We continue our New York Rangers Turning Point with a look back at 1994. Was it really Messier that changed the Rangers’ fortune in Game 6?
For New York Rangers’ fans, 1994 was a magical year that ended a 54 year Stanley Cup drought.
Decades of disappointment and frustration were erased and fans were finally treated to a ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan.
While that Final series against the Vancouver Canucks was certainly no cake walk for the Rangers and their fans, the Eastern Conference Final against the New Jersey Devils was an all-out war.
Two elite hockey teams and cross-town rivals were battling for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.
The series had a little bit of everything. Nailing biting double overtime games were mixed in with blowouts by both teams, but the Devils had the upper hand five games into the series.
With a 3-2 series lead going back to New Jersey for Game 6, it seemed as though New York Rangers’ fans were in for another disappointment.
An already bleak situation became even bleaker after New Jersey tallied two unanswered goals in the first period to take a daunting 2-0 lead.
When discussing this game, everyone will point to Mark Messier’s improbable hat trick as the turning point in the series.
But I disagree.
The Rangers seemed like a completely defeated hockey club following that first period onslaught.
But with 1:41 left in the second period, everything changed.
Rangers’ winger Alex Kovalev perfectly positioned a slap shot from the top of the right face-off circle, which sailed through traffic and past New Jersey’s rookie goaltender, Martin Brodeur.
The Rangers were finally on the scoreboard.
While momentum is a heavily debated subject in sports, no one can deny that Kovalev’s goal completely swung the pendulum in favor of the Rangers.
This is why his goal was the turning point for the Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While Messier’s hat trick will go down as one of the greatest performances in sports history, I say that it would have never happened had Kovalev not scored his goal at the end of the second period.
The timing of his goal was just as important as the goal itself. Scoring that takes place in the closing minutes of a period can change the momentum of a game.
But in the playoffs, the power of this phenomenon grows exponentially.
Up until Kovalev’s goal, the Rangers were playing tight and out of sync. They resembled a team that lacked confidence.
His goal turned the tables.
Kovalev’s goal awoke the New York beast in Brendan Byrne Arena (now Izod Center), and the Rangers came out in the third period a loose and confident team.
The stage was set for Mark Messier.
Messier would go on to score three unanswered goals in the third period to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.
The high-anxiety affair was the third double overtime of the series, and one of the most memorable games in New York Rangers’ history.
But it’s very possible that none of this would have happened had Alex Kovalev not scored his timely goal in the closing minutes of that second period.