In celebration of the 1994 Stanley Cup’s 25th anniversary, we count down the New York Rangers 10 most important moments.
Friday, June 14, 2019, marks the 25th anniversary of the New York Rangers winning the 1994 Stanley Cup. Monday, June 17 will serve as the anniversary of when they finally put on their parade down the Canyon of Heroes.
It all happened thanks to Mark Messier and company, who put the demons of 1940 to bed, ending a 54-year drought. While it was a quarter of a century ago, Blueshirts fans still talk about it to this day.
Many will tell you that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. After all, hockey is a sport that’s practically unpredictable and the playoffs span over two-and-a-half months. Any Ranger fan old enough to remember that magical spring can tell you how gut-wrenching it was to watch those playoffs. The Blueshirts sent the fans through many ups and downs, as they always do. However, it was all worth it in the end.
With such a grueling postseason and so many moments to choose from, here are the 10 most important moments from the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup run.
10. Sweeping the Islanders
This moment spans an entire series. Why? Because the Rangers exercised some other demons.
The New York Islanders were a big thorn in the side of the Rangers. After winning four straight Cups from 1980-83, Isles fans loved to rub it in the face of Ranger fans that they had more Cups in that time than the Rangers did in their entire existence. The chants of 1940 were very loud at Nassau Coliseum from the ’80s onward.
In March of that season, the Rangers won at the Coliseum for the first time since October of 1989, getting a huge monkey off their back. They showed they can win at the Coliseum. Well, if Ranger fans were not fully convinced after that victory, the playoff series that followed had them breathing easier.
The Rangers didn’t just defeat the Islanders. They embarrassed them. The Rangers outscored the Islanders 22-3. They chased Ron Hextall in Game 1 and ended up forcing Islanders coach Al Arbour to start Jamie McLennon in game two only to suffer a similar fate.
The Rangers continued their beat down in Games 3 and 4 on Long Island to advance to the second round and the Islanders responded by rebranding their image. Spoiler alert: it didn’t go well. Leading in points this series was Brian Leetch with eight, while Alex Kovalev led in goals with four. In net, Mike Richter stopped 87 shots on 90 attempts.
As a side note, the Rangers broke another away losing streak against the Islanders this season. The Rangers got their first win at the Barclays Center in January since the Isles started playing there in 2015.
9. Beating the Capitals
While the previous series might be sweeter for Ranger fans, since they beat their crosstown rivals, winning the next round was an even bigger step. While not quite as dominant as the first round, the Rangers blew by the Washington Capitals in five games.
The Rangers outscored the Caps 20-12 in the series. The Blueshirts took the first three games while the Caps were able to salvage game four to force a game five at Madison Square Garden. Washington battled, but a Leetch goal with under four minutes left turned out to be the series winner.
Once again, it was Leetch who lead the Rangers with nine points in the series, but Adam Graves led in the goal column with four. Richter again stood tall with 114 saves on 126 shots. The first two playoff series for the Rangers were quick, but the next two rounds would be the biggest obstacles in their quest for the Cup.
8. Winning Game 2 of the Stanley Cup
For the first time since game one of the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers won a Stanley Cup game. Considering the Rangers dropped game one in overtime to the Vancouver Canucks, Game 2 was a must win. But, if avoiding going down 0-2 was, somehow, not a big enough reason to win, the Rangers needed to get yet another monkey off their back.
Dating back to the ’79 Final, the Rangers lost five straight Stanley Cup games. In those five games, the Rangers were outscored 21-13. Thanks to an early goal from Doug Lidster, a short-handed goal by Glenn Anderson, an empty netter from Leetch, and a 28-save performance by Richter, the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup game in 15 years.
Winning this game was the start of a three-game winning streak in the Stanley Cup Final for the Rangers. The Canucks did have an answer of their own, but we’ll get to that in the next spot.
7. Leetch and Graves Goals to Start Game 7
The Rangers went up 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final. The Garden was ready to see that Cup in Game 5, but it wasn’t meant to be. Vancouver won the game 6-3 and won 4-1 in game six in B.C. to force game seven.
Momentum was heavy on the Canucks side as the series went back to The Garden. The Rangers needed to take the momentum back and step their game up. Thankfully, Leetch and Graves were there to do it.
Leetch won the Conn Smythe Award after putting up 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and a 19 +/- rating. Leetch was the first American-born player to win the trophy.
Just over 3.5 minutes later, after Zubov made a pass to Kovalev to force a mini two-on-one, Graves had the puck all alone in the slot, where he beat Kirk McLean stick side to give the Rangers a two-goal lead in game seven.
These two goals were crucial in getting the Rangers back to their winning ways in that winner-take-all game. Something even more important happened in this game, but we’ll get to that later in this list.
6. Richter Saves Game 6
Heading into the second period, the Rangers were desperate. The Devils had the ice tilted in their favor as they peppered shots on net. However, the Devils had an obstacle in their way. It was Richter.
Despite quality scoring chance after quality scoring chance, Richter held is own and didn’t let the Devils on the scoresheet for the rest of the game. When New Jersey could not capitalize on these opportunities, the pendulum swung back in favor of the Rangers as they looked to force Game 7.
Richter stopped 28 of the Devils’ 30 shots to keep the Rangers in the game. However, another hero emerged to help the Rangers overcome this deficit, but we’ll get to that later.
5. Matteau's Double OT Winner ... In Game 3?
Stephane Matteau will forever be an immortal in the eyes of Ranger fans. His goal in game seven of the Conference Finals was crucial to the Rangers advancing to the Stanley Cup. However, what the younger generations of Ranger fans might not hear as often is that that goal was the second time in the series Matteau scored in double overtime.
With the score tied at two, the Rangers and New Jersey Devils went into overtime, where neither team broke through on the scoresheet. This was the second game of the series that went into double overtime. In Game 1, another Stephane, this time Stephane Richer, scored in double-overtime to be the hero for the Devils.
Now it was game three. Both teams were looking for a hero. With just over six minutes gone by, the Rangers had Matteau, Kovalev and Anderson up front. After New Jersey failed to clear, Matteau took the puck near the crease, then backhanded a shot past Martin Brodeur to secure game three for the Rangers.
After the goal, ESPN color commentator Bill Clement, said, “Stephane Matteau scored the goal of his life.” Little did he know, Matteau would actually wait eight days later for that title.
4. The Save
When talking about superstar goal scorers of the ’90s, one name that comes up often is Pavel Bure. Heading into the postseason, the Russian Rocket was the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 60. So when he was on a breakaway in game four of the Stanley Cup Final, all Leetch could do was trip him. The trip drew a penalty and Richter would face Bure on a penalty shot.
The Rangers were trailing 2-1 6.5 minutes into the second period. The 22-year-old phenom had a great chance to put the Rangers in a bigger hole. After previously facing Bure on a breakaway in the All-Star game earlier that season, Richter had an idea of what was coming.
Bure went up ice with a full head of steam. Richter came out of the crease to take away room for Bure to shoot. When Bure was near, he deked right, went back left and was met with the right pad of Richter. The shot was stopped, and the Rangers deficit remained at one.
The move that Bure tried on Richter was almost the exact same move he tried to beat Richter with during the NHL All-Star Game just months earlier.
With just 16 seconds left in the period, Zubov scored a power play goal to tie the game at two. The Rangers added two more goals late in the third from Kovalev and Steve Larmer to get the 4-2 win and bring them one game away from the Stanley Cup.
Richter stopped 28 shots that night, and it’s hard to imagine the Rangers winning this game if he doesn’t stop Bure from making it a 3-1 game.
3. The Guarantee
Messier’s most iconic moment as a Ranger. Maybe even the most iconic moment of his career.
With the Rangers down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would force game seven.
Facing elimination, Messier told reporters, “We know we are going to go in there and win Game 6 and bring it back to the Garden.” The cover of the New York Post had Messier with the words, “We’ll win tonight.” However, things didn’t look good early on for the Rangers.
As previously mentioned, the Blueshirts were down by two goals and Richter stood on his head. After Richter kept the Rangers in it, and coach Mike Keenan called a timeout to settle things down, they began to take the game back. With under two minutes left in the second, the Rangers drew blood. Messier set up Kovalev for a slapper that beat Brodeur to make it 2-1.
With just under three minutes gone by in the third, Messier tied the game at two with a backhand shot. Almost 10 minutes later in the game, on a four-on-four, Messier did it again. Kovalev let a shot rip from the top of the circle. Brodeur stopped the shot, but there to bury the rebound was Messier to make it 3-2.
The Devils pulled the goalie late in the third on the power play looking to tie. However, Messier intercepted a John MacLean pass in front, then sent it all the way down to the empty net to seal the deal.
The Captain delivered on his promise. Not only did the Rangers win as he said they would, but he also guided them to victory with a natural hat trick. Moments like this are why Messier’s Hall of Fame plaque starts off saying, “Considered perhaps the greatest leader in all of pro sports.”
2. Messier's Game-Winner in Game 7
Wait a minute, is this really Messier’s goal or did Brian Noonan tap it in? Here, you can be the judge of that, but regardless, it reads Messier on the scoresheet. No matter who it was that touched it, this was the goal that won it all.
This goal turned out to be the game and Stanley Cup winner for the Rangers. This power play goal put the Rangers up 3-1 at 13:29 into the second period and they wouldn’t score another goal for the rest of the game. However, it was just enough to help the Rangers edge past the Canucks.
Vancouver would get one closer after Trevor Linden scored on the power play just 4:50 in. The Canucks got really close to tying the game, but perhaps no moment made Ranger fans cringe more than when Nathan LaFayette rang one off the pipe with just over six minutes left. The ice was tilted to the Rangers end in the final 10 minutes.
Fortunately enough, Richter stood tall, and the Rangers wouldn’t allow another goal. The Rangers kept the Canucks off the scoresheet long enough to finally hoist up Lord Stanley’s Cup and this goal by Messier (or Noonan) proved to be the difference maker.
So that was No. 2. What moment could possibly be more important than the goal that won the Rangers their first Cup in 54 years?
1. Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!
Almost a no-brainer. The most important goal in Ranger history. Matteau’s second double overtime-winner in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals to send the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals.
As amazing as it was, this moment almost didn’t happen.
The Rangers were clinging on to a one-goal lead from Leetch from the second period. However, the Devils were persistent and Valeri Zelepukin scored a greasy goal with eight seconds left in the game. Once again, both teams were looking for a hero.
Neither team was able to end it in the first overtime, which sent the series to double overtime for the third time in the series. After both teams had quality scoring chances just four minutes in, a Viacheslav Fetisov pass was deflected into the corner where Matteau went in to get it.
After taking the puck around the net, with Niedermayer on his tail, Matteau put a wrap-around shot on Brodeur that, by some miracle, ended up in the back of the net. For the second time, Matteau was the hero in double-overtime.
This goal sent the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1979 where they would take home the Cup for the first time since 1940. It also had a very iconic call by Rangers radio announcer Howie Rose.
“Fetisov, for the Devils, plays it across ice into the far corner. Matteau swoops in to intercept. Matteau behind the net. Swings it in front, he scores! Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stephane Matteau! And the Rangers have one more hill to climb, baby, but it’s Mount Vancouver! The Rangers are headed to the Finals!”
Though Matteau didn’t have the star power of Messier or Leetch, this goal was enough to make him a legend at The Garden. Without this goal, the Rangers don’t advance and they don’t break the curse, and that’s why this moment is the most important one of the 1994 Stanley Cup run.
The current Rangers are still looking to duplicate this magic. Though it was 25 years ago, Ranger fans can always look back to this amazing run and smile. As Sam Rosen said, “this one will last a lifetime.”