This is what the Rangers were facing in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on this date 15 years ago: an extremely confident opponent that had snatched the first game of the series in overtime, a red-hot goaltender coming off a 52-save performance, and their own history of never having won a playoff series after losing the first two games.
Despite facing these somewhat daunting obstacles, the Rangers were proving to be a very resilient team themselves over the final two rounds of the 1994 post-season, and June 2, 1994 would certainly prove that.
|Rangers goaltender Mike Richter had to make some very big saves to preserve the Rangers' lead -- and eventual victory -- in Game 2 of hte 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. |
In dire need of a victory after dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the Finals, the Rangers were able to hold on for a 3-1 win at Madison Square Garden in the second game of the series, setting up a more relaxed flight to the West Coast with the next two games scheduled to be played at the Pacific Coliseum.
As had been their way throughout the playoffs, the Rangers scored a goal early in the first period to take a 1-0 lead in Game 2. Former Canucks defenseman Doug Lidster scored the goal for the Rangers, in what was a very special moment personally for him.
Lidster was playing in his fourth straight playoff contest since replacing young Alexander Karpovtsev in the Rangers’ lineup. The veteran had been extremely solid in his play during the postseason, and had earned more and more ice time from Mike Keenan as a result. This trend continued in the first two contests against his former team in the Finals.
Just over six minutes into Game 2, Lidster carried the puck along the left wing boards before breaking aggressively towards the Canucks net. Lidster maneuvered past former teammate Gerald Diduck and had his initial shot denied by goaltender Kirk McLean. However, Lidster whacked at the rebound just as Diduck shoved him into McLean, and the puck found the back of the net, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead at the 6:22 mark of the opening period.
Just as they had done in Game 1, the Rangers had scored an early goal and proceeded to pour the shots on McLean looking to increase their lead. However, similar to the first game, McLean would not allow a second goal, and instead it would be Vancouver that would score next.
Rugged winger Sergio Momesso -- who later on in his career would play for the Rangers -- tied the game at 14:04 of the first when he barged into the crease and poked the rebound of a Cliff Ronning shot past Mike Richter.
Having stalled the Rangers’ momentum, the Canucks picked up their level of play, and Richter was forced into making several excellent saves to make sure the Rangers did not fall behind. His lunging toe-save on Murray Craven’s shorthanded shot was Richter’s finest moment in the opening 20 minutes, though his stop on Pavel Bure in the final minute of action was huge, as well.
In the second period, the Canucks played with the confidence of a team believing they could snatch another road victory away from the Rangers. McLean was stout between the pipes, and the Canucks were consistently testing Richter with solid scoring opportunities at the other end, much more so than they had in Game 1.
At 10:35 of the second period -- with the score still tied 1-1 -- Adam Graves was whistled for a tripping penalty and the Canucks set out to score, not only the go-ahead goal, but their first power play goal of the series.
Mark Messier had other ideas, however.
The Rangers’ captain intercepted a pass made by the Canuck’s captain -- Trevor Linden -- and pushed the puck far ahead of him down the ice. Messier burst past defenseman Jeff Brown, but McLean charged out of his net and got to the puck ahead of Messier. McLean’s clearing attempt, though, deflected off Messier and caromed towards the side of Vancouver’s net.
With McLean way out of position, Messier retrieved the puck behind the goal line and sent a pass back towards the slot where Glenn Anderson had a step on defenseman Jyrki Lumme. Anderson knocked the puck into the cage for a hugely important shorthanded goal, and the Rangers were up 2-1 at 11:42 of the second.
Messier and Anderson had been teammates -- and Cup winners -- together for years with the Edmonton Oilers. And after the game Anderson said that because of their shared history he knew exactly what to do and where to go once Messier had intercepted Linden’s pass. There was no hesitation because Anderson knew that The Captain was going to look to create a scoring chance the other way.
Again ahead by a goal, the Rangers pressed their advantage with Brian Leetch, Steve Larmer, and Sergei Zubov creating some of the best scoring chances. However, as in Game 1, McLean would not give in and let the Rangers up their lead to two.
The 2-1 contest spilled into the third period, with both teams attacking and counterattacking. Richter made big-time saves on Craven and Momesso, and also benefitted from four different Vancouver shots finding iron -- either a post or crossbar.
Already playing without veteran Kevin Lowe, who was scratched with a shoulder injury, the Rangers lost Zubov in the final stanza with a bruised sternum after he absorbed a hard check. With his club down to four defensemen, Leetch gobbled up huge amounts of ice time and was the dominant player on the ice, though Lidster, Karpovtsev, Jay Wells, and Jeff Beukeboom also valiantly stepped up their play.
When McLean was pulled for the extra attacker, the Rangers were not only looking to hold on and win the contest, they were trying to not fall victim to yet another last-minute goal -- the kind that had befallen them in Game 1 against the Canucks, and in a pair of games in the conference finals against New Jersey.
With 10 seconds left on the clock, Brown slid a pass to an open Martin Gelinas in front. Gelinas’ point-blank shot was denied by Richter, and his rebound try was swatted away in front of the goal line by Richter’s stick.
Richter had just saved the game. And Leetch was about to put it away as he scaled a rink-long shot down the ice and into the net for an empty-net goal with five seconds left to play to seal the 3-1 victory.
Relief was the appropriate word for the Rangers as they congregated in their dressing room following Game 2. They were now in the same position they had been in the Devils’ series, even 1-1 and looking to regain home-ice advantage on the road.
Only this time, there would not be a short trip across the Hudson River. Instead there would be more than 3,000 miles worth of air travel and a three-hour time change to contend with for the older Rangers squad.
But facing that trip, and the next two games, was much easier to deal with by being even in the series than it would have been down two-games-to-none. And the Rangers were looking forward to a big-time road effort in two days.