May 30, 2020

Rangers Rivalry Series: Penguins VS Rangers

Rangers celebrate series win over Pittsburgh (Getty Images)

The word rivalry, a noun, is defined as “competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.” While it is an accurate statement to note that most rivalries are born out of proximity and geographic location (two teams sharing a region of a country/fan base) some rivalries, like the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, are hatched in the Stanley Cup playoffs and become the epitome of the true definition of the term.

The Slash

The cities of New York and Pittsburgh are not mortal enemies in any fashion. These two American metropolises are far enough apart on a map of the United States that sharing media markets and fighting for allegiances is not something either side has to worry about. After all, the Mets and Pirates share no real animosity towards one another. The Jets and/or Giants approach a potential match-up with the Steelers as they would any other generic opponent.

Graves (Getty Images)

So, why and how did the Rangers and Penguins become such a heated, hated and sustainable rivalry? Well, the hostilities all began thanks to one seminal moment in game 2 of the 1992 Patrick Division Finals that involved Penguin superstar Mario Lemieux and Ranger winger Adam Graves.

Lemieux had the puck and was stick-handling just inside the Ranger blue line. The towering number 66 was being hounded by the aggressive and relentless Graves as the Penguins were on the power play. Graves, being the consummate penalty killer, was trying to whack the hands of “Super Mario” in order to get the Penguin All-Star to lose control of the puck. Back then, this type of stick infraction was common and rarely was ever called a penalty. Graves wound up his stick and hit Mario’s hand, perhaps, a little harder than he had planned. Lemieux went down like he was zapped by a stun gun. Graves scooped up the loose puck and led a short-handed rush towards the Penguin zone, but the referee blew the play dead and called the Ranger forward for a two-minute slashing penalty.

If the referee felt there was a deliberate intent to injure, he could have called Graves for a five minute major match penalty and tossed him out of the game. He didn’t. He flagged Graves for the two-minute minor foul and that was it.

Graves was allowed to play in Game 3. It wasn’t until Game 4 and the mounting pressure from the Pittsburgh press and Penguins organization, not to mention a mysterious, belated ex-ray which showed Mario’s hand was in fact broken, that the rugged Ranger forward was ultimately suspended for the remainder of the series.

Francis Goal and Futility

The Blueshirts would come out victorious in game 3 thanks to an overtime goal by tough guy Kris King. However, game 4 will forever haunt Ranger fans and goaltender Mike Richter with the now infamous “Ron Francis Goal” and the Penguins would go on to win the series in six game on their way to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

These two biter rivals would lock horns again in the playoffs four years later. Lemieux and his then-side kick and future Ranger Jaromir Jagr toyed with and eventually overwhelmed their New York counterparts on their way to a four-games-to-one series victory in the 1996 playoffs. Lemieux and Jagr combined for and astounding 15 goals and 19 points in those five games.

In 2008, the two combatants would square off once again in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins current Dynamic Duo of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, like Lemieux and Jagr had done in the previous decade, were the deciding factor in the series that culminated with Marian Hossa’s Golden Goal in overtime of game five to send Pittsburgh to the next round and New York home for summer vacation.

The Comeback

The above mentioned three series losses combined with the Penguins four game sweep of the Rangers in the 1989 playoffs made what the Blueshirts accomplished in the springs of 2014 and 2015 that much more special, gratifying, and endearing. 2014 saw Rangerstown and all its entirety, rally around their grieving son, Marty St Louis, to achieve the franchise’s first ever series victory when trailing three-games-to-one which included Henrik Lundqvist’s Herculean performance in the Steel City in game 7 to seal the victory.

Marty St. Louis (getty)

2015 saw the President’s Trophy winning Rangers dust off their inferior neighbors some 370 miles to the west in five games thanks to an overtime Golden Goal from winger Carl Hagelin that sent the World’s Most Famous Arena into a frenzy.

The venom and vitriol Rangerstown has towards the Keystone State’s two NHL teams is something to behold, Mention the Flyers or the Penguins to a card-carrying member of the Garden Faithful and you’re likely to receive a snarl and a snicker in return. There are quite a few different ingredients that go in to making an intense and combative rivalry alright. For the Rangers and the Penguins, it all started because of a stick foul almost 30 years ago that has stood the test of time.

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