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1995: 10 Reasons the Rangers Won the Cup

November 9, 2011 General No Comments

1995: 10 reasons the Rangers won the cup
By Alex Carswell
Nov 6, 2001, 19:29

 

©BBS

The Curse is vanquished. 1940 is no more. The New York Rangers, after a 54-year drought, can once more call themselves Stanley Cup Champions. It was no easy ride, and at times — as when the Devils scored to tie it with 7.7 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the semi-finals — it looked like The Curse would win out yet again. But in the end the 1994 Rangers erased the ghosts of over a half-century of disappointment. What made this year so special, and this Rangers team the one to break the hex? Here are 10 reasons why.

 

1. Leadership

Basking in the afterglow of victory, Mike Keenan hailed Mark Messier as “the greatest leader in pro sports today.” It’s an accolade with which any knowledgeable sports fan would be hard-pressed to disagree. Coming to the Rangers with five Stanley Cup championships already in tow, Messier was determined to succeed where other team leaders — Jean Ratelle, Barry Beck, Phil Esposito — had failed. His intense desire to win, and unwillingness to accept defeat, was a beacon for a franchise whose history was studded with failure.

While perhaps not the most talented player in hockey, Messier’s ability to excel in clutch situations is unparalleled. His six championships outshine Joe Montana, Michael Jordan, even Wayne Gretzky. In fact, to better Messier’s post-season success you have to go back to the glory days of baseball’s Bronx Bombers or the Montreal Canadiens of the 50’s and 60’s — when the NHL was a six-team league. Messier “guaranteeing” a victory in Game 6 of the Devils series and then delivering a third-period hat trick will go down in sports history alongside Babe Ruth calling his shot and Broadway Joe Namath promising a Super Bowl win.

 

2. Coaching

While Mark Messier leads by example, Mike Keenan leads by decree. You do your job — and you do it his way — or you ride the pines. And while some of Iron Mike’s moves may seem curious, you can not question the scoreboard. With the Stanley Cup won, it hardly matters whether his playoff benchings of Leetch and Messier stemmed from injuries, as he said at the time, or emotion. Had they lost, it would have been a different story. The New York media may well have eaten Keenan alive for placing his ego above the best interests of the team. The oft-heard criticisms — that Keenan overcoached, that he was too hard on his players — would certainly have resurfaced more strongly than ever in the Gotham fishbowl.

But remember: Keenan was not hired because he is affable. He was hired because he has consistently put his teams in a position to win. And this time, in his fourth trip to the Finals, they did.

 

 

3. Goal-tending

No team has ever won the Stanley Cup without great goaltending, and these Rangers were no exception. Mike Richter won all 16 playoff games for the Rangers, and tied the NHL record with four playoff shutouts in the process. He rebounded from less than spectacular performances in Game 5 of the Devils series and Game 1 of the Finals to steady the team when it needed him most. He consistently made the big saves under pressure, was unconscious down the seventh-game stretch against Vancouver, and could easily have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

 

4. Brian Leetch

The playoff MVP was instrumental in every Rangers win. During the regular season he unselfishly harnessed his offensive gifts, finishing second in team blueline scoring to Sergei Zubov. But during the playoffs, while not sacrificing the defensive play that so impressed his post-season foes, he consistently took control on offense. He led the Rangers out of the zone, quarterbacked the power play, killed penalties with aplomb, excelled in four-on-four situations and scored big goals.

On several occasions during the playoffs Leetch figured in all his team’s scoring, perhaps never more spectacularly than in Game 5 against the Capitals. In an eventual 4-3 win, Leetch was on the ice for all three goals against. He then atoned for what he described as a poor defensive performance by setting up three New York goals before finally delivering the series-clincher himself. His spinorama goal in Game 7 against the Devils — which almost held up as the series-clincher there — was reminiscent of Bobby Orr…truly one for the ages. And after being relentlessly pounded throughout the Vancouver series, he rebounded from sub-par performances in Games 5 and 6 to play a phenomenal two-way game in the finale, opening the scoring in the first period and playing clutch, game-saving defense in the third.

 

5. Home-Ice Advantage

Earning playoff home-ice advantage during their league-best regular season, the Rangers took advantage by winning two Game 7s in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Yes, the Garden crowd can be fickle. But with everything on the line against the Devils and then against the Canucks, the New York faithful stood strong behind their Rangers and helped create an oppressive atmosphere for the opponents. In big games, it’s always better to have the New York crowd on your side.

 

6. Special Teams

The regular-season Rangers had the NHL’s best overall special teams, and their sparkling play continued during the playoffs. Even while suffering a power play dry spell against the defensively-skilled Devils, as well as during the first few games of the Finals, their penalty killing held the opposition at bay. Vancouver went just 3-for-35 against the Rangers, who gave up only nine power-play goals during the entire playoff tournament. And while man advantages grew ever more scarce as the Finals wore on, power-play markers by Adam Graves and Mark Messier provided the winning margin in Game 7. The Rangers also dominated every playoff opponent when skating four-on-four.

 

7. Focus

From Day One, this Rangers team had but a single goal: to win the Stanley Cup. Past Rangers teams, The Curse aside, seemed to lose their focus during the playoffs. Too often, beating the Islanders, or getting out of the Patrick Division, or merely making it to the Finals were considered acceptable measures of success. But this group knew, even after beating three divisional rivals — the Isles, the Caps and the Devils — that nothing had yet been accomplished. And even after beating the Devils, who had the second-best record in the league, in a series that many equated with the “real” Stanley Cup championship, the Rangers did not let down.

 

8. Balance

The Rangers roster reflected exactly the kind of balance needed to capture hockey’s ultimate prize. The team had veteran leadership in Messier, Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen, Craig McTavish and the highly underrated Sergei Nemchinov. They had sensational offensive stars and youthful exuberance in Leetch, Sergei Zubov, Alexei Kovalev and Adam Graves. They had grinders and role players in Matteau, Noonan and Kocur. Their blueline paired offensive threats — Leetch and Zubov — with the steadying defensive influences of Jeff Beukeboom and Lowe.

But perhaps most important, in Leetch, Messier, Graves and Tikkanen, the Rangers had key players who excelled at both ends of the ice.

 

9. The GM

In fulfilling Mike Keenan’s entire wish list — Iron Mike admitted before the playoffs began that everyone he wanted on his post-season roster was there — Rangers General Manager Neil Smith made this championship possible. Despite widely-reported personality clashes with his coach, Smith gave Keenan the tools he requested then stepped back out of the limelight. The Gartner for Anderson swap was certainly questionable — especially given Anderson’s lackluster playoff performance, and Keenan’s resulting need to compensate by double-shifting Kovalev — but Smith was willing to take the heat for that, and all the moves which closet-GM Keenan requested. Neil Smith deserves as much credit as Messier, Leetch and Keenan for bringing the Stanley Cup to Broadway.

 

10. Luck

For the first time in recent memory the Rangers entered — and survived — the playoffs with no significant injuries. The litany of Curse-related injuries has been rehashed all too often, but suffice it to say that there were no broken ankles this year. Yes, Beukeboom was hurt early in Game 7 of the Finals, but by then the Rangers were playing with enough emotion to survive. And while it may come out that Brian Leetch was playing with a tender shoulder, or Messier with sore ribs, there were none of the psychologically devastating maladies that have plagued the Rangers in years past.

New York’s luck also included several strategically clanged goal posts, most notably as time wound down in the final game of their championship season. The pitcher Lefty Gomez once said he’d “rather be lucky than good,” but this bunch was both.

This first appeared in the 08/1995 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®
© Copyright 1991-2001 Hockey Player® and Hockey Player Magazine®

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