Adam Graves had put forth a magical career-year during the 1993-94 campaign. His 52 goals established a new franchise record, and his 79 points easily were a new career-best. But, ever the team-first player, Graves was well aware that his great personal achievements, as well as the club’s Presidents’ Trophy from the regular season, would not mean as much if the Rangers again failed in the playoffs.
|Adam Graves was all smiles as he posed for an on-ice team photo after winning the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in '94. |
With expectations extremely high, the Blueshirts opened up the 1994 post-season against the Islanders, their not-so-friendly neighbors from nearby Long Island. Graves and his teammates kept their composure amidst the chippy play put forth by the Islanders in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, and set the tone for the series with a resounding 6-0 victory.
Graves, who was harassed all night by super-pest Darius Kasparaitis, was selected as the No. 1 Star of the Game, banging home a rebound to up the Blueshirts’ advantage to 4-0 in the middle stanza, while also assisting on a Mark Messier goal.
The Rangers hammered the Isles again in Game 2 by an identical 6-0 score. Graves showed his true grit and passion by continuing to play even after receiving a 10-stitch cut above his right eye and suffering a broken nose in a first-period war outside the Islanders’ goal crease. Not only did Graves remain in the game, he picked up an assist on Brian Noonan’s power play score in the third period.
Graves, and his team, had sent multiple messages, not only to the Islanders, but to the entire National Hockey League, as well. The first was that he and the Rangers both were on top of their game, and an inferior opponent like the Islanders was not going to stand in their way. And second was that Graves and his teammates had the requisite passion and grit required for a long championship run.
“You can talk about what a magical time it was in ’94, but the bottom line is you can’t imagine how difficult a thing it is to win the Stanley Cup,” says Graves.
The Rangers went on to finish a four-game sweep of the Islanders by winning 5-1 and 5-2 at Nassau Coliseum, with Grave scoring twice in the Game 3 victory. The Blueshirts punished the Isles in every conceivable way, outscoring them 22-3 when all was said and done.
In the second round, the Rangers faced another team that was historically a playoff nemesis of theirs, the Washington Capitals. Although the Rangers had eliminated the Caps from the 1986 playoffs, it was Washington that had stunned the Blueshirts in both 1990 and 1991.
The spring of 1994, however, was a much different story than then previous two post-season meetings. The Rangers raced out to win the first three games of the series - outscoring Washington 14-5 along the way while upping their overall playoff record to 7-0 -- before finally dropping Game 4 in Landover, Md., 4-2. Interestingly, Graves scored his second goal of the series just 33 seconds into Game 4 with the Rangers looking for the sweep, but the Caps were able to settle down and ride three second-period goals for their first victory of the series.
With Washington battling for their playoff lives back at MSG for Game 5, Graves put forth another monster game to help the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Delivering bone-jarring body-checks all night long, Graves set a physical tone for a match the Rangers would win 4-3. Assisted twice by Brian Leetch, who also played a marvelous game, Graves potted the Rangers’ first two goals against Caps goalie Don Beaupre, and the Rangers never trailed en-route to their series-clinching win.
While Graves and his teammates had sailed through the first two rounds of the playoffs -- playing just one game over the minimum -- the next two would push the Rangers to their collective limits.
Facing the Devils in the conference finals, the Rangers grabbed a 2-games-to-1 series lead, dropping the opener 4-3 in double overtime before winning 4-0 at MSG and 3-2 in double OT at the Meadowlands. Graves was off to a strong start in the series, firing a game-high seven shots on goal in the first match, notching a power play tally in the second, and recording a goal and an assist in Game 3.
The fire within Graves was stoked further in the second game of the series when Claude Lemieux slashed the Rangers’ winger to the ice in the third period. Graves, who had already put forth a robust physical game, went after Lemieux for the unpenalized hit and, eventually, both players were tossed from the match. Graves followed that up by scoring only 2:43 into the opening period of Game 3, and nearly winning that game in the first overtime on a breakaway that was denied by Martin Brodeur.
However, both Graves and the Rangers were nullified in the next two games, with the Devils keeping Graves off the scoresheet in a 3-1 victory at the Meadowlands and a 4-1 win at MSG.
Trailing 3-games-to-2 and facing elimination in Game 6 at the Meadowlands, captain Mark Messier made his famous “guarantee”, and backed it up with a hat trick as the Rangers survived 4-2 to force a Game 7 at The Garden.
Graves had gone three games without recording a point heading into the epic Game 7 against New Jersey. However, he would earn the primary assist on the first score of the game -- Leetch’s spin-o-rama goal -- and would fire a game-high six shots on goal before Stephane Matteau famously delivered his second double OT game-winner to vault the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Finals.
Against the Vancouver Canucks during the Cup finals, Graves was a solid physical presence, and displayed strong defensive coverage in his own zone. He also contributed two assists over the first six games, which were split by the Rangers and Canucks to set up yet another epic Game 7, this time with Lord Stanley’s chalice awaiting the victor at Madison Square Garden.
Graves had had his chances to score during the finals -- in fact he had three separate glorious opportunities to win Game 1 in overtime, a match that eventually went in Vancouver’s favor on a Greg Adams OT tally -- but time and again Canucks goalie Kirk McLean found a way to stone him.
Somewhat frustrated, but a whole lot more determined, Graves knew he had one last opportunity to come through for his team. And he did just that.
Graves delivered a huge performance in Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals and helped the Rangers win their first title in 54 years with a heart-stopping 3-2 victory. Graves ripped a power play goal from the slot past the stick of McLean 14:45 into the first period, providing the Rangers a crucial 2-0 lead at the time. Then at 13:29 of the second -- after the Canucks had pulled to within 2-1 -- Graves sent another power play shot on net, this one stopped by McLean. However, Messier converted the rebound and Graves -- though he could not know it just yet -- had earned the primary assist on what would turn out to be the Cup-winning goal.
The rest -- a Vancouver goal early in the third that cut the Rangers lead to 3-2, one huge save after another by Mike Richter, and one last face-off win by Craig MacTavish after a bizarre icing call against the Rangers -- added to the theater that surrounded the emotional outpouring that took place at The Garden when the final buzzer sounded. Graves -- with 10-7-17 scoring and too-numerous-to-count other contributions during the playoff run -- and the Rangers were Stanley Cup Champions.
“What I remember the most about the spring of 1994 was the depth of support from everyone in New York,” recalls Graves. “And in the end, it’s all about the people. The fans, my teammates. Our camaraderie was so special. It was just such an amazing experience.”