Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - New York Rangers - 1994
One on One Turning Point

New York Rangers - 1994

25 MARCH 2014
Mike Richter of the New York Rangers plays the puck during game action against the Vancouver Canucks. (Chris Relke/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The history of the National Hockey League is liberally populated with myths, only serving to make the extraordinary history of hockey that much more colourful.

In the spring of 1940, the New York Rangers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs to lay claim to the Stanley Cup. A wonderful story explains that during that season, the mortgage on the Rangers' arena, Madison Square Garden, was paid off, and management celebrated by burning the mortgage in the bowl of the Stanley Cup. Many believed that the symbolic gesture desecrated hockey's Holy Grail, and placed a curse on the Rangers again winning the Stanley Cup.

Esa Tikkanen was one of several former Edmonton Oilers who helped the New York Rangers capture the 1994 Stanley Cup title. (Chris Relke/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Well...whether the story has merit is a moot point. But it did take the Rangers 54 years to again win the Stanley Cup. They reached the final in 1950, 1972 and 1979, but were not able to win the Cup in any of those years.

That all changed in 1994.

Skates worn by Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers during his early years in the NHL from 1989 to 1995 which included a Stanley Cup title in 1994. (Matthew Manor/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Rangers finished first overall in 1993-94, collecting 112 points to earn the Presidents' Trophy for the second time in three years. They swept the rival New York Islanders in the first round of the post-season, eliminated the Washington Capitals in five games in the second round but then fell behind three games to two in their Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils. In dramatic fashion, the Rangers turned the series around and in the seventh and deciding game, won on Stephane Matteau's second double overtime goal of the series.

The Eastern Conference champion Rangers then found themselves facing the best of the West, the Vancouver Canucks, in the Stanley Cup final.

Mark Messier and Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers celebrate after capturing the 1994 Stanley Cup title with a seven game series win over the Vancouver Canucks. (Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
There was a 27-point difference between the two clubs during the regular season. The first-place Rangers faced the seventh seed Canucks, who had earned 85 points during the season. Candidly, all those story-lines evaporate by the time you reach the Stanley Cup final. But one prevailed: experience. The Rangers were stacked with players who had Stanley Cup experience, most coming from the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty of the 1980s. Included were captain Mark Messier, as well as Glenn Anderson, Jeff Beukeboom, Adam Graves, Kevin Lowe, Craig MacTavish and Esa Tikkanen, all who played on the 1990 Oilers' championship squad.

In the first game of the series the Rangers led 2-1 with a minute to play in regulation time when Martin Gelinas scored to tie the game. Canucks' netminder Kirk McLean was sensational as the Rangers pressed, and Greg Adams scored to take Game One, 3-2.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Conn Smythe Trophy to New York Ranger alternate captain Brian Leetch following the Rangers 4 games to 3 series win over the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final. (Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Rangers evened the series with a 3-1 victory at home in Game Two.

The series then shifted to Vancouver, and although the Canucks opened the scoring in Game Three, the Rangers dominated, finishing with a 5-1 win.

Vancouver again jumped to an early lead, scoring twice before New York roared back with four unanswered goals to take the fourth game by a 4-2 count.

The New York Rangers celebrate after capturing the 1994 Stanley Cup title with a seven game series win over the Vancouver Canucks. (Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Rangers, leading three games to one, hoped to close the series with a win at home in Game Five, but Vancouver wasn't buying that scenario. Learning that the City of New York had already planned the parade route, the Canucks used that fodder as fuel and came flying out of the gate. Leading 3-0 in the third, the Rangers scrambled to make the score presentable, but when the final buzzer sounded, the Canucks had taken Game Five with a 6-3 victory to stave off elimination.

Returning to Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum for the sixth game, the Canucks battled valiantly and won 4-1 to force a dramatic seventh and deciding contest for the Stanley Cup.

The Rangers jumped to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Brian Leetch and Adam Graves in Game Seven at Madison Square Garden. The Canucks' captain, Trevor Linden, silenced the New York fans with a short-handed tally early in the second period. Then, New York's captain went to work. Mark Messier scored a third Ranger goal only to have Linden pull Vancouver closer with a goal early in the third. The Canucks tried everything to tie the game and came close when Nathan Lafayette hit the post behind Mike Richter, but couldn't find the tying goal and the Rangers took the game, and the Stanley Cup, with a 3-2 victory.

The New York Rangers celebrate after capturing the 1994 Stanley Cup title with a seven game series win over the Vancouver Canucks. (Doug MacLellan/Hockey Hall of Fame)
"The waiting is over," shouted Rangers' announcer Sam Rosen. "The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions! And this one will last a lifetime!"

The curse had come to a conclusion. Fifty-four years of frustration had finally ended on June 14, 1994.

Mark Messier jumped about as he accepted the Stanley Cup from National Hockey League commissioner, Gary Bettman. It had been quite a series for Messier - in scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal, he became the first player to captain two different teams to the Stanley Cup (he had captained the Oilers when they won the Cup in 1990).

It had been quite a wait for fans of the New York Rangers. The ghosts, at last, had left the building.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.