I’ll be honest. I have been trying to come up with the words to describe that unforgettable championship team in ’93-94. It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years later. Not officially until June 14 when a special group of New York Rangers delivered a Stanley Cup to this city.
They hung on to defeat those scary Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-2. Something I predicted in my high school class as a senior when my favorite teacher had a fun final score pool on who would win Game Seven. I couldn’t participate. I was too superstitious. Yes, I believed in jinxes even back then.
I’d heard way too many stories from Dad about those classic Emile “Cat” Francis Rangers teams of the 70’s that came so close but never won. Some of the greatest Blueshirts that included the GAG Line of Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, and Rod Gilbert, along with Brad Park, Walt Tkaczuk, Pete Stemkowski, Bobby Rousseau and goalies Ed Giacomin and Gilles Villemure. How a injured Ratelle returned for the 1972 Stanley Cup Final a shell of himself due to a broken ankle with Dad watching helplessly as Bobby Orr and the hated Bruins skated around with the Cup at Madison Square Garden.
There was the surprising run in ’79 led by Phil Esposito, Don Maloney, Ron Greschner, Mike McEwen, Don Murdoch, Tkaczuk along with Anders Hedberg, Steve Vickers, Ron Duguay and a goalie named John Davidson,t whose signature call, “Oh Baby,” became the title of the classic ’93-94 Rangers championship video.
Tonight, the one Rangers team that delivered a Cup to New York City parading down the Canyon of Heroes is honored for the 25th Year Anniversary of a special year. One that almost didn’t happen due to all the chaos behind the scenes with coach Mike Keenan, which came to a head in a nerve racking classic Eastern Conference Final against the upstart New Jersey Devils.
Never was the pressure more immense for a team to win than that fateful night in late May when they faced playoff extinction in Game Six at the old Brendan Byrne Arena. If not for some great saves by Mike Richter along with a goalpost, there is no successful Guarantee by captain Mark Messier, who delivered one of the signature moments in NHL history by scoring a natural hat trick in a memorable third period to lead the Rangers back to a 4-2 win. Maybe without that Keenan timeout where nothing was said at the bench, there’s no Messier drop pass to Alexei Kovalev for a momentum changing goal past MartinMATTEAU Brodeur with over two minutes left to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Instead, they came all the way back with a phenomenal third period that saw Conn Smythe winner Brian Leetch instrumental along with Kovalev on Messier’s tying and game-winning goals. Then came the panic move by Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, pulling Brodeur too soon only to see Messier fire a loose puck all the way down into a open net for the hat trick along with a whole lot of noise from the Rangers fans who made the trip across the Lincoln Tunnel.
They still had to win a game of Russian roulette in Game Seven to defeat those Devils. A classic final game that saw Leetch score on an amazing individual effort during the second period. His goal held up until the final tension filled moments of the third when Valeri Zelepukin tied it with 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation. I still have no idea what Richter protested. It was probably just frustration from the heat of the moment. They had to go to sudden death to slay the dragon. In fact, it took double overtime and a whole lot of anxiety driven moments that had you on pins and needles just to win a unbelievable game 2-1 over a worthy opponent. That really began the rivalry.
There were some remarkable saves by both Richter and Brodeur that defied logic. Brodeur slid across to rob Messier. Richter came out aggressively to poke check a dangerous Bobby Holik chance on a breakaway. How about the OMG moment with Sam Rosen on a wild Devils sequence where he said, “Where’s the puck!” Richter had foiled another Devils opportunity with the defensively responsible Steve Larmer clearing the puck harmlessly away into the corner. Without the former Blackhawk acquired by GM Neil Smith in a three team deal with Hartford, there’s no Cup. Neither would there have been without him taking Keenan’s advice on two gritty guys he trusted from the Hawks. Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau were acquired for that memorable run with future star Tony Amonte sacrificed.
Matteau etched his name in playoff lore by scoring for the second time that series in overtime to stun the Devils. It came right after the dangerous sequence where for a brief moment, my 17-year old nervous teenage mind thought it was over. Esa Tikkanen started it innocently enough with a steal and then the puck came to Matteau, who skated around the Devils net and sent a wraparound that banked in off Slava Fetisov and by Brodeur for the emotional winner in double overtime.
The infamous call of former Rangers radio voice, the legendary Howie Rose can still be heard. I don’t need to play it or use audio or YouTube. It just rolls off the tongue, taking me back to that magic moment where Dad didn’t realize the puck was in before I told him in his small office room.
“MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU! STEPHANE MATTEAU! AND THE RANGERS HAVE ONE MORE HILL TO CLIMB BABY! THE SMYTHE! VANCOUVER! THE RANGERS ARE HEADED TO THE FINALS “
What followed was a unbelievable celebration. He couldn’t believe they won. He never thought they’d ever play for the Cup ever again. There are many just like him, who if they’re still around today, are thankful for that team. That Cup was for diehards like our Dad. I just never realized how much I’d have to cherish it 25 years later. The Stanley Cup loss to the Kings in 2014 still hurts. So too does Game Seven against the Lightning in 2015. I guess I’ll have to settle for that one championship when I was a senior in high school.
All this time later, having been to so many games since up in the old Section 411 (now 419), now 419 thanks to the renovation, I now understand what Dad was telling us as kids. How hard it is for this franchise to win. Justin and I understand much better. So, if I am sometimes a bit negative, bare with me. Understand why. Even the younger generation who unfortunately we’re either too young, or weren’t even alive for that special 1994 team, should have a good idea of how things work as a Rangers fan. From Cup contenders in ’12, ’14 and ’15 built around Henrik Lundqvist, to a younger rebuilding team about to lose popular figure Mats Zuccarello, and key center Kevin Hayes at the trade deadline.
It’s not easy rooting for this team. Even though that’s the case, my undying loyalty will always remain. I’m a Ranger through and through. I don’t need any of those silly slogans they use on MSG. None of us do. We are the Garden Faithful who remain forever loyal to a franchise that’s won only four Cups, and just one since 1940. Which Adam Graves screamed at the top of his lungs when it was over against Vancouver. A series they once led 3-1 before the pressure started to mount along with the rumors of Keenan leaving.
The bottom line is that team got it done. They executed when they had to. The perfect first period in Game Seven where leading scorer Sergei Zubov (89 points!!!!!) found Leetch wide open for the first goal into a open net. Then Zubov took the hit to make the play to Kovalev, who set up Graves for a power play goal that made it 2-0 Rangers.
Of course, Trevor Linden made it 2-1 with a remarkable effort for a shorthanded goal with one hand. Pavel Bure remained frustrated coming oh so close and slamming his stick at the Canucks bench. Luckily, Messier got a piece of a rebound with Noonan in the same area for a power play goal that made it 3-1. But you could barely breathe when Linden cut it to 3-2 five minutes into the nerve racking third.
Then it was just hold on for dear life. Nathan Lafayette denied by Richter. Cliff Ronning off the post. I thought Lafayette had scored as I’m certain many did when his shot hit the goalpost behind Richter, who may have gotten a piece of it as Rosen screamed, “Save by Richter!” Whether he actually did or not doesn’t matter. The Canucks never found the tying goal.
They protected the lead well after those crazy moments. When Zubov got the puck to Larmer for a key clear out of the zone, the game was over! No it wasn’t. Not so quick. They called an icing. Of course they did. Craig MacTavish won that final face-off against Bure by muscling him off the puck with help from Messier.
“The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are Stanley Cup Champions! And this one will last a lifetime!”
“No more Curses! This is unbelievable!”
It truly was. Seeing our emotional father cry and say he can’t believe it. That was worth everything. That’s why you had a fan with the classic Now I Can Die In Peace sign.
The parade was unreal. From the “Let’s Go Rangers,” chants on the Staten Island Ferry to the sweltering heat, we walked down Broadway as they celebrated and made it to City Hall for the speeches. “One More Year,” was the chant as a grinning Keenan spoke right through it, which should have told us he was gone. But when you’re young, you don’t pay close attention to that.
With the exception of Alexander Karpovtsev, who died tragically in a plane accident in Russia, they’ll all be back. I hope they hold a moment of silence for him, and also remember to honor John Amirante once again with his unbelievable renditions of Oh Canada and The Star Spangled Banner through the chaotic noise at the Old MSG we loved.
If you’re going like us, cheer loudly and take in every moment. And no. It doesn’t all need to be captured on our cell phones. Take a moment to watch what they say and put the phones down. There weren’t any in ’94. I didn’t have one until I was a college freshman that Fall at Fairleigh Dickinson in Madison, New Jersey. The classic Motorola flip phone that had the car charger and just was able to make calls on. No texting. No camera. No internet. Thank God!
I’ll be there in the second to last row of 419 with my brother, Dad and Michael enjoying every single moment. Make sure you do the same. There’ll never be another special team like that one.