Welcome back to Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to look at. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 teams’ most important game. In this article, we will discuss the New York Rangers biggest game in franchise history. The full series is found here.
New York Rangers Biggest Game in Franchise History
As an Original Six franchise, The New York Rangers possess one of the most storied histories in the NHL. Despite this distinction, The Rangers have not always been a glamour franchise. They’ve won the fewest Stanley Cups of the Original Six franchises and gone through long periods of irrelevance. Still, The Rangers were a participant in some of the most iconic moments in league history. Perhaps the most iconic of these moments came in 1994. The Rangers found themselves with their backs against the wall in a clash with the rival New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final. The series was a hard-fought back and forth affair that produced the New York Rangers’ biggest game in franchise history.
The lead-up to the epic clash between the Rangers and Devils started long before the 1994 playoffs. In 1940, the New York Rangers faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Finals. When the Rangers defeated the Leafs, Madison Square Garden management burned the mortgage for the building (which had just been paid off) in the bowl of the Stanley Cup. Many saw the move as a desecration of the Stanley Cup, and the curse of 1940 began.
For years after, the Rangers tried and failed to win the Stanley Cup alternating between coming painfully close and being irrelevant. The team watched on as the New York Islanders won four straight Cups in the 1980s, and the other Original Six clubs went through periods of their own success. By the 1990s, the Rangers seemed poised, finally, to have their turn.
Building a Foundation
In 1991, New York acquired Edmonton Oilers star, Mark Messier. Messier was a seasoned veteran at this point, having won the Stanley Cup five times with the Oilers. The arrival of Messier signalled that the Rangers were ready to compete after building a strong foundation of talented players.
The Rangers immediately improved, winning the President’s Trophy during the 1991-92 season with 105 points. Though they would lose to the defending champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the playoffs it served as a clear coming out party. New York would miss the playoffs the next season, however, mostly due to an injury to star defenceman, Brian Leetch.
With Leetch returning to the lineup in 1993-94, the Rangers barnstormed their way into the playoffs, accumulating 112 points and another Presidents Trophy along the way. The first round served as a battle of New York, with the Rangers and Islanders facing off against each other. The Rangers swept the series, outscoring their New York counterparts 22-3 in the process. They defeated the Washington Capitals in the next round, ousting Washington in five games. This set up an Eastern Conference final clash between the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils shocked the New York Rangers at home in Game 1 when Stephane Richer scored a game-winning goal in the second overtime. Despite the loss Rangers goaltender, Mike Richter, played well stopping 44 shots on 48 attempts. Richter carried his strong play into Game 2, where the Rangers shut out the Devils in a 4-0 victory.
Up to this point, the star between the pipes had been the Rangers’ Richter. This seemed unlikely going into the series, as the Devils boasted a young star goalie named Martin Brodeur. Though Brodeur was just in his first season, he had put together an impressive rookie campaign that culminated in a Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie. If the Devils were to turn the series around, it would likely be on the back of Brodeur. This played out as Brodeur stopped 93 of the next 98 shots he faced en route to two victories in the next three games.
The Rangers now had to go into New Jersey facing a 3-2 series deficit.
With the loss in Game 5, the Rangers found themselves facing down a 3-2 series deficit going back to New Jersey. Though the Devils compiled a 29-11-2 at home, the Rangers had been responsible for three of those losses. The Rangers’ captain took the opportunity in the press to issue a bold proclamation. While talking to the press the morning of Game 6, Mark Messier gave a now-famous guarantee.
“We will win tonight.”
Messier’s proclamation appeared to be disastrous in the early goings of the contest. Scott Niedermayer scored midway into the first period, and Claude Lemieux added another to put the Devils up two goals going into the second. The second period looked like it would end in a scoreless stalemate as both teams tried, and failed to put the puck in the net for the majority of the period. Finally, the Rangers found a glimmer of hope. A young talented Russian forward by the name of Alex Kovalev scored a goal on a pass from Messier that brought the game within reach during the dying moments of the second period. The Rangers still found themselves behind on the scoreboard, but they were finally within striking distance.
Early in the third period, Kovalev and Messier hooked up again, this time with Messier scoring the goal (the secondary assist coming from Brian Leetch). This exact combination produced the go-ahead goal 10 minutes later to give the Rangers the lead with just 8 minutes to play. The Devils got one final chance to tie the game when Glenn Anderson was sent to the box with just three minutes to play. With the play in the Rangers’ zone, the puck squirted to Messier who fired the puck down the ice towards the empty net. The Rangers’ captain had put the game on ice with a shorthanded hat trick goal. Messier guaranteed victory and then delivered.
One More Hill To Climb
The Rangers followed up their Game 6 victory by ousting the Devils in overtime in Game 7. The victory set up a clash with the Vancouver Canucks with the Rangers looking to capture their first Stanley Cup since 1940. The Rangers would defeat the Canucks in seven games. Mark Messier delivered on his promise, breaking the curse of 1940. Though they faced a difficult final, the series against the Devils served as the emotional climax. Facing a series deficit with their season on the line, Mark Messier guaranteed victory then came through with a hat trick in the New York Rangers’ biggest game in franchise history.