On the eve of the New York Rangers’ must win Game 6 against the Devils in New Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, Messier guaranteed his team would force a deciding contest back at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers not only won, Messier backed up his boast with a hat trick.
Fast forward to now. The teams once more head to a Game 6, in New Jersey, with the Rangers, again the East’s top team, down 3-2, needing a win to stay alive.
That’s where the similarity ends.
There is no Messier in the Rangers’ locker room to will his team to victory after predicting it. And this time, New York really isn’t the star-laden team that ended the franchise’s half-century Stanley Cup drought back in 1994.
The Devils have shown repeatedly in this best-of-seven series they are just as good as their long-time, cross-river rivals. Their series lead is well deserved, having outplayed New York in all but a few periods.
The only game the Rangers dominated was Game 5, and the Devils won, 5-3, to take the lead in the series based on a strong start and a stronger finish.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is the only player remaining from the memorable 1994 series. Now 40, he was the difference on Wednesday night in New York.
Messier’s three Game 6 goals forced a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, where Rangers forward Stephane Matteau beat Brodeur with a wraparound in double overtime to give New York a 2-1 win and the East crown. Brodeur was just a rookie at the time.
Rangers coach John Tortorella downplayed the comparison, saying his players were not even thinking about it.
The Devils aren’t preparing with history dancing through their heads, either. New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer, in fact, said his only memory of the guarantee was that he still had hair 18 years ago.
Even Brodeur seemed stunned, saying the Devils were so isolated in the postseason in ’94 that he was not aware of Messier’s guarantee until questioned about it after the Rangers’ 4-2 win, a game in which New Jersey led 2-0 until late in the second period.
The Rangers seemed to find themselves in Game 5 after falling behind 3-0 in the opening 10 minutes. They tied the game early in the third on a fluky goal by Marian Gaborik, but they seemed to stop skating with the same intensity after that.
Now, the Devils are in position to advance to their first Stanley Cup final since 2003 and a meeting with the Los Angeles Kings, starting next week. All they have to do is win on either Friday here or Sunday in New York, where they have already won two of three.
The Rangers know what it is like to face a must win game. They had to win the final two contests against Ottawa in the opening round, including Game 6 on the road. They also had a Game 7 against Washington in the second round.
The biggest thing is to keep the puck out of the net. New Jersey, shut out in Games 1 and 3, has scored nine times in the last two games, with seven beating Henrik Lundqvist and two coming with the goaltender pulled.
New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist
New Jersey Devils – Martin Brodeur
BIG PUCKING PREDICTION:
I’ve been saying it since the start of the 2012 NHL Playoffs, The Devils are the team to beat in the East. And now it comes down to just one win and Ilya Kovalchuk goes to his first Stanley Cup Finals. Meanwhile the Devils GM is smiling because he may just convince Zach Parise to resign in New Jersey.
The Rangers played their best game in game 5 and still lost, by two goals none the less. Fully expect the Rangers to come out just as big as they did in game 5, and expect the same outcome. Devils 3-2
NEW JERSEY DEVILS -110 (5 UNITS)
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