On this date 15 years ago, the Stanley Cup was in the house at Madison Square Garden, and the Rangers were just one victory away from their first championship since 1940. One New York tabloid boldly proclaimed “Tonight’s the Night!” in its headline, as the Blueshirts returned from Vancouver with a 3-1 series lead after back-to-back wins at the Pacific Coliseum.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Vancouver Canucks were also at MSG on June 9, 1994, and they were not going to just let the home team skate away with Lord Stanley’s Cup without a major fight. That much was proven from the outset in an extremely physical first period of play.
|Rangers captain Mark Messier tied up Game 5 in dramatic fashion during the third period, but the sudden excitement and sense that the Cup was going to be won that night was short-lived. |
Only 49 seconds into the match, Vancouver’s Tim Hunter was whistled for an elbowing penalty, and The Garden crowd, hungry to see their heroes deliver a championship on this night, roared in anticipation of an early lead fueled by a power-play goal. The Canucks, though, successfully killed off the penalty, and continued to play a very robust game.
Nearly halfway through the scoreless first period, a wild sequence took place -- one that very likely altered the rest of the contest. The Rangers skated toward the Canucks’ zone three abreast at the blueline, with Esa Tikkanen carrying the puck. Tikkanen crossed the blueline and ripped a 50-foot slap shot past goaltender Kirk McLean, sending The Garden Faithful into bedlam at the 10:06 mark.
As the fans celebrated, two important things took place. First, the referee emphatically waved his arms declaring that a goal had not been scored. And, second, a huge brawl had erupted in one corner of the Canucks’ zone.
Tikkanen’s shot had clearly whizzed by McLean, but a linesman had blown his whistle just as he was taking the shot, calling for an offsides against the Rangers. According to the officials, Stephane Matteau had crossed the blueline a fraction of an instant before the puck, even though replays on television apparently failed to back up the on-ice call.
Denied what appeared to have been a goal, the Rangers would subsequently lose defenseman Jeff Beukeboom in the ensuing scrum, which started when Vancouver’s Sergio Momesso needlessly slashed Brian Leetch after the puck sailed past McLean. Beukeboom saw Momesso’s transgression and charged at the rugged Canuck, engaging him in a wild fight. Beukeboom lost his helmet in the scrum and then was ejected from the game due to an instigator penalty.
Momesso and Cliff Ronning were penalized for Vancouver, while Matteau, Beukeboom, and Jay Wells were sent off for the Rangers. After exiting the box minutes later, Wells would battle with Hunter, and the two veterans were whistled for coincidental roughing minors. Such was the course of an intensely-played, and scoreless, first period in Game 5.
Those two hugely important bad breaks against the Rangers, though, had given the Canucks the opportunity to play the home team even. And Vancouver capitalized at 8:10 of the second period when Jeff Brown scored to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Mike Richter, coming off a sensational Game 4 in goal for the Rangers, did not adequately cover the short side. and Brown was able to slip a shot into the cage for the all-important first goal.
Beukeboom’s presence was really missed on Vancouver’s next two goals, which upped the Canucks’ lead to 3-0 by 2:48 of the third period. Both Geoff Courtnall and Pavel Bure cruised through the slot untouched to convert rebounds into goals and give the Canucks renewed hope of a Game 6 back on their home ice.
The Rangers, though, displayed the heart of a champion by incredibly tying the contest before the third period was even half over. Former Canuck Doug Lidster scored through a screen at 3:27, and then Steve Larmer banged in a rebound at 6:20, and suddenly The Garden was once again alive.
|By Game 5 of the Cup Finals, fans at The Garden already knew who was going to be named the postseason MVP. |
The roof was nearly blown off The World’s Most Famous Arena when Mark Messier zipped a wrist shot past McLean at 9:02 and the game was stunningly tied 3-3.
There wasn’t a Rangers fan in the building who didn’t think it was some sort of divine sign that The Captain had scored the tying goal, or that this amazing comeback would not end in victory, with the Stanley Cup being hoisted by Messier at center ice.
What happened next, however, defied all logic, except, perhaps, to prove that the Ghosts of 1940 were not quite dead yet.
Only 29 seconds after Messier’s score, with the fans screaming “We Want the Cup!”, Vancouver took off on a 3-on-2 rush. Bure passed the puck to the offensively-challenged defenseman Dave Babych, and somehow Babych slipped a short-side shot past Richter, and the Canucks were back in front 4-3.
Somewhat less boisterous, the fans at The Garden remained very loud despite Babych’s score. Less than three minutes later, however, their energy was zapped again when Courtnall potted the rebound of Nathan Lafayette’s shot at 12:20. Near silence enveloped the arena 44 seconds later when Bure scored another goal off a rebound, and the Canucks were up 6-3.
It had been a head-spinning, mind-numbing, record-setting third period. It had also put off any celebration at MSG that night and guaranteed the Canucks a return trip to Vancouver to host Game 6.
The eight goals in the third period were a Stanley Cup Finals record that still stands today. Vancouver’s five goals in the third remain a record for one team in The Finals.
Most importantly, a special opportunity had slipped through the Rangers’ collective fingers. Down 3-0, they had aggressively gambled to tie the game, but that style caught up with them when Babych scored off an odd-man rush.
Physically and emotionally exhausted, the Rangers had to fly more than 3,000 miles to Vancouver for Game 6, their second chance to secure their first championship in 54 years.
If they didn’t know so previously, the Rangers knew now that winning the fourth game of this series was not going to be easy.