Stephane Matteau‘s double-OT Game 7 goal that sent the New York Rangers to the finals still stands the test of time 25 years later.
The split-second that allowed an entire city to breathe has stood the test of time. From hope to misery, flat-out anxiety to ecstasy, Game 7’s closing moments of the 1994 Eastern Conference Final remains the city’s single-most revered sports moment of all-time.
First, he swooped in to intercept. Then he found himself behind the net. Lastly, he swept it in front.
Twenty-five years later, the Stephane Matteau goal STILL represents the single greatest split-second moment in New York sports history for so many reasons. #NYR (@MSGNetworks) pic.twitter.com/EiLgJsSj2x
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) May 27, 2019
Matteau didn’t know what to do. Jeff Beukeboom was lost. Steve Larmer couldn’t help himself. Esa Tikkanen, battling in the crease like a madman, as only he could, found himself tripped up two or three times en route to the celebration.
Twenty-five years ago today (Memorial Day 2019), the New York Rangers finished the greatest professional American sports series ever.
The upstart New Jersey Devils took Game 1 in overtime after another late Rangers collapse (a nagging habit through the ’94 playoffs). Two straight Rangers victories later, including Matteau’s first double-OT goal in the series in Game 3, New York responded.
Another Rangers season felt hopelessly and similarly lost after a Game 4 disaster (hello, Mike Keenan) and a Game 5 heartbreak. Mark Messier‘s godly Game 6 heroics set the trade-deadline acquisition up for immortal status.
Non-hockey fans will look at the play and shrug unimpressed. So what? The man got lucky. He threw the puck at the crease and Martin Brodeur made a mistake. How in the world could this be considered the greatest New York sports moment of all-time?
The naysayers fail to miss the context.
For 54 years, the Rangers battled demons of Stanley Cup past. Year in, year out, the latest in a long list of veteran star acquisitions came, hailed as the next hero, only to fail. Messier changed it all; the Messiah changed an entire organization’s attitude.
After breezing through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers (the best regular-season record), welcomed in the Devils, the “other” tri-state hockey team once labeled a “Mickey Mouse organization” by The Great One (Wayne Gretzky).
In no world could this amateur club derail the dream—despite past demons.
How wrong we were.
New Jersey took an entire hockey era and turned it into a way of life. The neutral-zone trap mixed in with low-scoring affairs strangled an entire league over the course of the next decade-and-change. The third-seeded Devils were up to the challenge in making this series, arguably, the greatest in NHL history.
Grasping a 1-0 lead in the final seconds of Game 7, nothing could stop the Rangers now. Then Valeri Zelepukin happened.
What a nightmare.
Just 7.7 seconds to go. For a defending Stanley Cup champ to relent a heartbreaking goal like this is one thing; for it to happen to a team battling a 54-year drought is enough to silence an entire building seating nearly 20,000 rabid fans.
It was not meant to be. At least we still had the Knicks (who were battling the Indiana Pacers simultaneously in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals). Rationalization suddenly stepped forward, front and center. A cruel yet familiar way to end Rangers seasons appeared on the next page of this same, tired story.
After a scoreless overtime of pure torture, double-OT produced Sam Rosen’s most frantic call in his illustrious career as a play-by-play man.
“Where’s the puck?!”
By no means was this fun. Fun? Come on, now; The stakes had gone far beyond the “fun” level. This was life. It was everything or nothing … even for Rosen.
But just as Rosen screamed, “Where’s the puck?” was nearly as soon as Slava Fetisov made the mistake of a lifetime, leading to the single-greatest New York sports moment in history.
What compares? John Starks’s “The Dunk” remains one of the greats, but in Game 2 of an eventual losing series against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, it’s no contest. Larry Johnson’s 4-point play, again, solid; but without a chip, it cannot surpass Matteau.
Yankees moments such as Babe Ruth’s called shot and Don Larsen’s perfect game cannot be tossed aside. The stakes, however, don’t stack up. For such a successful franchise piling up the titles year after year, none offer the same release.
The closest competition comes from the 1986 Mets. Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson’s intertwining fate ranks as a close second.
Nevertheless, watch the Matteau play again. Listen to the sounds. Hear the deafening screams and delirious voices. Only a moment of this ilk comes around in the midst of the perfect of circumstances: an all-time series, a starving franchise, and a crowd of diehard, rabid individuals cheering its team on.
Twenty-five years later, Stephane Matteau‘s double-OT Game 7 goal stands the test of New York sports time.