The Rangers’ 5-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals on this date 15 years ago was achieved with more than one fortuitous bounce in favor of the visitors. But as veteran winger Steve Larmer would say after the game, luck is a by-product of hard work, and the Rangers certainly had an abundance of that in their game on June 4, 1994.
The two teams had split the opening pair of tightly-contested games at Madison Square Garden, with the Rangers’ 3-1 win in Game 2 offsetting Vancouver’s stunning 3-2 overtime victory in the first game, before heading to the raucous Pacific Coliseum for Game 3.
|Rangers forward Glenn Anderson celebrates after scoring what stood up as the winning goal in Game 3 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals series vs. Vancouver. |
The Rangers were greeted by a rabid sold-out throng all dressed in white looking to intimidate the visiting club while energizing the hometown Canucks. And the fever pitch the fans were at for the opening faceoff increased to incredible levels just 30 seconds into the match when goaltender Kirk McLean robbed Brian Leetch, who somehow had broken in towards the goal untouched.
If it seemed that the Vancouver fans could not get any louder after McLean’s huge save, that theory was proven wrong when Pavel Bure burst into the Rangers’ zone and beat Mike Richter on a breakaway just 63 seconds into the game to give the Canucks an early 1-0 lead.
It was the exact start that the Rangers wished to avoid, but now it was what they had to deal with and try to overcome. Matters seemed to get worse for the Blueshirts, though, on Bure’s next shift when The Russian Rocket -- at the top of his game -- drew a tripping penalty on defenseman Jay Wells at 2:54.
The Rangers’ penalty kill had been perfect the first two games of the series, and it had allowed only six goals in 78 shorthanded sequences throughout the post-season. It needed to come through again at this point in time or else the Rangers were in danger of being run out of the Coliseum within the first few minutes of the contest.
Backstopped by a sharp Richter, and with defensemen Doug Lidster and Leetch each blocking shots, the Rangers successfully killed off the penalty to Wells, although the Canucks continued to carry the play even after the power play had concluded.
Richter’s most important save of the night came early in the first period with the Canucks surging and looking to double their one-goal advantage. Vancouver’s Jeff Brown fired a wicked wrist shot that appeared ticketed to elude Richter and find the back of the net, but Richter made a sensational pad save to keep the score 1-0.
After receiving a power play of their own midway through the period -- and failing to score -- the Rangers got their first major break of the game -- and many would argue, of the series -- to pull even on the scoreboard.
Leetch flipped the puck towards the goal from the left point. McLean went to play the puck to the side of the cage, only to have it hit his glove and inside of his pad and take a crazy bounce into the back of the net at the 13:39 mark of the first. McLean had been nearly flawless during the first two games of the series. This was a serious miscue, however, and it allowed the Rangers to begin their comeback, while at the same time quieting the Vancouver crowd.
Over the ensuing few minutes, the action became quite heated on the ice, and the physical play escalated on both sides. Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier were sent off for minor penalties -- with Leetch already in the penalty box -- along with Vancouver’s Cliff Ronning and Sergio Momesso with 1:48 left to play in the opening period. Then nine seconds later came a pivotal moment that favored the Rangers.
Bure swung his stick up high and caught Wells above the eye and across the nose. Blood poured from the wound, and Wells had also suffered a broken nose.
After what seemed like a long wait, Bure was shown the gate by referee Andy van Hellemond, assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Wells, who headed to the dressing room for repairs, later joked that this was his biggest contribution to the Rangers’ Stanley Cup efforts, and that he was more than willing to sacrifice his facial features in order to see the Canucks’ superstar ejected from the game.
With the Vancouver crowd still booing the referee, the Rangers literally added insult to injury when Glenn Anderson scored with 41 seconds remaining in the first period to put the Blueshirts up 2-1.
With his back to the net, Anderson deftly redirected Sergei Nemchinov’s shot between his legs and past McLean for, what would ultimately be his second straight game-winning goal of the series.
The Rangers dominated play in the second period, but McLean held his team in the contest. That nearly paid off when Ronning fired a hard low shot which required a big-time glove save by Richter, one of only five stops Richter was forced to make in the middle 20 minutes.
Leetch finally was able to provide the breathing room he and his teammates sought when he cashed in on a rebound at 18:32 of the second for his second goal of the night. Esa Tikkanen led the rush up ice and hammered a hard shot on goal that was stopped by McLean, but Leetch quickly backhanded the rebound high into the netting to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
Leetch’s defense partner, Jeff Beukeboom, assisted on the goal, as well. It was his second assist of the night -- a rare occurrence for the stay-at-home defenseman -- and he would end up with a terrific plus-4 plus-minus rating in Game 3.
Another fortunate bounce early in the third period put the contest away in the Rangers’ favor. Larmer dumped the puck in towards the corner in the Canucks zone, but it ricocheted off the skate of John McIntyre and then off Dave Babych’s skate and somehow bounced into the cage. Without even attempting a shot on goal, Larmer had scored just 25 seconds into the third period, and the Rangers were on their way to a crucial victory in Game 3.
All that was left was for Alex Kovalev to record the first power-play goal of the series -- off an amazing roofed shot with just under seven minutes left to play -- and for the Canucks to try and intimidate the Rangers with goonish tactics over the game’s final minutes.
It was a disciplined, impressive victory for the Rangers, the type of game that a championship team wins. In the process, home-ice advantage was again theirs, as was the momentum of the series.
Lord Stanley’s Cup was only two victories away.