Recalling a Rangers Comeback for the Ages in Enemy Territory

Mike Gartner speed and shot made him a fan favorite (getty)

Kudos to the Madison Square Garden Network for opening up the video vault during the Covid-19 pandemic and treating the Garden Faithful to an assortment of vintage Ranger classics from yesteryear to try and satisfy our collective thirst for competitive sports. Until professional and amateur leagues are given the green light by health and medical officials to reopen safely and begin or resume their seasons, watching and revisiting players and events that were tucked away in our memory banks is a wonderful and much needed detraction.

Patrick Division Clash

One particular Ranger contest that the MSG Network has not been able to locate in their vast video library took place on Boxing Day 1991. On this date, the day after Christmas, the Rangers headed down to Washington to play the Capitals in a Patrick Division battle. The Ranger players must have drank too much eggnog the day before because Washington stormed out to a 6-1 first period lead. Now, I was actually at the Nassau Coliseum on this evening watching Islanders versus Devils. I was able to score a set of free tickets. I never turned down a chance to see a live hockey game, especially in those days even if that meant venturing into enemy territory.

When the scoreboard operator at the Coliseum showed the partisan crowd in Uniondale the beating the Rangers were taking, the Islander fans erupted into first, a thunderous applause and then a vociferous “1940” chant. At the time, the Isles were losing their game 2-0 to New Jersey. I was dumbfounded as to why the fans clad in blue and orange could be so happy when their own team was struggling.

Anyway, this was before the Internet and smartphones. So, the only way we’d know the score from the contest taking place down in Washington was when it was made public on the electronic scoreboard. We hadn’t seen updates in quite some time which was strange because flashing a losing Ranger score on the center ice scoreboard always got the Coliseum Faithful going.

The Update

Mike Gartner beats former team (NHL.com)

Finally, during a stoppage in play midway through the third period of the game we were watching, the operator posted the update from Washington. The score read Capitals 6, Rangers 5. Whoa! You could hear and feel a tangible gasp circulating through the arena as Islander fans were worried that the hated Rangers were battling back

Returning the attention to the game going on in front of us, the Devils had a two goal lead over the home team with less than four minutes left in regulation. The Islanders scored shorthanded narrowing the deficit to a single goal. Then, with one second left on the clock, Islander forward Derek King tied the game sending the arena into absolute bedlam! This game was going to overtime.

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Wait! What?

During the brief intermission before the extra session would commence, the game in Washington had gone final and the scoreboard operator at the Coliseum, who was probably reluctant in doing so, flashed the final score. It read, “New York Rangers 8, Washington Capitals 6.”

The Rangers, once trailing by five goals, went on to score seven answered completing this miraculous comeback. As for the Islander fans, they went from being in a frenzy to going completely silent upon the notification from Washington. Their team just had a wonderful comeback of their own, you’d think the occurrence some 200 or so miles to the south would not dampen the spirits in Uniondale. But, they did.

“I never saw a comeback like this,” Ranger Coach Roger Neilson said. “Everything went wrong in the first period. Coming back from a 6-1 deficit is some feat in this league.”

LA TIMES

What a Comeback

December 26th, 1991 taught me two very important lessons. First, the 1991-92 Ranger squad lead by Hart Trophy winner Mark Messier and Norris Trophy recipient Brian Leetch, was a true contender and secondly, Islander fans needed to get their priorities straight. Wanting to see your chief rival lose is all well and good. However, a rival loss should never be more important than your own team winning. The Devils and Islanders would end up in a 5-5 tie, but all you heard people talking about exiting the arena was the improbable Ranger comeback.

I arrived back to our Long Island home just in time for the 11 o’clock news. I waited with baited breath for the sports anchor to show highlights of that evening’s NHL action. All seven of the Blueshirts unanswered tallies were shown as I sat there in astonishment, grinning from ear-to-ear. Amazingly, the Rangers had eight, count em, eight different goal scorers during this historic comeback including tough guys Joey Kocur and Kris King.

The 1991-92 Rangers would go on to earn the franchise their first ever President’s Trophy for finishing the year with the most total points in the entire league. While the team came up short in their second round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the comeback-for-the-age on the day after Christmas in 1991 is something I and the rest of Rangsertown will never forget. If the powers that be at the MSG Network can somehow locate this Garden gem and add the contest to their cluster of vintage games, it would bring a big ol’ smile to this “Long Suffering” Ranger fan’s mug!

via hockey-reference.com

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