Remembering '94: Game 1

Captain Mark Messier faces the media the morning after the Rangers' stunning Game 1 loss. AP PhotoJoe Tabacca

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll reminisce here about the postseason run by the 1994 Rangers, who ended a historic drought by winning the team’s first Stanley Cup Since 1940.

The Rangers rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs, going 8-1, but ran into a roadblock in the conference finals against a New Jersey Devils team they’d beaten six times in six games in the regular season. They won that series in seven games to set up a meeting with a Cinderella team, the Vancouver Canucks, who upset the Toronto Maple Leafs to advance to the Cup Finals. Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of Game 1 of that series.

The Details

The Rangers were heavily favored to win the series. Not only did they have a significantly better regular-season than the Canucks, but they had dominated the Canucks in recent times, going 12-1-3 against them in the previous 16 meetings.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Kirk McLean would stymie the Rangers repeatedly in Game 1.But Game 1 taught them that this wouldn’t be so easy.

The principle educator in this case was Canucks goaltender Kirk McLean, a future Ranger a few years later, who survived a bombardment of Rangers opportunities, keeping the game within reach.

The Rangers had a 2-1 lead on goals by Steve Larmer and Alexei Kovalev, but in an eerily similar scenario to Game 7 of the conference finals, the Canucks would tie the game with a minute to play on a goal that somehow trickled into the miniscule space between Mike Richter’s arm and the goalpost.

The Rangers would finish the game with 54 shots, but their best scoring chance in overtime didn’t even count as a shot on net, as Brian Leetch’s wrist shot off a pass from Esa Tikannen beat McLean, but hit the right goalpost.

The puck took just the right bounce to Canucks star Pavel Bure, who was able to pass it ahead to teammate Cliff Ronning and set up a 2-on-1 for the Canucks. Ronning hit a streaking Greg Adams, who whipped a shot past Richter (who had come way out of the net to challenge the play) for the game-winning goal. It was the second straight overtime winner for Adams, who had knocked the Maple Leafs out of the playoffs with an overtime goal in their series.

Rangers fans would turn off their TVs and walk out of Madison Square Garden with their mouths agape in disbelief. As Rangers broadcaster John Davidson said, it was like Jesse James had just come to town and stolen away a hockey game.

What they wrote

“Kirk McLean showed the city that never sleeps that there will be some restless nights ahead while Manhattan awaits its first Stanley Cup in 54 years.”

- Ray Parrillo, Philadelphia Inquirer

“… let's just say he pulled a Patrick Roy on the New York Rangers. He Roy-ed the Rangers with 52 saves. He Roy-ed the Rangers with 17 saves in overtime. He Roy-ed the Rangers to a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals series.”

Karen Guregian, Boston Herald

“Tempt fate too many times and it bites back,”

Laura Price, Newsday

Quote of the Day

“''We felt we played well enough to win, but we didn't win so we have to play better."

- Rangers captain, Mark Messier

Stats to Know

MacLean would record more wins in his postseason career against the Rangers (3) than he’d have against them in the regular season. He finished 2-11-2 against them in regular-season games.

The Rangers are 4-6 all-time in Stanley Cup Openers, but have only won one of their last four (1979 against the Canadiens). This is one of two times that their Stanley Cup opener went to overtime. The other was in 1940, when they beat the Maple Leafs, 2-1.