted into the high slot and beat Mike Richter with a quick wrister at 5:45 of the third period to tie the game at 1–1.
But the Rangers regained the lead at 8:29 on a goal by Kovalev, although Brian Leetch did the heavy lifting. He cut from the right wing to the middle of the ice and faked a shot as he sped up the right side. That drew the Canuck defenders toward him; he found Kovalev open in the left circle for a snap shot past a helpless McLean.
The home side continued to dominate play, and as the clock ticked toward the final minute of play in regulation, the 18,200 fans began to roar in anticipation of seeing the Rangers complete their first home victory in the Final since Game 3 in 1972.
Canucks coach Pat Quinn pulled McLean, and the strategy worked when Martin Gelinas, a former linemate of Adam Graves with the Oilers, poked in a centering pass from Cliff Ronning at 19:00, tying the game and stunning both the Rangers and their fans.
It was the third time in seven games that the Rangers couldn't hold a lead in the final minute of regulation—an alarming trend. After outshooting the Canucks 37-22 through 60 minutes, the Rangers were no better than even heading into sudden death overtime, when their dominance of the first three periods meant nothing.
But if the Rangers were bothered by blowing another lead in the final minute of regulation, they didn't show it when the referee Terry Gregson dropped the puck to start OT. They put 17 shots on McLean in the first 19 minutes, only to see McLean deny every one.
"Kirk McLean stood on his head," general manager Neil Smith remembers. "He was unbelievable, incredible."
He was also lucky. With 41 seconds left in the first extra period, Leetch fired a wide-open 15-footer that beat McLean cleanly—but with the crowd on its feet ready to celebrate, the shot hit the crossbar instead of the back of the net.
Even worse, the puck caromed back past defenseman Jeff Beukeboom and onto the stick of Pavel Bure, who headmanned it to Ronning to trigger a 2-on-1 break. Ronning carried up the right side with Greg Adams on the left, with only forward Esa Tikkanen back to try to break up the play.
Tikkanen went toward Ronning, a slick playmaker who got the puck to Adams. He one-timed it past Richter at 19:26, and suddenly, stunningly, the Canucks had won the game and the Rangers were trailing in a series they were expected to win.
"We should have won that game," Rangers center Craig MacTavish remembers. "Kirk McLean was brilliant, so we didn't."
It wasn't for lack of trying. The Rangers finished with 54 shots, but McLean made 52 saves, the most in a game in the Final in 23 years.
"We played pretty well," Mark Messier told the horde of media in a disappointed dressing room after the game. "We had a lot of chances to end the game in regulation time. It's a bit disappointing. But it happens."
What the Rangers wanted to make sure didn't happen was a repeat performance by McLean in Game 2. Hockey is the only one of the major sports in which one player can completely negate the efforts of an entire team, and the Rangers couldn't afford to let McLean get in their heads. One disappointing loss was manageable; two were not. So there was concern, but not worry, before Game 2.
"They won in overtime," Smith remembers. "But we had outplayed them so badly that you really couldn't get down about it — but you're scared because you're down 1–0.
"The only thing you worry about is that you've blown one," backup goaltender Glenn Healy says. "You played as good as you can play, outchanced, outplayed them, did everything that was right and you didn't get the result, and you're down one. That's leadership that says, 'No, we did all the right things, and it will come.' And it did."
The Rangers came out for the first game in franchise history to be played in June much the way they did in Game 1— firing away. They opened the scoring 6:22 into the game on a goal by defenseman Doug Lidster, who had stepped into the lineup when Beukeboom was suspended for Game 6 of the series against New Jersey and played so well that coach Mike Keenan kept him on the ice, opting to sit the struggling Alexander Karpovtsev in Game 7 against the Devils and Game 1 against the Canucks, and Kevin Lowe when his shoulder was too banged up to let him play in Game 2.
Lidster carried the puck along the left boards before breaking toward the net. He got past former teammate Gerald Diduck and had his initial shot denied by McLean. However, Lidster whacked at the rebound just as Diduck shoved him into McLean — and the puck slid into the back of the net, giving the Rangers the lead 6:22 into the game.
It was Lidster's first goal of any kind with the Rangers. "It was funny — Gerald Diduck called my wife after the game, he called the house and said 'Is Doug there?' Joanne told him I was at the hotel with the team," Lidster remembers. "Gerald says, 'Joanne, you better tell Doug that if he does it again, I'm going to have to break his leg.' I know he wouldn't actually do it — I think he was saying he was kind of happy for me at one point, but you got one off me again and I'm going to be a lot stronger on you next time. That's the kind of relationship you have.
"I laughed when I heard it and Joanne laughed when she heard it. But that's the way it was; I have no doubt he would have chopped me down because that's what you have to do in order to win."
On a more serious note to Lidster was the fact that the goal showed the Rangers they could beat McLean after his 52-save gem in Game 1. "It was a big goal because Kirk was playing so well," he remembers.
"There are times in playoff series when a goaltender can get into a team's head, and if he'd continued to play as well as he did in Game 1, there would have been a chance he could have gotten into our heads and stolen the series."
But the lead didn't last. Sergio Momesso whacked in a loose puck at 14:04 to tie the game, sending the Rangers to the dressing room even at 1-1 despite a 14–10 advantage in shots.
The game was still even midway through the second period when the Rangers got a much-awaited contribution from Glenn Anderson, whose championship pedigree had exceeded his production since Smith brought him to New York in March.
With Graves in the penalty box, Vancouver captain Trevor Linden was near the boards and tried to find defenseman Jeff Brown. Instead, he found Messier, who took off on a shorthanded breakaway.
Brown took off after Messier as the Rangers captain closed in on McLean, who had stopped him on a breakaway during Game 1. Messier pushed the puck ahead once, then twice — and McLean got a piece of it the second time, sending it off Messier's shin pad and behind the net.
"I actually got the puck too far ahead of me and it went right into McLean," Messier said afterward.
But Messier refused to give up on the play. He chased the puck behind the net and sent it in front to Anderson, who had followed the play and beaten everyone down the ice. Anderson ignored the efforts of defenseman Jyrki Lumme to stop him and shoved the puck into the wide-open net at 11:42 to put the Rangers back in front.
It was only the second goal of the playoffs for Anderson, who like Messier and a half-dozen other Rangers was part of the Edmonton dynasty.
"You haven't seen the best of me yet," Anderson told the swarms of media in the packed dressing room. "Playing with a great player like Messier, he brings your game up."
As for the 90th playoff goal of his career, a plateau that had been reached by only three other players, Anderson made it sound simple.
"Just go to the net as hard as I could," he said. "Mess had an opening, and I had an empty net."
After giving up the tying goal in the final minute in each of the two previous games, the Rangers knew they had to be more defensively conscious in the third period this time. But the Canucks didn't make it easy. Each team had 13 shots in the final 20 minutes; however, unlike Game 1, Richter and the Rangers kept the Canucks at bay until Leetch found the empty net with four seconds left to seal the 3–1 victory and send the series off to the Pacific Northwest all even.
It was the kind of must-have victory that a veteran team grinds out in the playoffs. The Rangers didn't let the disappointment of their Game 1 loss cost them a second game and send them to Vancouver staring at a 2-0 deficit.
"We were the same team we were in Game 1, except we got the results that we needed," Healy remembers. "And that's going to happen. Veteran teams understand that — that you can have bad periods and win; you can have bad games and win. You can have good games and lose. But you stay the course because you know what it takes to win."
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