After 54 years of waiting, winning the Stanley Cup was not going to come easily for the New York Rangers.
This much was proven again on June 11, 1994, when the Rangers failed for the second consecutive game to secure the first championship in franchise history since 1940, as the Blueshirts dropped a 4-1 decision in Game 6 of the Finals to the Canucks in Vancouver.
|Pavel Bure was a major force in the Canucks' Game 6 win. Here he avoids colliding with Mike Richter while Brian Leetch plays the puck. All three would later become teammates when Bure was traded to the Blueshirts in March 2002. |
Somehow the euphoria surrounding the team with a 3-1 series lead heading back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 had evaporated in some circles into panic. The words “curse”, “hex”, and “jinx” were liberally used by fans and media types trying to explain how and why the Rangers would now be facing a seventh and deciding game in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Fortunately, the players and coaches -- while aware of what the fans and media were saying -- took a more pragmatic approach to their situation. The Rangers believed sloppy play on their part -- as well as a disallowed goal by Esa Tikkanen -- had cost them in Game 5, and that Vancouver just outplayed them in Game 6. There was no curse in any of that. It was just about hockey, and players making plays.
Despite their professional approach to the situation, the Rangers also had to have some fears that their dream season could end in horrific fashion following the sixth game of the series. Though the Rangers had their moments, and Mike Richter was dazzling between the pipes, they were largely outplayed in Game 6 by a Canucks team that seemed to be gaining in confidence as the series neared its completion.
Back on home ice, and facing elimination in the series, Vancouver’s Pavel Bure sought to be a difference maker in the sixth game. Early in the match Bure, hurled his body into Brian Leetch with a hard check, looking to set the tone for the night. And though Bure would not score a goal in the game -- he did earn an assist -- he was flying throughout the contest, and Richter had to make several great saves on Bure alone.
Richter denied Bure on a breakaway, several times on in-tight chances, and even took a Bure slap shot off his mask. The Russian Rocket had numerous great scoring chances throughout the contest, and Richter denied each and every one.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, though, the rest of the Canucks followed the lead of their best player. They took turns battering Leetch every time he touched the puck, similar to their strategy in Game 5 at The Garden, and their intense forecheck created prime scoring chances all night long.
Defenseman Jeff Brown opened the scoring, sending a power-play slap shot that deflected off Tikkanen past Richter at 9:42 of the first period. Though they would outshoot the Rangers by a whopping 16-7 margin, the Canucks held only a 1-0 advantage after 20 minutes of play.
The Rangers picked up their level of play in the middle stanza and began generating better opportunities in the offensive end. Glenn Anderson rang a shot off the crossbar and minutes later Steve Larmer nearly converted a 2-on-1 break with Sergei Zubov, but goaltender Kirk McLean made a sensational lunging pad save.
That stop proved crucial because the Canucks picked up the loose puck and raced back the other way with an odd-man rush of their own. Bure fed Geoff Courtnall, who was cutting in front of the Rangers’ net, and Courtnall’s backhander deflected off Doug Lidster’s stick and trickled over the goal line at 12:29 to give Vancouver a 2-0 lead.
A minute after Courtnall’s score, John McIntyre of the Canucks was penalized for interference, and Alex Kovalev converted on the power play, bringing the Rangers within 2-1 at 14:42 of the second.
That score held up until the third period was well under way. Both Richter and McLean were on top of their respective games, as Richter continually frustrated Bure and also robbed Trevor Linden on a glorious chance in-close, while McLean made a slew of big stops on Brian Noonan in the third. McLean also was a bit lucky when Zubov lifted a shot over the cross bar with the Vancouver netminder floundering on the ice late in the second.
At 8:35 of the third period, Brown netted his second goal of the game, and the Canucks were back in front by two goals. Another scintillating save by Richter on Bure moments later kept the score 3-1.
With 1:32 remaining in the match, Courtnall deked Richter to the ice and whipped a backhand shot into the cage, but the puck bounced out so quickly that the on-ice officials believed the puck had hit the crossbar. Play continued, and 34 seconds later Mark Messier slipped a shot underneath McLean, and the Rangers thought they had cut the deficit to one goal.
After a review, it was correctly determined that Courtnall had indeed scored a goal, and instead of leading 3-2, the Canucks had put the game away, 4-1.
When the final horn sounded, fireworks went off in the Pacific Coliseum, several fans ran on to the ice, and the Rangers were serenaded with chants of “1940! 19401” and “We Want the Cup!”
The series was tied 3-3, and three days later Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals would take place at Madison Square Garden.
Outside of the arena, Rangers players observed from their team bus that the fans were celebrating as if they had already beaten New York and won the Cup. This sight remained with more than one of the players on the long trip back east.
There would be meetings on the plane, with veterans like Messier, Larmer, and Kevin Lowe, working with the coaches on Game 7 strategy. And there would be much contemplation and self analysis taking place, as well.
Perhaps, in retrospect, the most important thing to happen between Games 6 and 7 was the fact that there was an extra day off in between games. As an older, more veteran team, the Rangers seemed to benefit the most from this schedule.
Next up for the Rangers was their date with destiny: June 14, 1994.