Mika Zibanejad knows all about what the New York Rangers are chasing. It's right in front of their faces at Madison Square Garden and at their suburban training facility.

A championship banner. Retired numbers for Mike Richter (35), Brian Leetch (2), Mark Messier (11) and Adam Graves (9). Alumni introductions at almost every home game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Pictures and plaques and trophies adorning the walls. Highlights with famous calls.

New York City sports immortality.

Thirty years later, the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup championship remains omnipresent around the team, the Garden, New York City, easily the most important, impactful and prideful moment in the 98-year history of the Original Six franchise.

"I don't think it's a burden, it's more motivation to experience what they did," Zibanejad said. "Seeing all the videos and seeing everything and hearing people talk about it, everyone knows where they were at that moment, what happened, what they were eating or what they were drinking. It's obviously something everyone in here wants to experience."

The Rangers are halfway there, getting ready to play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS, CBC).

“What I do see is that they are a team,” Messier said. “They are playing like a team and putting the team ahead of the individuals. Very important characteristic of a championship team. The 1994 team was the model for what a team looks like.”

The comparisons and similarities to the 1994 team are a bit eerie and are coming into focus.

"I would say no to an exact replication, but yes to when we talk about the foundational pieces of this era of how this team is put together compared to foundationally how our team was put together," said Neil Smith, general manager of the 1994 championship team. "When you break it down, foundationally they have the same pieces for today as the pieces we needed then."

The game is different with less intimidation and more skill, faster now than it was then. The rules have changed to showcase the skill in the game. Hockey in general is officiated differently and played differently now versus 30 years ago, but the staples of each team are the same.

"The power play was very important to our team when we were playing and is to this team," said defenseman Brian Leetch, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs most valuable player in 1994.

The Rangers are 31.4 percent on the power play through 10 games in the playoffs, third among all teams that have played at least two rounds. The 1994 Rangers were 21.2 percent on the power play, second among all teams that played at least three rounds.

"Goaltending is just as important as the power play," Leetch said.


Igor Shesterkin is 8-2 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 10 games this postseason.

Richter was 16-7 with a 2.07 GAA and .921 save percentage in 23 games 30 years ago.

"You can put a Richter jersey on Shesterkin, change the facemasks and you might have same guy," Smith said.

The need for a netfront presence on offense is the same, a player to scrounge around the front of the net, dig for rebounds, get his stick on pucks for deflections, score the dirty goals if you will.


Chris Kreider and Graves. Odds are Kreider's No. 20 will join Graves' No. 9 in the Garden rafters eventually.

"Kreider is Graves," Smith said. "I think Kreider and Graves is the closest comparison to anything. Couldn't you take Kreider, make him shave, put the No. 9 jersey on him and you'd think it was Adam Graves?"

He wouldn't say Adam Fox is as good as Leetch, who is arguably the best defenseman in Rangers history and the best United States-born defenseman in NHL history.

But Fox is a Norris Trophy winner and perennial candidate. Leetch was too.

"Maybe Fox is this era's Brian Leetch," Smith said. "You can't run the puck end to end like Leetch used to. They just don't do that anymore. It doesn't seem to ever happen."

Smith also wouldn't say that Zibanejad reminds him of Messier, but again, it's No. 1 center to No. 1 center and they have different attributes that make their teams better, he said.

"He's not nearly Messier, but Messier is not Zibanejad," Smith said. "Messier didn't score one-timers on the power play from that side and Zibanejad is not going to go knock Kevin Stevens over in the first game of a series. But you have that comparison."

Artemi Panarin and Alex Kovalev too. Sure, it works.

"They're not the same but they're this era's version of each other for the Rangers," Smith said.


Although they don't play the same positions, Smith compared center Vincent Trocheck and left wing Esa Tikkanen because of who they are on the ice, their style and impact on the opponent.

"Tikkanen made everyone mad the way he played and with his facial expressions, and Trocheck does the same thing with that smile all the time," Smith said. "He's always yapping but a pain to play against and he comes up with big goals, which really makes you angry if you're the opponent because you hate the guy to begin with."

The 1994 Rangers improved their depth before the trade deadline by acquiring forwards Stephane Matteau, Glenn Anderson, Brian Noonan and Craig MacTavish. This year, the Rangers traded for forwards Jack Roslovic and Alex Wennberg and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel.

Roslovic is a regular at right wing on the first line with Zibanejad and Kreider. Wennberg is the third-line center. They're each on the second power-play unit. Ruhwedel is an extra depth defenseman.

They rave about how easy it was to integrate into the team culture. So did Anderson, Noonan, MacTavish and Matteau.

"They say the same thing, talking about how they were nervous coming to a top team and after a couple of games it was like they were playing there the whole season," Leetch said. "That makes it easier. That's your team, that's who you're going to the playoffs with, so it's let's go, let's get the assimilated as quick as possible."

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The similarities go beyond the makeup of the team and how it was built.

The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy this season. They won it in 1994 too.

Peter Laviolette is in his first year coaching the Rangers. Mike Keenan's only season coaching the Rangers was 1993-94. Before getting to New York, Laviolette and Keenan each coached the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final and lost.

The Rangers got out of the first round in 1994 by sweeping the New York Islanders.

The Rangers swept the Washington Capitals in the first round this year.

Messier had a natural hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in the third period of Game 6 against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.

Kreider had a natural hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in the third period of Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Each were 33 years old when they did it.

There was a solar eclipse in 1994. There was a solar eclipse this year.

New York City experienced an earthquake in 1994. This year too.

O.J. Simpson was in the news in 1994 for his murder trial.

He was in the news this year because of his death.

The New York Knicks were the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and played the Indiana Pacers in the 1994 NBA playoffs.

The Knicks were the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and played the Pacers this year.

The Knicks advanced to the final in 1994, but lost in seven games in the second round this year. Hey, not all comparisons are perfect, but you get the point.

"What you're saying is there are things happening now that were happening then and so are the stars all aligning in the same way?" Smith said. "Is this a sign of something because everything is lining up outside of them the way it did that year. The year even ends in a four; 1994 and 2024. So could this be the year?"

The path to the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan looks like it's paved for the Rangers, but the challenge to get there is massive, just like it was 30 years ago.

"We know it's a hard road to get there, a long way still," Zibanejad said, "but it's definitely motivation for us."

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