By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 7, 1994 will forever be remembered for The Save. Often forgotten, however, was the fact that this arguably was the most exciting contest of the entire series, and not just because of Mike Richter’s huge stop on Pavel Bure’s penalty shot during the second period.
Of course, Richter’s lightning-quick right-pad save against Bure 6:31 into the middle stanza, with the Canucks leading 2-1, was they key turning point of the match. It also was likely the signature moment, and most memorable single play, of the entire 1994 Stanley Cup Finals.
|Rangers forward Craig MacTavish lands a hard hit on Canucks forward Tim Hunter during Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals at Vancouver. The Blueshirts won 4-2 for a commanding 3-1 series lead. |
But before arriving at that great moment, the Rangers had to first survive a very difficult opening period and begin waging a comeback in the second. Down 2-1 in the series and looking to pull even on home ice, the Canucks stormed the Rangers early; and the Blueshirts did not help their own cause by taking three minor penalties along with a five-minute boarding major assessed to Mark Messier at the 14:17 mark of the first.
Vancouver capitalized when Trevor Linden scored a power play goal -- the Canucks’ first of the series -- at 13:25, and then Cliff Ronning potted the rebound of a Bure shot while skating 4-on-4 with Messier in the penalty box at 16:19. Although the Rangers’ penalty killers did an excellent job, and the Canucks managed only eight shots on goal in total, Vancouver held a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
After the game Rangers’ defenseman Jeff Beukeboom admitted that the team could have accepted that this was not going to be its night and be content with a split in Vancouver, heading back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5 even in the series 2-2. However, a rousing speech during intermission -- not from Messier or Kevin Lowe, as had happened earlier in the playoffs, but this time from head coach Mike Keenan - spurred the team on for the remainder of the match.
Keenan implored his team to not give in, that the game was far from decided and over. And Brian Leetch, coming off a two-goal outing in Game 3 and on his way to a four-point night in Game 4, took heed in getting the Rangers on the scoreboard at 4:03 of the second.
Leetch joined a rush started by veterans Greg Gilbert and Craig MacTavish, accepted a drop pass from MacTavish, and fired a wrist shot through Joe Kocur’s screen and past goalie Kirk McLean to pull the Rangers within a goal of Vancouver.
The Canucks, though, came right back at the Rangers. In one incredible span of 25 seconds, they managed six shots against Richter, the most difficult coming off the sticks of Ronning and teammate Nathan Lafayette. But Richter stopped each and every one of those shots.
Next, Bure looked to be a difference maker for the Canucks. Bure exploded into the offensive zone past both Leetch and Beukeboom, and was on his way to a clear breakaway when Leetch tripped him from behind. Referee Terry Gregson immediately called for a penalty shot.
Though there was still more than half the game to be played, everyone in the building felt that this was going to be the defining moment of the contest. If Bure scored, Vancouver was back in front by two goals on home ice. If Richter denied Bure, momentum was squarely in the corner of the visitors, despite still trailing by a goal.
Each and every player stood to watch the penalty shot. All 16,150 fans in attendance stood. The reporters in the press box all were standing and craning their necks for a better look at Stanley Cup history.
Perhaps the most dynamic offensive talent in the game, Pavel Bure, one-on-one against one of the emerging elite goaltenders in the NHL, Mike Richter. And only one of the combatants could win this battle.
Bure collected the puck at center ice after the official blew his whistle and cruised in at Richter, making four dekes along the way. Richter had come out to challenge Bure, slowly easing back towards his net, while always remaining square to the shooter and not biting at his fakes.
Finally, in tight, Bure moved to his left and attempted a quick forehand shot. Richter burst across his crease from left to right, split his legs as wide as he could, and stuffed the shot with his right pad, just as he had done to Bure five months earlier in the NHL All-Star Game at The Garden.
The Pacific Coliseum fell silent, so silent that one could actually hear the whoops and hollers of Richter’s teammates on the bench.
From there the Rangers picked up their play, and with just 15.2 seconds remaining in the second period, Sergei Zubov -- returning from a chest injury -- sent a slap shot through an Adam Graves’ screen and into the back of the cage, tying the game 2-2.
Zubov, who would finish with three points in the game, had just changed the complexion of the match. Instead of holding on to a one-goal advantage at home 20 minutes from pulling even in the series, the Canucks were now left wondering how an early 2-0 lead, eight power play opportunities, and a penalty shot awarded to their best player had dissipated into a 2-2 tie.
To their credit, the Canucks came out hard in the third period, and Richter was forced to make a pair of huge saves on separate breakaways by Bret Hedican and Martin Gelinas. But the Rangers also came out flying, and McLean had to be sharp, as well, to keep the game knotted at two apiece.
|Former Ranger Alex Kovalev celebrates his game-winning goal against Canucks netminder Kirk McLean in Game 4 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals at Vancouver. |
After killing off a 4-on-3 Vancouver power play, the Rangers were awarded a man-advantage of their own at 14:31 when Gelinas was called for roughing Lowe. The Rangers went to work on the power play, and an absolutely gorgeous play by Leetch would provide the Blueshirts their first lead of the night moments later.
Leetch stormed towards the Canucks blueline, faked left, and darted right into the offensive zone. With some room, Leetch skated towards the slot, and then zipped a pass to Alex Kovalev, who was breaking in on left wing. Kovalev one-timed a shot past McLean, and Rangers were up 3-2 with 4:55 left to play.
It was a tremendously big play in an important moment made by Leetch, who was fast becoming the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite. Like his good friend Richter, Leetch was starring on the biggest stage of his sport.
After the artistry displayed by Leetch and Kovalev, the Rangers received a break on a fluky goal that put Game 4 away with 2:04 remaining to play. Steve Larmer sent a long shot into the Canucks’ zone, and defenseman Dave Babych kicked at the puck. Instead of directing it out of harm’s way, Babych deflected the puck into his own goal, and for the second straight game, Larmer had netted a bizarre goal.
When the final horn sounded, Richter -- with 28 saves in total -- threw his arms up in the air. It had been a scintillating contest, and a stirring comeback by the Rangers, who were now just one win away from securing their first Stanley Cup championship since 1940.
There were so many heroes in Game 4 for the visitors. Brian Leetch. Sergei Zubov. Alex Kovalev. But none was bigger than Mike Richter, who made the single most decisive play of the contest which put the Rangers on the verge of winning the Cup.