When the words “1994”, “Stephane Matteau”, and “double-overtime” are used in the same sentence, one inevitably thinks of Matteau’s magical goal in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals that lifted the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1979.
But that wasn’t Matteau’s only connection to double-overtime magic during that epic series against the New Jersey Devils back in ’94. In fact, on this date 15 years ago, Matteau provided the Rangers with a 2-1 series lead over the Devils when he whipped a backhand shot past Martin Brodeur at 6:13 of the second OT to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory at The Meadowlands.
|Only a second-year pro when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994, Alex Kovalev played a big role in the Game 3 victory, assisting on Stephane Matteau's double-overtime goal. |
Until Matteau’s heroics put a bow on Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, however, the match was playing out in an eerily similar fashion to the first game of the series. In that one, the Rangers grabbed a one-goal advantage three times, only to have the Devils come back to tie the contest. One scoreless overtime period led into a second, where New Jersey’s Stephane Richer scored the game-winner to silence The Garden crowd.
In Game 3, this time on the road in New Jersey, the Rangers took a pair of one-goal leads -- the first on an Adam Graves goal 2:43 into play, the second on a Steve Larmer power-play tally midway through the second period -- but the Devils wiped both out with goals of their own shortly thereafter.
As he was forced to do in the series opener, Rangers goalie Mike Richter was outstanding in both overtimes. He robbed former teammate Bernie Nicholls on a rebound attempt from the slot in the first OT, and then somehow managed an acrobatic save while lying on his back to stone Tommy Albelin off a 2-on-1 rush in the second overtime session.
The main difference between the two games -- other than the eventual outcome, of course -- was that the Rangers were clearly the better team in Game 3. They fired 50 shots at Brodeur, including 11 in the two overtimes, while surrendering only 31 shots to the Devils. That had not been the case in Game 1 when New Jersey had the better chances and territorial play.
Time and again throughout Game 3, Brodeur turned in one sensational save after another to frustrate the Blueshirts. As great as Richter was in Game 3 -- and he surely was that -- Brodeur matched his fellow netminder, and then some.
Perhaps Brodeur’s best save of the night came in the first overtime when Graves split the Devils’ defense and wired a nasty wrist shot on goal that somehow Brodeur kept out of the net.
To the Rangers’ credit, they remained committed to a relentless attack in the Devils end of the ice, despite Brodeur’s unyielding play between the pipes. And that finally paid off early in the second OT.
Veteran Glenn Anderson and emerging second-year pro Alex Kovalev combined to free the puck from alongside the Devils’ net. The puck was swept out into the slot, where Matteau was stationed. With a pair of Devils coming at him, Matteau calmly steadied the puck and fired a backhander through a maze of skates and sticks, and into the back of the cage for the game-winner.
Matteau went into a wild, leaping celebration after the goal, and one could not imagine at the time that he would ever score a bigger goal or have as jubilant a celebration again. On a team that featured some of the game’s greats, like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Anderson, and Larmer, the hard-working forward who had never scored more than 19 goals in a season was having his rare moment in the spotlight.
Of course, eight days later Matteau would score perhaps the most famous goal in franchise history, cementing his legacy in the lore of the New York Rangers forever and ever.
But on May 19, 1994, Matteau and his teammates were just happy that he had helped deliver an important win in the third game of the series, restoring home-ice advantage to the Rangers and setting them up for a chance to put a stranglehold on the series if they could win Game 4 two nights later.