Game #56: Rangers fall to Winnipeg 4-3 despite good effort

Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast look on from the bench during the Rangers’ 4-3 loss at Winnipeg. AP Photo courtesy NYRangers via Twitter.

It would be easy to point out that losing to Winnipeg was predictable. Sure it was. However, in a puzzling league where Detroit went into Nashville and swept the season series (not joking), it was possible for the Rangers to come out with a win at the madhouse known as Bell MTS Place. Instead, they suffered another tough loss by a score of 4-3 to the Jets in front of 15,321 screaming fans at the best home ice advantage in the NHL.

There’s no shame in losing to a quality opponent who is still considered a strong West contender despite some inconsistency. I haven’t been too impressed with Winnipeg. They had a subpar road trip losing badly at Montreal and lowly Ottawa before taking the final game in Buffalo. They have great talent, but something’s missing.

Maybe that’s where a Kevin Hayes or Mats Zuccarello comes in with the February 25 trade deadline less than two weeks away. Given how much Patrik Laine has struggled, Hayes sure would look good in Winnipeg white and blue. We’ll have to wait and see.

One thing I do know. There’s been a lot of silence from the Rangers regarding the future of Zuccarello. A popular player who loves it here, he could go first with Hayes likely going right to the 3 PM buzzer. They might not be the only two. Adam McQuaid, who also likes playing in Manhattan, could be on the move. It sounds like they would like to keep him. But teams are interested.

As for the game, the Rangers gave a good effort following a poor first period that saw the dangerous Jets outscore them 2-0 and outshoot them 19-10. Winnipeg can do that to anyone. Especially at home where they’ve lost just six times in regulation. In fact, their last regulation home loss was on Dec. 29. They improved to 21-6-3 in their 30th game at The Peg.

The start wasn’t ideal. Mark Scheifele scored a pair against starter Henrik Lundqvist in a lopsided first that mostly was played at five-on-five. After three days off, Lundqvist wasn’t sharp. He let in a stoppable Scheifele shot from a sharp angle that clearly ticked him off. He banged his stick in frustration.

A Winnipeg onslaught followed. Credit to Lundqvist for settling down to make some big saves, including a point blank denial on a redirect try. He certainly was peppered. The seven D, 11 forward lineup didn’t help matters. I have no clue why Vinni Lettieri was called up if coach David Quinn was gonna sour on him after two games. Unless Ranger brass really believes they can fetch something for Brendan Smith. They actually got a seventh round pick back from the desperate Canucks for Marek Mazanec. Holy moly. He likely has more value than either Smith or the disaster that is Kevin Shattenkirk. It’s sad.

The Rangers did get the only power play of the first. But the first unit was not good. It wasn’t until the second unit came on that actual shots were attempted. A good rush by Tony DeAngelo nearly led to a tying goal. However, Connor Hellebuyck robbed Pavel Buchnevich with a nice glove save on a quick one-timer from the slot. We would hear from Buchnevich later. It was one of his better games.

Unfortunately, the Buchnevich near miss along with the four blind nice ignoring a Dustin Byfuglien can opener, allowed the Jets to avoid a two-man disadvantage. Instead, Scheifele got his second of the stanza with a deadly snipe on a odd man rush by changing the angle to beat a screened Lundqvist high to the far side at 18:36. Blake Wheeler made the play by dropping for Scheifele and then driving the net with Smith to give his lethal teammate all the time he needed. A well executed play by two great players.

The second period was totally different. It was all Blueshirts. They skated with purpose and poise. Attacking the Jets, they got the only two goals early and late while holding a 17-9 edge in shots. It was a impressive response from a team that never quits under Quinn. He won’t allow it.

After an off first in which they were victimized twice, the top line came right back with the kind of strong play we’ve come to expect. Mika Zibanejad was right in the middle of it again. The red hot number one center scored a weird one from Chris Kreider and Zuccarello at the 38 second mark to cut it to 2-1. On a good cycle from his linemates, he took a Kreider pass and threw a shot towards the net that went in for his 24th of the season.

Despite Jesper Fast and Neal Pionk each taking interference minors over five minutes apart, the Rangers penalty kill got the job done. It was a frustrating game for the hard working Fast, who took a cheap shot from the dirty Byfuglien. He left to get checked out before returning. Not penalized in the first for an obvious infraction, this time Byfuglien went to the sin bin for his ridiculous elbow that stunned Fast. The best part is the Blueshirts made him pay on the scoreboard.

Having scored in the first minute of the period, they decided to also score in the final minute to tie the score. After watching the top unit pass, pass, and pass the puck aimlessly with Shattenkirk rarely looking at the net and Zibanejad for some reason on the wrong side, I finally got my wish. Out came the second unit. They didn’t disappoint. A simple and smart play by Strome resulted in Buchnevich getting his 10th at 19:19. Taking a DeAngelo pass at the right point, Strome made a nice shot pass for a open Buchnevich, who redirected the puck past Hellebuyck to make it 2-2. It was his first goal in nine games. His last two came in a 1/15 home win over Carolina.

Buchnevich should be much better than his stat line of 10-9-19 in 39 games this season. He has the skating, shooting (when he does) and playmaking instincts to become a more consistent scorer. As Quinn has demonstrated in a few benchings, it really is up to him. Over the last 10 games, Buchnevich has six points (3-3-6). The issue is it’s not every night he’s producing. It’s spread out. If he can ever find the consistency, only then can he become the top six forward fans want him to be. He turns 24 on April 17. Buchnevich is a Group II free agent this summer. A prime candidate for a bridge deal.

With the score tied, Wheeler got nabbed for a incidental tripping minor on Brady Skjei with 18 seconds left. Quite honestly, it wasn’t a penalty. His skates accidentally caught Skjei’s causing him to fall. The officiating is not so good. They miss blatant infractions and call ones that aren’t, which drive knowledgeable fans like the loud ones in Winnipeg nuts.

With still 1:42 remaining on the power play to start the third, Zibanejad got another odd one for number 25. On what was a strange play, he took a feed from Shattenkirk and fired a shot that changed direction twice off two Winnipeg defensemen. The puck went off both Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey with Zuccarello in front distracting Hellebuyck to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 57 seconds of the third period. That goal puts Zibanejad into first place ahead of Kreider, who remains on 24. Neither have ever reached 30. That should change.

Before they could get too comfortable, Scheifele made a good play feeding a vacated Joe Morrow (really) for a quick one-timer that eluded a unscreened Lundqvist to tie it back up at 5:22. Fittingly, it was Morrow’s first. Of course it was.

With the crowd still buzzing, the Jets converted a odd man break when Mason Appleton (who?) turned into Dale Hawerchuk by centering for Andrew Copp for his sixth right through Lundqvist at 7:21. Just like that, two Winnipeg goals in a 1:59 span gave them a 4-3 lead. On the game-winner, Vesey was late on the coverage with both Skjei and McQuaid right where they should’ve been, defending the front of the net. Just inexcusable. How often are our forwards not in the right spot? It’s not always the D.

The Rangers certainly deserved a better fate in this one. They held a 10-8 lead in shots in the third. So, following the brutal first, they outshot the Jets 27-17 and 37-36 overall. Hockey doesn’t make much sense. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 55 of 56 shots on his 23rd birthday in the 4-1 home win over Toronto. His 55 saves were only fewer than Mike Richter’s franchise record of 59 by a Ranger in regulation.

Oh well. The team now gets two days off before traveling to Buffalo. They face off at 7 PM Friday. Then come the loathsome Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday for one of those annoying early 12:30 matinees on NBC. Maybe they can invent some new excuses for any Evgeni Malkin is so dirty. Glad he got at least a game for his stick swing that luckily missed Michael Raffl.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Joe Morrow, WPG (game tying goal and an apple)

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (two more goals for a team leading 25 as he continues to prove he’s a legit number 1 center)

1st 🌟 Mark Scheifele, WPG (two goals for #’s 29, 30, and a primary assist)

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Game #56: Terrible Tuesday – Blues 8, Devils 3

These days I might as well just recap games with Harry Doyle soundbites. Watching Major League would be better than just about any Devils game in the second half of this season. Seemingly the tank is in full force as guys are being almost randomly ‘rested’ (Blake Coleman being the latest to come up with a mysterious upper body injury out of nowhere before tonight’s game), our best goalie is in the minors and a game like tonight only makes me more happy that’s the case, and there’s absolutely zero accountability left for stinking up the joint.

Although there does seem to be some accountability for calling out a teammate playing like horsecrap, since according to beat guy Chris Ryan and others watching the game, goalie Keith Kinkaid had some words for Damon Severson during a stoppage in play after two of his many gaffes led to a couple of goals against. Perhaps that’s why coach John Hynes left in Kinkaid to die giving up all eight goals tonight in a game that was never close where the Devils were thoroughly outplayed, outworked and outcoached – what else is new?

Funny thing is 8-3 actually makes the game sound closer than it was. It was 7-1 before two useless junktime goals in the third. Being outshot 31-11 in the first two periods is indiciative of both the talent level and compete level now. While the Blues may be playing much better than they were early in the season, if a team like this can smoke us imagine what the true beasts of the league would have done tonight…it really could have gotten into double digits. I’m not sure that’s ever happened in Devils history. Well come to think of it one obvious example of that comes to mind – the Mickey Mouse game. As it is, the last time we gave up this many goals to the Blues was in 1985 when we were more or less an expansion-caliber team.

I’d say that describes the team on the ice now except Vegas reset the bar for what an expansion team is last year. As far as individual performances, on the one end Alex Pietrangelo had an insane +/- of +6 for the night, scoring two goals and an assist. On the other you have to look far and wide to find someone that didn’t stink. Mirco Mueller had a goal and was actually a +1 in nearly twenty minutes of icetime. Guess that’ll get him benched or thrown on the injured list before Thursday’s game. If Kinkaid was shell-shocked after Tuesday’s game against the Kings just imagine what he must be going through now. Lordy.

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This date in Rangers History

Monday marked the 51st Anniversary since the Rangers played their final game at the Old Madison Square Garden. Here’s a classic photo of that night.

I’ve always marveled at how old pictures are always better. This action shot above is a perfect example of that. It’s wonderfully captured. There’s definitely something unique about the classic photograph from the past. It’s art.

I often wonder what it would be like if the Rangers still had their own arena to play in. Would it be a better home advantage? Instead, they share MSG with the woeful Knicks. The Garden has so many big events. From concerts to prize fighting to other shows, they’re always busy. I guess it would be cool to have just a hockey arena revolving around the one franchise that’s delivered a championship since I’ve been alive. Even if it has been 25 years, at least we got 1994.

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Game #55: Birthday boy Georgiev treats Rangers to 4-1 win over Maple Leafs with incredible 55 saves

Happy Birthday 🎂 Alexandar Georgiev! I mean really. What else could the just turned 23-year old rookie goalie have done in carrying the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 win over the mighty Maple Leafs to conclude a homestand?

Georgie was spectacular. On his birthday, he treated himself to a incredible 55 saves to turn the Leafs away at a way too loud Toronto contingent at The Garden. There are many other adjectives to describe his performance. Brilliant, super and unconscious are three that fit.

Good for him. I’ve seen quite a few unappreciative fans claim that Georgiev sucks. Maybe the only thing that sucks is their utter ignorance for just how hard it is for both goalies to play on a nightly basis with a roster that gives up way too many shots and quality chances. On a night Henrik Lundqvist got another break before the team flies out to play at Winnipeg on Wednesday, Georgiev had to deal with some bad penalties.

Facing a scary Leafs power play, he was the team’s best penalty killer, as coach David Quinn summed up. As crazy as it sounds, Toronto got 23 shots on goal in four power play chances. That included a ridiculous seven on their first that followed leading scorer Mika Zibanejad striking for his 23rd goal just 28 seconds in on a follow up past Toronto backup Garret Sparks. A play set up by linemates Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider.

Leading early, they were tested immediately following a Brendan Smith minor for tripping at the 2:26 mark. It was a shooting gallery for a laser focused Georgiev, who turned aside John Tavares and Nazem Kadri a lot during the game. Kadri led all skaters with 12 shots followed by eight from Tavares, including a point blank opportunity in the third that had him staring at the ceiling.

That’s how dialed in Georgiev was. At one point in the first period thanks to a unnecessary Kreider minor in the offensive zone, the Leafs led in shots 22-6. By the end of the period, the Rangers had closed within 22-14. At five-on-five, they didn’t play too badly. Even on the second of a back-to-back, the Leafs wound up with 33 of their 56 shots at even strength. But the Rangers did a solid job by getting 27 of their 30 shots at even strength. That included all four goals.

Ironically, it was a rare mistake that allowed Kasperi Kapanen to tie it with a unassisted goal at 10:35. An errant Tony DeAngelo pass came out of the zone right to Kapanen, who made a good move and shot for the only blemish on Georgiev.

However, following a successful kill of a Kreider interference minor, he came out of the penalty box and was directly involved in Jimmy Vesey’s first goal in 10 games. Ryan Strome fed Kreider, who cut in and perfectly set up a wide open Vesey for a laser top shelf past Sparks for his 12th at 14:05. He’s been getting chances the past few games, but it hasn’t been going in. Finally, he ended a nine-game drought. Vesey has been better since Quinn moved him up to a line with Kevin Hayes and Pavel Buchnevich.

The Leafs onslaught continued in a crazy second that remained scoreless thanks to more clutch stops from Georgiev. He denied all 17 Toronto shots while facing several more on consecutive power plays before the halfway mark.

Frustration boiled over for Leafs forward Zach Hyman, who responded to a incidental Neal Pionk hit that knocked down top scorer Mitch Marner. He challenged and Pionk accepted. It wasn’t much of a fight. They both served five-minute majors despite some mild protests from Rangers fans. Pionk was back in as a seventh defenseman replacing Vinni Lettieri. He took DeAngelo’s place on some shifts with Marc Staal late in regulation due to DeAngelo having a off night.

Despite getting outshot 39-23 through two periods (56-30 overall), the Blueshirts competed hard during each shift. They stayed out of the penalty box in the final period.

Georgiev continued to baffle the Leafs, who fired 17 more shots on net without any success. Even with the annoying “Go Leafs, Go!” chants from what was a embarrassing amount of Toronto supporters, it didn’t matter. They got nothing. That included a point blank opportunity for Tavares with a perfect rebound that Georgiev got across on to stone him. A remarkable save by the Bulgarian backup that got more support from appreciative fans.

On some good work by Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid added the big insurance marker with 9:01 remaining. His point shot changed direction past Sparks at 11:59 for his second goal in the last four games. A nice reward for a hard working player, who likely will be moved soon along with Zuccarello and Hayes.

Speaking of which, some solid defensive play allowed Hayes to match his jersey number with an empty netter at 19:40. If this was it for either him or Zuccarello, they’ll be missed. The Rangers only have two home games left before the Feb. 25 trade deadline in two weeks. Crazy stuff.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Adam McQuaid, NYR (key insurance marker for 2nd goal in 4 games for gritty veteran with character)

2nd 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 primary assists and more grunt work from one of the most popular Rangers)

1st 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, NYR (a remarkable 55 saves on 56 shots including 23 of 23 on the power play to give himself a birthday present)

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Game #55: Sleepy Sunday – Devils 3, Hurricanes 2

Welp clearly I went to the wrong weekend game, at least judging by the end result. Of course judging by shots on goal, particuarly in the second period where the Canes dominated play it really wasn’t that much better of a game than yesterday’s snooze-fest other than the actual result. Clearly the goaltending was better, as at least Keith Kinkaid sometimes can make the big saves to hold a lead. Certainly the offense was better, not only given that three goals > two but the two early markers in the first period gave the team a cushion they almost, but couldn’t quite blow.

I actually watched more of this game than I thought, which is to say more than zero. I tuned in long enough late in the first period to see Marcus Johansson’s first goal that made the score 2-0, then next really started watching the last 10-15 minutes of the third long enough to see Johansson’s second goal of the night off a spectacular feed from Jesper Bratt, then a 6-on-4 Canes goal late that gave me some PTSD flashbacks to playoffs past with a frantic finish as the team held onto a one goal lead and their lone win of a four-game homestand.

I’m not even sure why I was as invested in the team winning as I was today. Maybe I was just tired of seeing bad hockey and worse results. Not as if the game meant anything to us though it certainly matters to Carolina being in the thick of the playoff chase. Perhaps that had something to do with it, playing spoiler to a rival. Much like Derek still feels animosity to the Kings for 2014, I and many Devil fans still have a little extra loathing for the Canes who ended our seasons in 2002, 2006 and 2009 – each playoff defeat more excruciating than the last. Even if ghosts of playoffs past like Cam Ward and Eric Staal are long gone, the uniform is still enough to annoy me. Plus Rod Brind’Amour is behind the bench so there’s that too, along with their stupid over the top victory celebration that’s gone from being fun to being contrived.

At least we prevented them from doing their victory celebration at the Rock, beating them in both their games here so far. Even playing spoiler isn’t as important as how the team wins games. Super soph Nico Hischier got the first star without scoring a goal, although he did put up three apples (assists). Pavel Zacha scored the first goal on the power play early in the first period, Bratt’s assist I already documented so the younger guys played well for the most part. Even recent Wild castoff Ryan Murphy played well in his first game as a Devil, getting an assist on the Zacha PP goal. It also doesn’t hurt when guys play up their trade value like Johansson. Some might say Kinkaid as well but I’m dubious of just about any goalie’s trade value at this point, especially one with the ugly splits he has.

Ironically my last home win in attendance was Mackenzie Blackwood’s shutout of the Canes just before the new year. Still waiting for my first live win in 2019, likely I’ll be waiting till March unless they beat the Penguins on ’90’s throwback night. By then, there’ll probably be another few new players on the roster as guys get dealt by the late February deadline. Before then comes a tough three-game roadtrip through St. Louis, Chicago and Minnesota in a four-day span before rolling back into the tri-state area for the rest of the month.

I’ll probably follow from even more of a distance on the trip than I do the home games. After all it’s tough to get motivated for games that mean little. I could say the same thing about the players and the coaches, but hey this is why you get paid the big bucks. Not to mention it’s their jobs and reputations on the line out there, not ours. And I’m not motivated by anti-winning yet either, maybe in the last few games I’ll care about the damn lottery (a la Jets-Packers late in the season where I passed up a chance to go to that game with friends in part cause I was too ambivalent about the actual result by then), but until then there’s still too much time left in the season for that and too many guys need to show they’re worth something either for next year or deadline dealings.

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Game #54: Sad Sack Saturday – Wild 4, Devils 2

In an already bad season for the Devils this has been a pure week from hell. As a message board post succinctly put it, we lost to and got a goal scored on us by both Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, and in the middle lost to Lou Lamoriello’s new team who also happens to be an area rival. Lordy. Like most Devil games over the last couple of months, this afternoon was completely unwatchable. I couldn’t tell whether it was us playing the Wild or the 2000 Devils playing the Leafs in that famous six-shot playoff game. Too bad I was contractually obligated to watch.

Honestly the only reason I didn’t sell this pair of tickets is because I’m already passing on a lot of other games this month as it is. Plus Saturday afternoon games are a more likely vehicle to find people to socialize with, as today proved. I ran into one couple who I hadn’t seen in a couple months and sat with them for most of the final two periods and got to meet up with another friend postgame who I hadn’t seen in years. Ironically the latter guy I’d met through adult dodgeball so he got to congratulate me on my team’s win a couple days ago. As usual the best things about going to Devil games no longer have anything to do with the hockey. At least it’s not the gambling lounge for me, though I suspect it might be for a few other people.

Even our early-season home success seems like a distant memory now, as the last home win I was in attendance for was back in 2018, making me 0-3 in the new year with every one of them fairly convincing losses – though the Leafs game and today was illusory close for a while, in neither game did I really feel we had a shot once we got behind given how both teams dominated us. Somewhat fittingly, the one real good stretch we had after the first period when Jesper Bratt scored early in the third period to pull it to within 3-2, Frankencory struck again allowing yet another soft 1980’s style unscreened slapshot goal through the pads to give the Wild back it’s two goal lead which might as well have been twenty.

Coincidentally that’s also the number of consecutive regular season losses for goaltender Cory Schneider. If Thursday’s game was one step forward, today was two steps back as he lost his stick on the Wild’s first goal early in the game, then had that disasterous momentum-killing fourth goal against. Not that this team really deserved to win having just a few good minutes between spurts early in the first and third. Still you would have liked to have seen Cory make Thursday’s game stick from an execution standpoint. Seeing Cory try to get off the schneid was one of the few things that was s keeping my interest in the actual game, especially with our dissapearing lineup.

As Derek posted a few days ago, we did trade Brian Boyle to Nashville, starting the inevitable pre-deadline selloff. I haven’t commented yet in the blog but like I said in the comments section of his post, he had an unusual impact for a guy who was a fourth-liner here less than two years, and not just cause of the whole cancer thing. Although certainly everyone’s reaction to both his disagnosis and the way he handed it bonded him with the fanbase and his teammates at warp speed, people also respected the player and person he is, ask any of his other teammates during his various stops in his career including the Garden. Just like only a handful of players can gain respect from both the Mets and Yankees fanbases (David Cone and Curtis Granderson come to mind), only a handful have universal respect from Ranger and Devil fan alike, Boyle’s certainly one of them.

Starting the selloff isn’t the only factor that’s decimated our lineup though. As the season continues to go further and further down the drain, the injuries continue to mount. Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Stefan Noesen and now Miles Wood all weren’t available due to various injuries. I might even be missing a couple but I don’t really care to look at the moment. Marcus Johansson got hurt in a seemingly scary fashion in the third, but perhaps the only good thing about today’s game is he was able to come back later on. That and the return of rookie Joey Anderson who had a brutal leg injury early in the season. Selfishly that’s part of the reason I was glad we traded Boyle three weeks early, might as well cash out your expendable assets once you get a fair price in case injury hits. Plus in Boyle’s case he gets a deserved chance at a Stanley Cup, so it was a win-win situation there.

Sadly the events of this week pretty much ensure the next game I bother to watch will be the one I attend on the 19th, when they have ’90’s night at the Rock against the Penguins. While I’m not as big on the David Puddy bobblehead as some, at least it’ll make it a hot ticket to go and clearly the Seinfeld bit will be the headliner in spotlighting the ’90’s just like Ghostbusters was for ’80’s night. Maybe the team will even show up since it seems the only times they ever have after the first four games are when they see Penguin jerseys.

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Messier Quote on Winning

I may as well since Mark Messier knows a lot about winning. The six-time Stanley Cup winner who captained the Rangers to their only Cup since 1940 had this simple, but very truthful quote about what it takes to win.

It also applies to being successful. Listening to him speak is a pleasure. He really should be a motivational speaker. He’s so good at it. Hell. I would probably be too since I’m not shy about speaking in front of people.

I think it’s important for this year’s Blueshirts to take away what they learned from having The Captain speak to them in the locker room. Sure. The game didn’t go the way they envisioned, getting shutout by another hockey God Petr “Weekes” Mrazek. But they didn’t play poorly.

The first two periods were on even terms with both Mrazek and Henrik Lundqvist taking turns making great saves in a old fashioned goaltender duel. The difference was the Canes were determined in the third period, showing off their superior skating and team defense to win the game 3-0. It was closer than the final score with Carolina getting two empty netters in support of Warren Foegle’s game-winner and Mrazek’s 27 saves.

For the young players who’ll be a big part of the future, they must learn from this experience. It’s so rare that you get to meet a championship team as they did on the ice for the ceremony and behind the scenes in the room. This should be a worthwhile lesson moving forward for the franchise that’s headed to a second consecutive playoff miss.

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A special night that truly will last a lifetime for legendary ’93-94 Stanley Cup champion Rangers

Kovy and The Troll: On a memorable night that honored the 25 Year Anniversary of the ’93-94 Rangers Stanley Cup, Alexei Kovalev is still a kid at heart bringing The Troll with him to celebrate with teammates. AP Photo via NYRangers courtesy Twitter and MSG Networks.

If you were fortunate enough to be at the old building between 33rd and Seventh above Penn Station on what shall forever be a special night, then you witnessed a big part of your sports livelihood at Madison Square Garden. As I stated in a previous piece, the 1993-94 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers were part of the fabric of the city that captivated fans in this town 25 years ago.

It’s still hard to fathom that it’s been so long since captain Mark Messier hoisted the Cup 54 years in the making for a once cursed franchise on a unforgettable New York summer night on June 14, 1994. The anxiety and anticipation leading up to what was a wonderful ceremony anchored by who else but Sam Rosen and John Davidson, with the latter hearing it from the crowd. Those “JD, JD, JD!” chants from what Adam Graves coined the Garden Faithful were overwhelming. It was a warm welcome home indeed for the popular former Rangers netminder who guided the 1979 team to a Stanley Cup Final before losing to the hated Canadiens. The same passionate man who became a fixture in our households for his terrific analysis on the game and classic, “Oh Baby,” call that was the title of the ’93-94 Stanley Cup Championship video.

For all the hoopla surrounding the return of almost the entire roster except Alexander Karpovtsev, who was well represented by his wife and daughter, receiving a nice ovation, it was truly something to behold. I shed some tears when Messier mentioned how much they missed Karpovtsev during a beautiful speech spoken straight from the heart. It was really emotional. It’s hard to believe the solid depth defenseman, who became one of the first Russian players to have his name on the Stanley Cup, has been gone since that tragic plane crash of KHL team Lokomotiv in 2011. Like everyone on that championship roster, he played a key role. Karpovtsev, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov and Sergei Zubov are part of NHL history as the first Russian players to have their names engraved on the Cup. In case you’re wondering, Sergei Makarov was a year too late with Calgary.

Being up in Section 419 (formerly 411) for the special ceremony that began at 6:30 sharp, what stood out was how well done it was. Anytime you can have Sam and JD back again emceeing, it invokes memories of my childhood. Between the two voices the Rangers family all know and love, and the classic Rangers intro music and old goal song that didn’t need any dusting off for this lifetime fan, it certainly was moving. I stood for most of it as did our family. I can’t remember cheering like that so much in such a short period. Not even the special run in 2014 compares. Had that team won, we could be talking about something very different.

It doesn’t matter what happened in the past between architect Neil Smith and coach Mike Keenan. They were there along with assistant coach Dick Todd and associate coach Colin Campbell. A former coach I don’t particularly like due to how he handled my favorite player, Kovalev. One of many mistakes that were made during that post Stanley Cup era. It happens sometimes. For one night at least, I found it in my heart to forgive him. Besides, this was way bigger than old skeletons in the closet. This was about honoring a special team that as Messier accurately noted, were a family. Not a group or even a team. A family that came together and rallied around each other to deliver that championship, and march down the Canyon of Heroes forever. A goal Keenan talked about and even showed them during camp.

Even better than seeing all the players introduced except also Brian Noonan, who coaches, I loved how Messier made sure to mention how after 25 years, some things do change. How they all miss Potsie. He also didn’t forget Steven McDonald or Viktor Smith, who took his own life at 21 in September. The son of Neil Smith. It was important for the former Rangers GM to mend fences with current Garden CEO James Dolan at a dinner for the players and coaches commemorating the 25-Year Anniversary. I can’t imagine the pain and grief he’s going through.

The perfect touch following Messier’s speech that really hit home with everyone, was a nice video of that championship team with everyone seated. Even Smith and Keenan. The thing about that family is they persevered to get it done. Like every champion in any sport. Hockey is a team game, which is what makes it great. If the players are not all pulling in the same direction, you can’t win. Just listen to his speech to the current roster before the game.

That team did. From character depth guys like Eddie Olczyk, Mike Hartman, Joey Kocur, Doug Lidster, Craig MacTavish, Noonan, Glenn Anderson, Greg Gilbert, Jay Wells, Mike Hudson, Nick Kypreos, Karpovtsev, and Glenn Healy to core pieces Messier, Graves, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Kovalev, Zubov, Nemchinov, Esa Tikkanen, Jeff Beukeboom, Kevin Lowe, they all knew their roles.

Stephane Matteau will never have to buy a drink ever. That’s how revered the Game Seven hero of the Conference Final is. Was there a smarter player than Steve Larmer? I still say he deserves inclusion into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Who can forget his penalty shot goal against the Blackhawks at old Chicago Stadium in his emotional return? What about Zubov’s huge game-winner at the Islanders in the Nassau Coliseum. A goal that broke a long winless drought against their biggest rival who they swept in the first round. From a psychological standpoint, that was big.

I still find it ironic that Graves broke Vic Hadfield’s single season goal record by notching a pair for numbers 50 and 51 against his former team in Edmonton. Graves’ record of 52 would last 22 years before Jaromir Jagr broke it by scoring a franchise record 54 in ’05-06. That was the kind of season it was.

Even though it didn’t last forever prior to the ’18-19 Rangers getting shutout 3-0 against the playoff chasing Hurricanes, the way the tribute to the team was handled was first class. One thing about MSG. They never get these type of ceremonies wrong. The perfect touch following every current Ranger shaking Messier’s hand while part of the conclusion, was not having anyone sing the national anthem. Indeed, it was done by legendary Garden icon John Amirante from the memorable Game Seven against the Canucks on video. The way it should be! We may have lost him last year. But he’s forever etched in our hearts as a unique part of the Rangers family.

Having the opportunity to salute every player, coach, team staff, broadcaster and executive was what made it special. They didn’t need the Stanley Cup there even if I wondered if it would be. It didn’t have to be. The players were enough. A extended family that truly will last a lifetime.

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Game #53: Tired Thursday – Islanders 2, Devils 1 (SO)

Poor Cory Schneider must feel like he’s caught in his own personal Groundhog Day, doomed to live an endless loop like Phil Connors in the movie about the creature that can supposedly predict an early end of winter by not seeing its shadow. In the movie, no matter what Connors did whether it was good, bad or ugly he couldn’t get out of his timeloop until he finally let go of all his vices and embraced life. Perhaps it’ll take something extraordinary like that for Cory to finally get out of the endless loop of losing he’s in.

Although for most of this season and the end of last year, Cory made his own trouble, last night against the Islanders – upon his return to the lineup after two months on IR and in exile – was a jump from the bad old days of this year to the bad old days of three years ago where Cory would somehow find a way to lose despite terrific play and brilliant stats. There’s literally nothing you could pin on Cory last night. He stopped 27/28 shots in the hockey game and 3/4 in the shootout, only giving up a breakaway goal to Matt Barzal in the first period after Blake Coleman headed to the bench from the box and failed to pick up Barzal lurking. And after a shootout of doom reminiscent of 2013-14, Josh Bailey finally beat Cory with the Isles’ fourth attempt of the skills competition. Since the Devils went 0/4 in the shootout, that was all the Isles needed to get the extra point.

At least Cory can take something positive out of last night even if he’s now 0-16-3 in the regular season since the end of 2017, yes I’m visiting moral victory town for a moment but the last time Cory stepped on Prudentian Center ice he was booed and jeered out of town for two months after a hideous three-goal first half of the first period against Vegas. Last night he was getting his name chanted by fans who were trying to will him over the finish line and finally break his eighteen-game regular season losing streak. Instead, this worthless shell of a team managed to let him down, with plug Kevin Rooney of all people scoring the only goal of the night early in the first period. And while it was obvious coach John Hynes was going to back his player publicly, compare this clip with the last postgame Cory played where a reporter asked if they were considering waiving him.

By all rights this season Cory should have had at least two wins, even with his poor play in the other games – the game in Anaheim where the team scored three ‘own goals’ on him, and last night. As much as I think Cory’s shot and will never again be the goalie people thought he was a couple years ago, it would be nice to see him once the win jinx is finally over. Even actually earning the team’s only playoff win last year didn’t erase it. At least assuming Cory plays against the Wild tomorrow there’ll be something to watch in the Saturday matinee at the Rock, besides the umpteenth chance to watch Zach Parise get booed, several years after his own angst-ridden departure from New Jersey in the wake of the team’s run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.

Maybe on another night I would have been at last night’s game or even done a blog on it afterwards, but given the team’s position in the standings and an expected rout by the Isles it was an easier decision to cash out my tickets for a credit even before it became obvious my rec league dodgeball team would be playing a final last night. Amazingly we won against a better team, and one who had several friends and former teammates on it for my first league win after multiple seasons playing, and just in the nick of time too before our three best players all left us for different reasons.

After that, I thought maybe it was an omen that Cory would finally break his jinx. So I was annoyed when I found out how the game concluded. Results might not mean much to the fans but gosh almighty, it would have been a big boost to Cory. I wasn’t quite as annoyed as my buddy Rudy though, since he actually called me from the arena starting a mini-rant, then hung up after a minute when he said security was looking at him funny. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little at that, even if last night was no laughing matter for Cory or his teammates who are still desperate to get him off the schneid.

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Remembering the ’93-94 New York Rangers 25 Years later

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.

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