Sergei Zubov moved the puck up the right boards, and Steve Larmer cleared it down. Pavel Bure was giving chase but then stopped his stride, leaning his stick on his knees, seemingly resigned to the end. It was, by every indication, all over - the game, the series, 54 years of waiting.
Then, that whistle. Icing. One last defensive-zone faceoff. And 54 years of waiting would have to last 1.6 seconds more.
Terry Gregson had a unique vantage point on that game and that call and that unforgettable night at Madison Square Garden. Gregson didn't call the icing: He was the lone referee that evening, working the seventh game of a Stanley Cup Final for the first - and only - time in a career that spanned a quarter of a century and eight Stanley Cup Finals. Once this one was over, and now that 25 years have passed, he can laugh about that one last linesman's whistle. But on June 14, 1994, it was less of a laughing matter.
"I know some Ranger fans could have killed Kevin Collins for calling that last icing to prolong the game," Gregson said in an interview with NYRangers.com. That's where he could laugh, adding: "That's okay, though, because I could have killed him too."
Of course, an extra 1.6 seconds wasn't going to alter the course of destiny that night. Craig MacTavish tied up Bure on that final faceoff, the puck skittered to the safety of the corner, and the Rangers and the packed house at the Garden finally could unleash the delirious joy that had been bottled up, waiting to erupt, since 1940. Twenty-five years ago today, the Rangers completed that magical run to the Stanley Cup.
While the Rangers and their fans celebrated, and the Canucks slumped in back to their bench in defeat, Gregson felt only one thing: "Relief," he said. "Just relief that I think it was well competed for, and one team won it the right way. And the Rangers got to go on their way to one big party."
Gregson was an NHL referee from 1979 until 2004, officiating 1,427 games in the regular season and 158 more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rangers-Canucks was the third of eight Stanley Cup Finals that he would work during his on-ice career; he was assigned to the series opener at the Garden and to Game 4 in Vancouver, which made him the man who awarded Bure his penalty shot that Mike Richter kicked out in one of the turning points in the series and one of the indelible moments of any Stanley Cup Final.
Gregson served as the standby referee for Game 6 in Vancouver; once the Canucks closed out a 4-1 win to send the series back to the Garden for a winner-take-all, Gregson was told to get on the first plane back to New York and start preparing for his first Game 7 in the Cup Final. "I felt the nerves for sure," Gregson said, "but there was also sort of an inner peace to the fact of, 'Okay, here we are now, now it's just one game for all the marbles.' As an official, just like as a player, that's where you want to be.
"And a lot like the players, there's no question it was the biggest game of my career. I get asked a lot what was my most memorable game; that one definitely was."
Gregson described the "bubble" that officials try to put themselves into, and the "clutter" they try to keep from creeping into their minds, but he admits that it wasn't possible to walk anywhere around Manhattan in June of 1994 and not feel the sense of how much the city was hanging on that series, and how much was at stake at the rink in Midtown. And once gametime approached on Broadway, there was absolutely no escaping it.
Gregson said that in all the games he worked over the years, he never experienced an atmosphere quite like June 14, 1994, at the Garden.
"I remember walking down that tunnel, and when we got out on the ice, I mean, it was so noisy that it was almost like white noise, you know? It was so noisy that you almost didn't really hear the noise," he said. "And just looking around and seeing - the energy in that building was just incredible. You kind of fed off of that - everyone was so focused on the hockey game that it kind of helped your focus, too.
"When you stepped on the ice it was just so noisy and so loud, you knew you were in the eye of the storm. So you better be ready for it."
Once the puck dropped, Gregson's job was, in some respects, simple: "Both teams played very disciplined, focused hockey," he said, "so you just kind of had to be there to just keep it on the rails, not let anybody get too emotional." He awarded five power plays in the game - there would have been a sixth, except that Trevor Linden scored for the Canucks while Gregson's arm was in the air for a delayed penalty on Brian Leetch. That came during a Ranger man-advantage, so it went in the books as a shorthanded goal - Linden also scored on a power play, as did Adam Graves and Mark Messier, whose 12th goal of the 1994 Playoffs was the Stanley Cup-winner.
When the 1994 Rangers gathered back at the Garden this past February for a 25th reunion of their championship run, Mike Keenan said that before he traveled to New York he watched the video of Game 7 for the first time in many years. What jumped out at him more than anything, he said, was that "Game 7 was not for the faint of heart."
"It was a man's game," Keenan said. "The players were so intense, competitive, vicious, mean. And the officiating … Gregson let 'em do whatever they wanted, for the most part."
"I don't go out there and say, 'Here's the puck, bring it back in 2½ hours,'" Gregson said. "You can't say that. You say, 'Gentlemen, here's the puck, go out and compete well.' And then you've got to establish your standard of enforcement and go from there.
"They were competing so hard, they were competing at their absolute limit. Everybody was competing. They were right on the edge, but it was kind of like they were telling me, 'Stay out of the road, Gregson. We want to solve this.'"
And solve it they did. Leetch opened the scoring 11:02 into the game, giving the Rangers their first lead since Game 4; they never trailed again. They ushered their lead through the rest of the game, and then, just when it looked like the job was done, the curses vanquished, there were those last 1.6 seconds to deal with. Since that final faceoff never affected the outcome, Gregson is one of those who can locate a silver lining.
"At least it made for a great picture," he said. "Actually, that's one of the only pictures I have from my whole career, because I was in the pre-digital age. They had a picture of when the horn goes, there's like a roll of toilet paper flying from the stands above us, and they got myself, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch and Mark Messier to sign a few of those, and they gave me one."
Under his signature, Gregson wrote, "Game Over."
"That's one picture that I did keep and I still have, " Gregson said. "A game like that, that's a night you always remember."