Life can be funny sometimes. It truly can be mysterious and unpredictable. Take the date May 25th.
In 1994 on one memorable hot Spring night, that meant captain Mark Messier delivering on his promise by leading the Rangers back from two goals down by assisting on Alex Kovalev’s late second period goal and recording a natural hat trick in a unbelievable 4-2 virtuoso performance to win Game Six over the Devils at The Meadowlands.
The Rangers would need double overtime to get past the Devils in a astonishing Game Seven with Stephane Matteau becoming symbolic thanks to Howie Rose’s unreal call. They would need seven games to defeat the Canucks and capture the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup, and first in 54 years.
Fast-forward 18 years to another May 25th night in Newark at The Prudential Center in 2012. This time in their first Conference Final meeting since Martin Brodeur’s rookie year, it was a 40 years young Marty who got the better of 30-year old Vezina counterpart Henrik Lundqvist with the home Devils exacting a measure of revenge by taking Game Six by a count of 3-2 at over a minute into sudden death. Adam Henrique scored the winner by steering home a loose puck by a maze of Rangers on their pants that included Lundqvist.
Henrique conquered King Henrik and “Henrique, It’s Over!”, was replayed on repeat like Groundhog Day for this broken hearted Blueshirts fan for the next eight years. A call made famous by former legendary Devils announcer Doc Emrick. Sure. He was overly excited and it was the one moment there was a sense of homer in the true professional. But I can also recall how good he sounded calling Messier’s signature moment that broke Devils hearts where Jimmy Hoffa supposedly was buried. Both Doc and Peter McNabb heaped praise on Messier and they kept showing the infamous We’ll Win Tonight back page as he completed the hat trick into a open net from 170 feet.
I’ll be honest. For eight years, I never watched the traditional handshake between the two Hudson rivals. I couldn’t. Once the goal was scored, I left the house and went for a walk to my old grammar school PS 4. Not to be confused with PS4 for PlayStation 4. I walked and then sat by myself in the old schoolyard for a while before calling Devils friend Robert Davis to congratulate him on his team’s victory. He felt they had it in them before that postseason. I chuckled and joked. I didn’t see it coming. Oops.
It’s safe to say Rob got the last laugh. However, I was a man of my word and made sure to phone him. His team had won and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final where they felt the agony and pain of losing to the dreaded Kings. A team both fan bases hate. They did it to us two years later. Now, I get the two words, “Alec Martinez”, from Sabres buddy Brian Sanborn. He loves to rub salt in the wound.
At least I was out at the bar with coworkers wondering how the Rangers wasted at least three power plays in sudden death along with Chris Kreider denied by Jonathan Quick on a breakaway before Martinez ended it by putting a rebound past Lundqvist. The bar turned it off and I never saw the handshake or Cup presentation. I never will. Too painful. They didn’t get back the next year losing a home Game Seven on Garden ice to the Lightning in a strange Conference Final. Shutout in Games 5 and 7 at MSG. It was humbling.
That was it for that great era of Rangers hockey. Three cracks at it and they fell short each time. I now think the losses to the Kings and Bolts were worse than what happened on May 25, 2012. The teams in ’13-14 and ’14-15 were more talented and deeper. Also more proven. They twice dug out of 3-1 series deficits in the second round to stun the Pens and Caps in consecutive years. The only times in franchise history they’ve done it.
The bottom line is it wasn’t meant to be. You have to be both pretty special and lucky to win a championship. The ’86 Mets were. So were the ’90 Giants. Even the ’96 Yankees had some magic. There are countless examples. The ’94 Rangers were the best team and better than any of the rosters I listed above. Yet needed to stare death in the face at Continental Airlines Arena and got a lucky bounce for Matteau’s historic goal. They needed two loud goalposts next to Mike Richter in the hair-raising third period to hang on and defeat the Canucks for Lord Stanley.
That’s sports. It took me eight years to watch the Henrique goal along with the handshake. You know what. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I finally have closure.