1994 Cup champions believe Rangers have what it takes to bounce back in playoffs

Credit: Jim Cerny

NEW YORK — Mike Richter, Adam Graves and Stephane Matteau know a thing or two about handling adversity in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and coming out on then other side to become champions. So it says something that each is confident that the current New York Rangers will be fine after losing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final to the Florida Panthers.

“Bouncing back is part of sport, part of life,” Richter said, when standing next to the other two 1994 Stanley Cup champions at the Matteau Foundation charity event here at Bohemian National Hall on Thursday.

“This Rangers team, there are a lot of analogies being made (to the ’94 champions) but one is they bounce back, they find a way. Even that last game, they’re a goal away and hit a post (in the third period). So, being able to take a punch in the face and coming back is pretty critical in a playoff run.”

In 1994, the Rangers lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. Against the New Jersey Devils in the conference final, they rallied from a 3-2 series deficit and a 2-0 second period hole to win Game 6 on the road, riding Mark Messier’s hat trick to victory. Then in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers persevered on Matteau’s famous double-overtime goal only after surrendering the game-tying goal with 7.7 seconds left in regulation.

“You need that resiliency in the playoffs because you’re going to hit challenges, individually and as a team,” Richter explained. “Just hearing Steph’s story, for example, [he] doesn’t play a period (in the first overtime) then you’re asked to go out there and change the history of the organization in a sense. … If that was someone who didn’t have the same constitution as Steph, someone who was put through what [coach Mike Keenan] put you through, maybe you’re not playing as well as he did in that second overtime.”

Graves pointed out that it can’t just be one player who’s strong mentally or fights through adversity. It must be the entire group. There can’t be anyone not pulling their weight.

“That ’94 team, everyone was a piece to the puzzle, everyone was important,” Graves said. “And this team, it organically grew and it’s a complete team.”

Related: Mark Messier believes Rangers need Matt Rempe spark in Game 2 against Panthers

Rangers ‘have that experience’ to bounce back, Mike Richter says

Mike Richter 1994 Stanley Cup champion
Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal NewsCredit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News

The 2024 Rangers steeled themselves in Game 6 of the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes after losing the previous two games and trailing 3-1 entering the third period. Taking a page out of Messier’s book, Chris Kreider scored a natural hat trick in the final stanza to finish off a tough opponent.

Now the Rangers are tasked with rebounding after losing 3-0 in the conference final opener on home ice.

Richter believes that this current team is “battle tested” and capable of “bouncing back” in Game 2 and beyond. Part of that is the Rangers raced back with a vengeance after a subpar month of January. But another is that they’ve tasted sour defeat in previous seasons, falling short in the 2022 conference final when they lost in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning after taking a 2-0 series lead, and then falling in seven games to the Devils last spring in the first round, again after opening with two wins.

So, yeah, battle tested. Not unlike the 1994 Blueshirts, who blew a second-round series lead in 1992 against the Pittsburgh Penguins after winning the Presidents’ Trophy that season, and then missed the playoffs altogether in 1993.

“That aspect of losing is an important one,” Richter said. “You’d love to figure things out right away, but it’s in the history of the game, having hiccups and then coming back, in the same year or over time. You learn from those mistakes and defeats.

“i think you watch teams that have a lot of resiliency in the playoffs, because you’re going to hit challenges, if you haven’t had [adversity] during the year or prior to it, it’s a little bit of a tougher road to hoe if you haven’t been through it. These Rangers have that experience.”

Matteau likes what he sees from these Blueshirts, too, heading into Game 2 at home against the Panthers on Friday.

“They find ways to win,” Matteau stated. “The Rangers core has been together for several years so they have that. They do good job adjusting. So, they do remind me of us in ’94.”

Then, Matteau added one final point with a chuckle.

“We’ll know more in two weeks.”

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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