1994 TWENTY YEARS LATER, PART 3: THE CURSE IS OVER!
“THE WAITING IS OVER! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions, and this one will last a lifetime!” The words still strike a chord in every Ranger fans’ heart. It’s so hard to believe that it has been almost 20 years since that June 14th summer day in 1994. I was in my early 20’s and remember my single purpose being centered around the Blueshirts. I even took white shoe polish and wrote on my back windshield:
LET’S GO RANGERS
Yes, I was a fanatic and I want to feel that way again, one more time. That feeling of believing and giving myself to a Rangers team that deserved their first Stanley Cup win in 54 years.
The NY Rangers drew the rival Islanders in the 1st round. This fan will not lie, I was worried. The thought of being knocked out by the Islanders who the year before made it to the Eastern Conference Finals made me physically ill. Being a New Yorker working on Long Island, I knew way too many Isles fans. And they reminded of “1940” every day.
NY steamrolled the Islanders 6-0 in the first 2 games and my chest swelled with pride. All of a sudden Islander fan chants of “1940” bounced off of me like I was wearing a bullet proof vest. The brooms came out as the Rangers completed the sweep at the Nassau Coliseum and the chant “We Want Hextall” was officially born. When that series was over, legendary coach Al Arbour said “They played superbly” and picked them to go all the way.
|Game 1||April 17||New York Islanders||0||New York Rangers||6|
|Game 2||April 18||New York Islanders||0||New York Rangers||6|
|Game 3||April 21||New York Rangers||5||New York Islanders||1|
|Game 4||April 24||New York Rangers||5||New York Islanders||2|
Next up were the Caps, another team that gave the Rangers fits in the playoffs. Two words for ya, “John Druce”. Only Rangers fans 30 and older will get that. Regardless, I was worried again. NY pretty much picked up where they left off with the Isles and save for a blip in game 4, marched to the Eastern Conference Finals
|Game 1||May 1||Washington Capitals||3||New York Rangers||6|
|Game 2||May 3||Washington Capitals||2||New York Rangers||5|
|Game 3||May 5||New York Rangers||3||Washington Capitals||0|
|Game 4||May 7||New York Rangers||2||Washington Capitals||4|
|Game 5||May 9||Washington Capitals||3||New York Rangers||4|
THE GREATEST SERIES EVER
The NJ Devils scratched and clawed their way to the Conference Finals needing 13 out of a possible 14 games to get there. For some reason, I was really confident even though they finished second only to the Rangers in points on the year. Hell, we beat them all 6 times we faced them in the regular season, right? Oh boy! I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It started with Stephane Richer winning game 1 in Double OT. The Rangers would dominate game 2 allowing that false comfort to sneak back to me. In Game 3 there was some foreshadowing as Stephane Matteau scored in Double OT to give NY the 2-1 series edge. Heck, I even took the white shoe polish back out to freshen up my car sign. Then all hell broke loose.
The trapping Devils patiently stalked and beat the Rangers back to back to take a 3-2 series lead and put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. By this time Mike Keenan and Neil Smith weren’t even talking. The players were pretty fed up too. After an incident involving a pre-game meal which was a result of a misunderstanding between the two, Joey Kocur approached his old buddy Neil from their Detroit days and said “Why don’t you fire the f_ck?”
In game 4, Keenan sat Leetch for over 15 minutes. He pulled Richter after only 2-0 and benched Messier as well. What the hell was he doing? Teaching a lesson in the Eastern Conference Finals? This was a Ranger nightmare.
The players were so despondent after the game 5 loss, Messier knew he had to do something. So he told his team that he would talk to Keenan and get their message across. Mess appealed to his stubborn head coach, “We’ve got a great opportunity here, we’re so close. We just have to win this series and we’ll win the Cup. You need to give us every chance to win.” According to the Captain, the message was well received. However, the Rangers were down and needed a lift. They got it the day of game 6 when they saw the headline “WE’LL WIN TONIGHT”.
Game Six is easily the greatest Rangers playoff game in franchise history. There I was in my traditional spot on the couch with my Marlboro Mediums and Orange Juice with ice. I’ve long since quit smoking, but there is no doubt between the smokes and the acid in the OJ that I have really bad acid reflux today! The start of the game didn’t help as the Devils at home poured it on the Rangers. Before you knew it, they took a 2-0 lead. I was close to vomiting and crying, at the same time.
Then the Captain took over. First by setting up Alexei Kovalev to get the Rangers on the board late in the 2nd. That goal, for the first time all game put doubt in every Devils’ players mind. In the third period, Messier completed a game for the ages scoring a hat-trick. The game winner was so impressive as he drove not only the puck past Brodeur but Bernie Nicholls too. The Rangers were going home to play game 7.
One game to play for the right to win the Cup. One game to shave years off the lives of every fan involved. Brian Leetch opened the scoring with a beautiful spin-o-rama goal and it almost held up to win the game. But it’s never easy for the Rangers as Valeri Zelepukin scored off a mad scramble with 7 seconds left to send it to overtime.
“Matteau swoops in to intercept. Matteau behind the net, swings it in front. He scores! Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stephane Matteau and the Rangers have one more hill to climb baby and it’s Mount Vancouver. The Rangers are headed to the Finals.” That’s the call no one will ever forget by Howie Rose on WFAN. Just as in game 3, Matteau won it in Double OT! The Cup was now within reach.
|Game 1||May 15||New Jersey Devils||4||New York Rangers||3||(2OT)|
|Game 2||May 17||New Jersey Devils||0||New York Rangers||4|
|Game 3||May 19||New York Rangers||3||New Jersey Devils||2||(2OT)|
|Game 4||May 21||New York Rangers||1||New Jersey Devils||3|
|Game 5||May 23||New Jersey Devils||4||New York Rangers||1|
|Game 6||May 25||New York Rangers||4||New Jersey Devils||2|
|Game 7||May 27||New Jersey Devils||1||New York Rangers||2||(2OT)|
SLAYING THE DRAGON
Mark Messier never hid from it. Since day one, he talked about “slaying the dragon”. There was no taboo when it came to talking about the Stanley Cup. Even Mike Keenan had the Rangers put together a video of what it was like to win a championship in New York so they could visualize their goal. Now for the first time in my Ranger fan life, I BELIEVED!
Game one was a stunner as Kirk McLean stopped over 50 shots and a kitchen sink before Greg Adams scored in the extra session. “NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER” that was my rally cry and I was sticking to it.
The Rangers rattled off the next three wins and I could literally taste the champagne. We were dominating! Brian Leetch was unconscious en route to being the first American ever to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. Mike Richter was amazingly acrobatic stopping puck after puck, including a Pavel Bure penalty shot. Graves, Kovalev Zubov and Larmer were all contributing too.
Just like every other Ranger fan I had Stanley Cup fever! I was so cocky that I did the unthinkable. My uncle, the man who showed me my first ever Rangers game on channel 9 versus Detroit with Bob Froese in net, invited me to his house Cup party. So, I left behind my traditional spot on the couch at home and took my act there. The Rangers lost game five 6-3 and I swore, never again.
“Come on. We’re better than Vancouver” I assured myself. They’ll win it in 6. Nope! Here we go again. Now I am in full panic mode and nasty as a dog crapping tacks. Still there I was, stoic in the face of every Islander fan chanting “1940” as I took out my white shoe polish one last time. Gently going over the letters one by one:
LET’S GO RANGERS
Brian Leetch opened the scoring off the prettiest passing play I’ve ever seen. “Messier to Zubov. Zubov feeds Leetch. He scores!” Sam Rosen’s words were as beautiful as the play on TV. Follow that with an Adam Graves tally and John Davidson’s trademark “Oh Baby!” and the Rangers were almost home. Sure the Canucks would cut it down to 1, setting the stage for the Rangers real MVP, Mark Messier to score the eventual game winner on the power play.
With 20 minutes to play, Trevor Linden made sure that Ranger fans would not be comfortable. So again, I lit my cigarette and chucked my OJ praying for the time to fly. Minutes moved like hours as Vancouver gave it their all, even hitting the post on one glorious chance. Then with seconds on the clock the Rangers cleared the zone 5,4,3,2, icing? What? The greatest moment in history ruined by an icing? I was livid, what could go wrong with a little over a second on the clock? Everything. That’s how we Ranger fans are built. Yet there was trade deadline acquisition Craig MacTavish doing what he was brought in to do, win a key face-off. Zero Seconds.
Looking back, that ridiculous icing allowed me the time to savor what the 1994 Rangers accomplished. There was Mark Messier jumping like a kid on the playground. Mike Richter and Brian Leetch with arms raised high then dropped into an embrace. The two kids from the Rangers system were now Champions. In the background I can see Steve Larmer still checking his man, he never quit on a play. Finally the Rangers, “MY” Rangers were Champions.
“After 54 years, your long wait is over. Captain Mark Messier, come get the Stanley Cup.” were the words commissioner Gary Bettman belted into the microphone. The moment Messier laid his hands on the Cup it became official, we were the champs. The Captain’s smile went from ear to ear. He shook uncontrollably as he hoisted the Cup over his head. Sitting at home, I raised my arms overhead too. I could feel the Cup in my hands as if I were number 11 himself.
Shortly after the locker room celebration began my doorbell rang. It was my uncle, who drove from Glendale to Middle Village and planted a kiss on my lips! No, it wasn’t awkward. It was awesome and fitting coming from the man who introduced me to my life long passion. We went out and partied at a fine “gentlemen’s establishment” into the wee hours of the morning.
To all my younger readers, I hope you read this piece and find yourself hungry for a Ranger Cup memory of your own. To those of you as old or older than me, I hope you enjoyed reliving the 1994 Cup through my memories. I know I loved every second of sharing it with you all.
|Game 1||May 31||Vancouver Canucks||3||New York Rangers||2||(OT)|
|Game 2||June 2||Vancouver Canucks||1||New York Rangers||3|
|Game 3||June 4||New York Rangers||5||Vancouver Canucks||1|
|Game 4||June 7||New York Rangers||4||Vancouver Canucks||2|
|Game 5||June 9||Vancouver Canucks||6||New York Rangers||3|
|Game 6||June 11||New York Rangers||1||Vancouver Canucks||4|
|Game 7||June 14||Vancouver Canucks||2||New York Rangers||3|
Next week we wrap up the 4 part series with the aftermath of this great Rangers victory.
Part 1: The Architect, Neil Smith
My Memories 🙂
Losing the Edge by Barry Meisel