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The 1994 Stanley Cup champs.Our series on the 1994 Rangers concludes with their most memorable triumph, the clinching win in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks. After losing Game 1, the Rangers won the next three games to put themselves on the verge of clinching. But a 54-year drought was not meant to end easily. The Canucks won Game 5 and 6 to set up a winner-take-all showdown for the title and a chance to be remembered forever.
We remember that game, played 20 years ago Saturday, here.Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images
The Rangers would share the Cup with New York City at a City Hall parade.The Details
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals was played under a number of backdrops. One was the potential Rangers collapse after holding a 3-1 series lead. Another was that head coach Mike Keenan was rumored to be headed elsewhere to coach the following season (the rumors then focused on the Detroit Red Wings. He would leave to coach the St. Louis Blues).
The Rangers would be playing this game under a pressure likely unfelt by any other team in the history of New York sports.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on a Brian Leetch goal off a cross-ice feed from defenseman Sergei Zubov. The play was set up by Mark Messier drawing a double team as he carried the puck into the Canucks zone and wheeled around before backhanding a pass to Zubov just outside the right-side face-off circle. Leetch had the benefit of an open net as Canucks goalie Kirk McLean committed to trying to thwart Zubov’s cut to the net.
Zubov played a key role in the Rangers second goal, a power play tally that came a little less than four minutes later. He slipped through two defenders at the blue line and got a pass ahead to a cutting Alexei Kovalev in the left circle. Kovalev quickly zipped the puck to 50-goal scorer Adam Graves in the high slot. Graves, who hadn’t scored in the Final, steadied the puck on his stick and then whipped a shot that beat McLean stick-side.
The Canucks got back to within a goal five minutes into the second period when captain Trevor Linden flipped the puck past Rangers goalie Mike Richter on a mini-breakaway.
The Rangers went back up by two goals with 6:31 left in the second period in odd fashion, when Brian Noonan recovered his own feed in traffic in front of the net and backhanded it at the goal. McLean made the initial save and the rebound squirted out in front of the net. Multiple sticks went for the puck, which appeared to hit the wrist of Canucks center John McIntyre before falling back into the net. Messier was credited with the goal, though there is a question as to whether he actually touched the puck (otherwise, the goal would have been credited to Noonan).
Regardless, the Rangers were up 3-1, but once again, prosperity was tough to come by (a theme familiar to 2014 as well). The Canucks scored early in the third when Linden (now the Canucks team president) finished a nice sequence of criss-cross passing.
The third period wasn’t quite Game 4 of the Rangers-Kings series, but the Canucks certainly had their chances to tie the game, with Martin Gelinas and Nathan Lafayette each hitting the goalpost with their shots (the 1994 version of the shot that died on the ice patch). Props should go to defenseman Kevin Lowe, who cleared the puck from the crease on the Gelinas shot, and Richter, who got a glove on Lafayette’s chance.
The final play of the season should have been Steve Larmer’s clearing the puck up the wall and out of the zone as the final seconds ticked away. But a surprise whistle resulted in an icing and one last face-off between Canucks star Pavel Bure and Rangers center Craig MacTavish with 1.6 seconds remaining.
MacTavish stepped in and blocked Bure’s path to the puck on the draw and the buzzer sounded, ending 54 years of Rangers frustration.
What They Wrote
“The Moment came. Finally. The 54-year-old curse ended and it was magic.
The scoreboard, frozen at 0:00, showed Rangers 3, Canucks 2. Fireworks exploded, and Madison Square Garden quivered with cheers of 18,200 people who have waited a generation to take in this scene.”
-- Laura Price, Newsday
“The burden they bore for 54 years, the label of losers, had been a heavy weight for the New York Rangers. They shed that label last night, by winning the Stanley Cup. And the 32-pound Cup they held aloft as they skated around the ice in celebration was as light as a feather.”
-- Gary Miles, Philadelphia Inquirer
“It was Craig MacTavish, the last player in the NHL to skate without a helmet, who put it best as The Big Apple endured a massive anxiety attack on the eve of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
"Any way you look at it," MacTavish said, grinning, "we'll be raised to new heights. They're either building a podium or a gallows for us."
The gallows won't be necessary.
The Rangers finally chased off the ghosts and goblins. They got in the face of The Curse and laughed. They erased forever the dreaded "1940!" chant, replacing it with "1994!"
-- Lyle Spencer, Riverside Press-Enterprise
“A sign raised by a fan of the New York Rangers late Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden may have summed it up best.''Now I can die in peace."
-- Jesse Barkin, Los Angeles Daily News
“Dear Red Sox fans: At long last, you have hope. You might not be doomed to a life of torment after all. If the New York Rangers are in fact kindred spirits, there will be an end to your heartache and misery.”
-- Karen Guregian, Boston Herald
They Said It
"The Stanley Cup is what we all play for and the Cup here in New York is just amazing. This was the toughest game I've ever been a part of, just so tough to win.
"It wasn't the 54 years, it was just never having been through it before. Mark (Messier) kept telling me the fourth game would be toughest you'll ever have to win in your life, and it was."
- Brian Leetch
Stat to Know
Leetch won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP. His 34 points in the playoffs were the most by a defenseman that won that award. He was the first American-born player to win the award.