Rangers need to copy 1994 Stanley Cup champions, but there’s a catch

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

For so much of this season, there’ve been comparisons made between the current New York Rangers and the 1994 Blueshirts squad that won the Stanley Cup. If ever there was a time for the Rangers to copy those champions, now would be it.

The Rangers trail the Florida Panthers 3-2 in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final, meaning that Game 6 on Saturday is their first must-win of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Win or their magical, record-setting season is over.

Thirty years ago, those Rangers were in the same boat. They had lost Game 5 of the conference final at home and were facing a bitter end to a special season, at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in a punishing physical series, that had already featured two overtime games.

You know the rest. Mark Messier guaranteed a Game 6 win on the road at The Meadowlands and then delivered a third-period hat trick to force Game 7, which the Rangers won in double overtime on Stephane Matteau’s legendary goal. Seven hard-fought games later, the Rangers were Stanley Cup champions after outlasting the Vancouver Canucks.

So, sure, that’s the template these Rangers must try and follow. Well, maybe not the guarantee. But certainly the clutch performances from their best players. Igor Shesterkin, brilliant so far against the Panthers, must channel his inner Mike Richter. Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad must replicate Alexei Kovalev and Messier. Adam Fox must do his best Brian Leetch impression.

As they’ve done so often this season, the Rangers must simply find a way. It’s in them to win Game 6 on Saturday despite the 3-2 loss in Game 5 on Thursday, just look at the 34 comeback wins this season.

But there is a “huge difference” between these teams, Matteau pointed out to Forever Blueshirts last week.

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Credit: Jim Cerny

Mike Richter, Stephane Matteau, Adam Graves. — Photo: Jim Cerny

“That team has so many leaders, so many guys that had won before,” Matteau explained.

Then he reeled off the names. Messier. Kevin Lowe. Esa Tikkanen. Craig MacTavish.

That’s 17 Stanley Cup rings among those four players and that’s before they each added one with the Rangers in 1994.

But that’s not all. There was also Glenn Anderson, Greg Gilbert, Jeff Beukeboom and Adam Graves. They combined for 11 championships prior to 1994.

“You’ll never have another group of leaders like that on one team again,” Richter said.

These Rangers have five rings — three for Jonathan Quick and two for Barclay Goodrow. That’s not nothing.

But it’s unfair to compare these two teams despite the similar circumstances they face at this exact juncture of the playoffs. That 1994 team was under far more pressure to win than the current team. Trust me, if you weren’t there in 1994, 54 years since the last Cup, you just don’t know the burden that great team carried. They needed every last leader, every last champion, to get past the Devils, the Canucks and it’s own history.

Now 30 years without a championship certainly weighs on the current team. But it’s just not the same. Just like this is a different team from that one. Just because its the Rangers, doesn’t mean it’s a direct comparison.

But that said, these Rangers can still write their own winning story. They’re more than capable of staring down adversity and gutting out two wins in three days to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 10 years.

It starts with simply playing better in every facet of the game and not letting Florida dictate how the game will be played. Throw in some special-teams magic, continued brilliance from Shesterkin and maybe a good bounce or two. They have a chance. The difference is razor thin in this series, so far, no matter how much the Panthers’ relentless play has ruled the day.

But these are not the 1994 New York Rangers. This is the 2024 New York Rangers. And we’ll soon see how they measure up.

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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