The 1993-94 New York Rangers still give us goosebumps 25 years later. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy ESPN.
Twenty-five years later, the real Anniversary is here for the Rangers. They commemorated the emotional Stanley Cup victory in February by bringing almost every member of that special championship team back to Madison Square Garden.
That included architect Neil Smith and coach Mike Keenan along with the rest of the staff that we fondly remember. That included Sam Rosen and former broadcast partner John Davidson, who fittingly has returned as the new Team President now.
They remembered defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev, who was taken from us too soon. They saved the best for last by playing the late John Amirante’s Canadian and American national anthem before the loudest crowd to ever be in an arena for a marquee event. As Rosen noted following Amirante’s anthem which could still be heard even if the noise drowned it out, he’d never heard this building louder since 1968 when it first opened. It never will be.
So, what was that do or die Game Seven like for a 17-year old high school senior watching at home with a very nervous Dad, who never thought he’d see them win? Or a younger brother who was only 10 getting ready to graduate fifth grade? A lot of anxiety, excitement and plenty of nervousness rolled into one.
You know that uncomfortable pit in your stomach when you have to do something important like take a test, go for a job interview or ask someone out? Well, it’s the same feeling when it comes to rooting for your favorite sports team try to do something they haven’t done in 54 long years.
I would listen to Dad’s stories of being a season ticket holder in the early 70’s and having to watch Bobby Orr and the hated Bruins skate the Cup in 1972 at the Garden. A series that saw leading scorer Jean Ratelle return from a broken ankle, but not be the same player. Had he been, they could’ve won it that year.
Instead, older generation diehard fans like our father had to wait much longer to see the Rangers make history. Sure. They had a great run in ’79 on the back of Davidson by upsetting the Islanders before losing in five to the Canadiens. Montreal eliminated the ’86 team who made it to the Wales Conference Final due to another goalie, John Vanbiesbrouck. They were no match for rookie Patrick Roy, who backstopped the Habs to the Cup.
It could’ve happened in ’92. The Rangers had a great team that won the President’s Trophy in Mark Messier’s first year as a Blueshirt. He won the Hart and Brian Leetch won the Norris. Both topping 100 points. Mike Gartner scored 40 goals. A core of James Patrick, Tony Amonte, Adam Graves, Jeff Beukeboom, Sergei Nemchinov, Darren Turcotte with Mike Richter and Beezer sharing the goalie duties seemed on the verge of dethroning the Penguins in the Patrick Division Final. But a controversial suspension to Graves due to a slash on Mario Lemieux along with a Ron Francis goal that beat Richter from center ice did them in. Jaromir Jagr beat Vanbiesbrouck on a penalty shot and the Pens took the series in six, en route to a second straight Cup.
By the time ’93-94 rolled around, things had really changed. Roger Neilson was gone following a disappointing ’92-93 that saw the team miss the playoffs with Leetch breaking his ankle and players underperforming. In came Keenan. A hard line coach with a proven track record. Having guided the Flyers and Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to favorites Edmonton and Pittsburgh, Iron Mike was no nonsense. He proved that early on following a humiliating home loss to the expansion Mighty Ducks.
As the season went on, it became apparent that Keenan’s tough cop treatment of his players worked. They responded well to his brutal honesty. Postgames became a must watch to see what he would say. The only other coach the franchise has had since who was like that is John Tortorella. He didn’t win here, but sure was interesting to follow in his four and a half year tenure that included the East’s top seed with a young team that made it to the Eastern Conference Final before suffering a heartbreaking loss to the rival Devils in 2012.
What made Keenan so interesting was his crazy tactics during games. They ranged from leaving Alexei Kovalev out for a five-minute shift to mysteriously benching stars Leetch and Messier in big spots against the Devils and Canucks. He also had a penchant for pulling goalies. It was his way or the highway. Smith, who didn’t see eye to eye with him- gave Keenan everything he wanted.
That meant swinging a complicated three team deal that sent Patrick and Turcotte to the Whalers for key former Blackhawk Steve Larmer and ex-Whaler Nick Kypreos. It also meant changing the look of a first place roster at the most discussed trade deadline ever. He wanted more grit and got it with former Hawks Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau for future star Amonte. Todd Marchant was exchanged to Edmonton for Craig MacTavish. A solid checking center who could win face-offs with Cup experience.
Every deal worked out including swapping proven finisher Gartner for veteran Glenn Anderson. A trade that was very unpopular with Ranger fans. We loved Gartner and wanted him to be part of it. Instead, due to Keenan and obviously Messier, he was sent to Toronto for Anderson, Scott Malone (who?) and a fourth round pick (Alexander Korobolin) that didn’t amount to anything. Anderson was another proven playoff performer who won Cups with Messier and the Oilers dynasty. That’s also where Graves and Beukeboom came from with both part of the last Edmonton Cup in ’90. Beukeboom won three when Messier and a guy by the name of Gretzky was still around before The Trade. Kevin Lowe also came from Edmonton. So did Esa Tikkanen.
It’s funny looking back. Many critics have referred to the ’94 championship team as the New York Oilers. Considering how many big deals Smith swung with Glen Sather, I get the point. Nobody told Slats that a package of Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk was enough to acquire one of the all-time greats to ever lace them up. Ironically, Beukeboom came over too to complete the franchise altering transaction for David Shaw. Who do you think won that deal?
The ironic part is Nicholls was a very good player who came over from the Kings for popular Rangers Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom in January 1990. He only lasted one full season and was gone after one game into ’90-91. It’s crazy that he wound up with the Devils and played the role of the bad guy in the memorable Conference Final that still holds up all this time later as arguably the best.
When the Rangers advanced on Matteau’s goal in double overtime off rookie Martin Brodeur, they were supposed to easily beat the heavy underdog Canucks. Led by the dangerous Pavel Bure, Trevor Linden and Cliff Ronning, they’d already upset the Flames and Maple Leafs to reach the Cup Final as a seventh seed.
They were no pushover. With Bure the league’s leading goalscorer with 60 goals, a good captain in Linden, a playmaking center in Ronning, and a strong supporting cast that included Kirk McLean, Geoff Courtnall, Greg Adams, Jeff Brown, Jyrki Lumme, Murray Craven, Bret Hedican and Sergio Momesso, they were a good team that got hot at the right time.
Still, following McLean standing on his head with 54 saves in a 3-2 Game One overtime win with Adams finishing off a Ronning set up right after Leetch hit the post, it looked like the Rangers would prevail in five. They took Game Two 3-1, Game Three 5-1 and Game Four 4-2.
It wasn’t that simple. Vancouver jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game Four. Bure got a penalty shot with the score 2-1 Canucks. He exploded like a cannon following a Leetch turnover. Nobody has breakaway speed like that. It wasn’t like Leetch was slow either. Here came a signature moment in the series. Bure vs Richter. Here’s what happened next:
An aggressive Richter came out and challenged Bure to beat him. He waited patiently for Bure to make the first move and then recovered quickly to rob Bure of a penalty shot goal that would’ve sent those screaming fans at Pacific Coliseum into bedlam. It probably would’ve meant a tie series headed back to MSG for Game Five.
Instead, power play goals from Sergei Zubov and Kovalev gave the Rangers the lead. Larmer added an insurance marker to erase any doubt. The Rangers led the series three games to one with the fifth game at MSG. Everyone thought it was over. They’d wrap it up and celebrate a five-game victory.
Nobody told the Canucks. To their credit, they didn’t give up easily. After blowing a 3-0 lead in the third period with Messier tying the game, Bure fed Dave Babych for a crushing go-ahead goal 29 seconds later. Then, Courtnall and Bure scored less than a minute apart for a Vancouver 6-3 win to extend the series.
At that point, I knew the Rangers weren’t winning Game Six in Vancouver. Going three-for-three at their arena was impossible. In fact, before the Blues took Game Seven the other day to win three out of four games at Boston to win their first ever Cup, it happened only once when the 2000 Devils did it to the Stars winning three there.
Sure enough, the Vancouver crowd was wild creating a unbelievable atmosphere for their team. The Canucks responded to the overwhelming support to easily win Game Six 4-1. Both Brown and Courtnall tallied twice while Kovalev got the only Ranger goal. Those fans celebrated as if their team had won the Cup. It was scary.
Thank God there was an extra day off before Game Seven. Of course, there were all these rumors swirling about the coach leaving the Big Apple to take the job with Detroit. They were upset by the Sharks in the first round. There also were questions for Leetch and Messier due to each missing shifts in the last game. Typical mind games from Keenan.
Of course, Leetch smiled and said contrary to all the silly reports, he’d be at MSG and ready to play Game Seven. It was the biggest game of their lives. The most pressure packed game for the Stanley Cup!
They had to win. So much was riding on the line. None of the stuff they accomplished during a season in which they won a then franchise record 52 games and had 112 points mattered. Far more than the scrappy, but skilled Canucks. The funny part is if you put that Vancouver team up against most teams today, they’d win. They were talented and deep. There are no Pavel Bure type players in today’s game. Not even Ovechkin. If the Russian Rocket played today with the ridiculous rules, he’d light it up. He was still scoring close to 60 goals during the dead puck era with teams trapping.
In watching the game on MSG tonight, I’m still amazed at the amount of skill, skating, physicality and to quote JD, “Snarl,” there was. In particular, Momesso was stirring things up. He sure got away with a lot in Game Seven. An uncalled slash to a fallen Anderson that cut his nose. There was also a cross check. That’s the kind of physical player he was. To hear Davidson tell it on the telecast, he was doing his job. Of course, he chuckled next to Rosen because back then, they let a lot of stuff go. To win, you had to be disciplined.
On that special night, the Rangers were. They hit back too. Leetch dished out a clean hip check. They forechecked with vigor. A strategy the coaching staff wanted to see following the recent losses that allowed the pesky Canucks to square the series.
They played a perfect first period to take a 2-0 lead. First, it was Messier who drew defenders after gaining the Vancouver zone. He passed for leading regular season scorer Sergei Zubov, who pinched in. With so much room, I think everyone thought he’d shoot. But the thing about the very skilled Russian defenseman who deserves inclusion into the Hockey Hall of Fame is he was very patient with unbelievable vision. Sure enough, it paid off with this wonderful pass to a wide open Leetch for the game’s first goal into an open net with McLean out of position.
With the crowd going nuts, a strong shift by the checking line resulted in a power play. MacTavish did a great job continuing to skate with the puck behind the net to force Lumme to take an obvious holding penalty. What followed was magic.
I still don’t know how Zubov did what he did on the rush. The Canucks stood up at the blueline like they’re supposed to. They just didn’t anticipate Zubov somehow sneaking a pass through to a cutting Kovalev, who then threaded the needle to a wide open Graves, who buried his first goal of the series past McLean. Even 25 years later, all I can say is, ‘Wow.’
That’s how special Zubov was. While Leetch got all the ink deservedly so for the 34 points (11-23-34) he put up to become the first American player to win the Conn Smythe, it’s unreal how good the Russian born defenseman was. After pacing the team with 89 points including a jaw dropping 77 assists in the regular season, he wound up with 19 points (5-14-19) in the postseason. That included a pair of assists that set up the Rangers’ first two goals. He also was a huge part of the Stars only Cup in ’99. What a terrific player.
One thing about the Canucks is they never caved. Despite the crazy atmosphere and all the noise after one period, they never gave up. During a key penalty kill, Linden got behind Leetch and carried the puck with the Rangers top defenseman draped all over him. Already having drawn a hooking minor penalty, somehow Linden had the strength to get off a great backhand that beat Richter for a shorthanded goal. Here’s how it looked:
As scary as Bure was throughout the whole series and in particular one flat out dominant shift in the first where he basically skated around all five Rangers without scoring due to diligent defense, Linden was his team’s best player that hot summer night. He would really tighten the screws with a power play goal early in the third later that gave everyone anxiety.
Still leading 2-1, the Rangers continued to press the attack. In search of the third goal in response to Linden’s brilliant shorthanded goal, they drew two penalties. After the Canucks killed the first one off, a forechecking Kovalev drew a tripping minor to give them another chance.
In what can best be described as the goal that really wasn’t Messier’s, he got credit for the eventual Cup winner on a scramble in front of McLean’s net. Zubov fed Graves in the slot. He took a low shot that caromed off McLean for a rebound. Noonan then got a stick on the puck sending it towards the net. With Messier in the vicinity, The Captain went to bat it in. But after all these years, it’s fairly obvious the puck deflected off Lumme before going in for a 3-1 Rangers lead. Boy, would they need it.
Even though Messier got credit for his 12th of the playoffs from Graves and Noonan at 13:29 of the second, at that point I knew they wouldn’t score again. In my history class that day at Staten Island Tech, Mr. Bennett had some fun with a final score pool. I didn’t participate because I couldn’t. I was too superstitious. The only thing I thought is the Rangers would win by a score of 3-2. I was still confident despite what had happened.
And so, as the Canucks continued to apply the pressure by forcing the acrobatic Richter into some tough saves, the third period would be the longest of our lives. As Davidson put it at one critical point in the third following Linden’s second of the game on a wonderful Courtnall set up, “Time isn’t moving fast enough for the Rangers.”
It wasn’t either for the fans who were lucky enough to be in the building or for us at home. You were literally sweating bullets as it went on.
It wasn’t so much that the Rangers sat back. They didn’t. They had their opportunities to increase the lead back to two. But McLean was good just as he was in Game One. He also had some luck with Lowe hitting the goalpost.
The goalpost would play an enormous role the rest of the way. So too would the crossbar. Richter’s best friend. First came a close call with six and a half minutes left when Martin Gelinas had Richter down and hit the post. The puck was cleared away.
Then came this insane moment where Rosen screamed, “Save by Richter!!!!!” If he did get a piece of the Nathan LaFayette shot, wow. He might’ve. Here’s how it looked and sounded with five and a half minutes remaining:
Even the legendary CBC play by play announcer Bob Cole thought Richter saved it. But as JD later analyzed when they returned from commercial break, it hit the outside of the goalpost. It was that close.
I think after those two close calls, it settled down the Rangers. They played much better defensively. Even the great Bure couldn’t create another scary moment. Neither could Linden. Each was double shifted by the late Pat Quinn. A great coach who never won the big one despite having some excellent teams in Vancouver and Toronto.
The Rangers locked in and played superb defense in the final few minutes. Even when the Canucks got a chance in the Ranger zone, the players did whatever it took to prevent them from forcing Richter into a tough save. Zubov slickly tripped Bure up behind the net with over 90 seconds left. I wonder if they ever discussed that moment over coffee or in Russia, preferably vodka. 😁
One is in the Hall of Fame while the other is still waiting. Hopefully, it’s later this November in Toronto for Zubov and also Jeremy Roenick and Alexander Mogilny.
In watching the final frantic moments, the refs literally let everything go. At least three different times, the Canucks had awful line changes that could’ve resulted in bench minors. If it were today, that wouldn’t be missed. But they miss everything else these days. So yeah. It evens out.
When Larmer cleared the zone, it was over. Or so we thought. Instead, with Bure hardly skating because he thought it was over, they called icing with 1.6 seconds left. It sorta ruined Rosen’s dramatic call. But he still had it finally when MacTavish boxed out Bure with Messier giving him a love tap. In fact, they blew two calls in he last minute by calling icings that weren’t.
Back then, we were mad. It could’ve meant the difference between the Rangers making history or umm… It’s better left unsaid. Nobody wanted a repeat of Valeri Zelepukin in the other memorable Game Seven. The one that gave us, “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!”
Anyway, here it is. The special moment that will last a Lifetime!
It sure has. A quarter of a century has gone by and although we are all older, not much has changed. I’m not referring to technology or social media. I’m talking about how special that Magic Moment still is. It still gives me chills. It remains the most special championship I’ve ever seen. That includes the ’96 Yankees along with ’98-00, ’09 and all four Giants Super Bowls.
The New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup supersedes everything. Magnificent. The Cup celebration was incredible and the Parade down the Canyon of Heroes was even better. What a hot day that was. The “Let’s Go Rangers,” chants on the Ferry were unbelievable. So too was somehow finding my best friend Ivan in the maze that was a wild crowd in the city.
It’s all still so amazing. I can only hope they find a way to win one more for all the younger generation that didn’t get the chance to experience 1994. God willing.
Thank you for June 14, 1994. Happy Anniversary 🎉!!!!!