Today in our countdown, we introduce you to the 13th best team of all time, the 1993-1994 New York Rangers.
The 1992-1993 season was a forgettable season for the Rangers. Coming off a strong performance in the 1991-1992 playoffs that included them reaching the 2nd round before falling to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, expectations were very high in New York. However, injuries derailed the season, with key players such as Brian Leetch, Kevin Lowe, and James Patrick prevented the Rangers from making the playoffs. When the 1993-1994 season rolled around, expectations were high once again and with the addition of former All Star Steve Larmer and new head coach Mike Keenan, there was Stanley Cup fever on Broadway. Determined not to miss the playoffs again, the story of Mark Messier and the 1993-1994 New York Rangers was born.
The Rangers started the season very fast, determined to put last season’s misery behind them. At the halfway point of the season, the Rangers were a cool 27-12-3, and pushed that to 30-12-3 before the All Star Break. The Rangers slowed down a bit coming out of the All Star Break, going just 8-6-1 in their next 15 games and allowing the New Jersey Devils to push them to the very end for the division title. However, the Rangers found their game towards the end of the year, buoyed by the strong play of young defenseman Sergei Zubov. Zubov recorded 22 points in the final 20 games of the regular season to help lead the Rangers to a 52-24-8 record and the President’s Trophy.
Statistically, this Rangers team was good across the board like both teams we’ve looked at already in our rankings (07-08 Red Wings, 95-96 Avalanche). The Rangers were 4th in the NHL in goals for that year, scoring 3.56 a game, led by a very balanced attack that consisted of an incredible 8 different players that scored 20 or more goals. Adam Graves led the way, scoring a team record 52 goals, but 7 other players scored between 21-28 goals that year for the Rangers, giving them one of the deepest offenses in the history of the NHL. Defensively this team was no slouch, ranking third in the NHL in goals against, giving up just 2.75 a game. On the back end the Rangers were led by their young guns Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov. The Rangers special teams units were also some of the best that hockey has seen. The Rangers powerplay connected at a 23.0% clip which was good for 1st. The Rangers also killed off 84.6% of their penalties which was the 3rd best kill rate that season. At even strength, this Rangers team was good, but not as good as our past champions and thus that’s one of the reasons that this team isn’t higher in our rankings. The Rangers had an even strength for/against ratio of 1.15 which is a good mark, but is actually the 5th worst mark of any Stanley Cup Champion in the last 43 years. However, with the way their special teams units operated, the Rangers did not have to worry about being hindered by their even strength play and come playoff time, this team proved why it was a team of destiny.
The Rangers drew the New York Islanders in the first round, one of their division rivals. The Rangers actually struggled with the Islanders during the regular season, going just 1-2-2 against them. The Islanders were led up front by young dynamo Pierre Turgeon, who led the way with 38 goals and 94 points that season. However, the Rangers balanced scoring proved to be far too much for the Islanders as the Rangers swept the Islanders handily. The Rangers absolutely throttled the Islanders, allowing them to score just 3 goals the entire series, while netting an incredible 22 of their own. What made the Rangers so scary was that depth scoring. The first two games were both 6-0 shutouts, and yet the Rangers had 6 different players score the 6 goals for both games. The Rangers were in a hurry to the Stanley Cup Finals, and next up for them were the Washington Capitals.
Unlike the Islanders, the Rangers enjoyed plenty of success against the Capitals during the regular season, going 4-1-0 against them. The Rangers were determined to keep up their level of play from the first round and blow past the Capitals. The Rangers did just that, taking the first 3 games by a combined score of 14-5 before closing out the Capitals at the Garden in Game 5. The Rangers were finally into the Conference Finals and were absolutely on a tear. They had just blow past the Islanders and the Capitals, dropping just 1 game, and they had outscored their opponents by a combined score of 44-15. However, up next were the New Jersey Devils, the team that had finished with the 2nd best record that year and had pushed them to the very end for the division title.
The Devils were led by their defense, with Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer leading the charge for them from the back end. Up front, the Devils had talented and gritty players such as Claude Lemieux, Bill Guerin, Stephane Richer, John MacLean, and Bobby Holik. However, the Devils had struggled a bit in the first two rounds, having to go 7 games against Buffalo in the first round, and then going another 6 with Boston in the 2nd. Another thing working for the Rangers was the fact that they went 6-0-0 against the Devils in the regular season. Despite all of that, the Devils came out and stunned the Rangers in game 1, taking it 4-3 in double overtime. The Rangers quickly regrouped, taking Games 2 and 3 by a combined score of 7-2. However, the Devils refused to quit in this series, storming right back and taking Game 4 on their home ice to send the series back to New York tied at 2. In that crucial Game 5, the Devils came out flying from the start and got two big goals from Bernie Nicholls to steal Game 5 and push the Rangers to the brink. Heading back to New Jersey, Mark Messier gave us one of the most famous quotes of all time. When asked about Game 6 by the New York media, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would win the game, saying that “the game was in the bag”. Invoking memories of Broadway Joe years earlier, Messier delivered in a big way. Trailing 2-1 in the third period, Messier delivered a natural hat trick to lift the Rangers to a 4-2 win. However, the Devils once again were not ready to quit as they forced Game 7 into double OT. The game had been hotly contested all night long, but at 4:24 of the 2nd OT, Stephane Matteau swooped around the net and snuck in a wraparound on the short side against Martin Brodeur to lift the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals. After being on the brink in Game 6, and then being forced into double OT in game 7, the Rangers were going to have a shot against the Stanley Cup and it was going to come against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks had an up and down regular season, going just 41-40-3, but goaltender Kirk McLean got hot in the playoffs and the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure, kept scoring to lead the Canucks to the Cup Finals. The Rangers had the advantage across the board in this series, but this was going to be no cakewalk for the Rangers. The Canucks, just like the Devils in the previous series, shocked the Rangers by stealing Game 1 in OT. However, this time the Rangers rebounded with a fury, taking the next 3 games by a combined score of 12-4 and in the blink of an eye, Vancouver was on the brink. Heading back to New York, many felt that the series was done and over. However, Vancouver superstar Pavel Bure had something to say about that. Bure scored 2 goals and assisted on another in game 5 to lead the Canucks to a 6-3 win. In game 6, the Canucks continued their strong offensive play, taking the game by a score of 4-1. However, this Rangers team was a team of destiny and from Messier’s guarantee, to Matteau’s double OT winner, everyone felt that the Rangers were going to find some way to get this done. And on home ice, the Rangers did exactly that, defeating the Canucks 3-2 in the deciding Game 7 to clinch the Stanley Cup and end Dutton’s Curse of 1940. It had been 54 long years since the Rangers franchise had last won a Cup, and only this truly great team that had destiny at its side was capable of breaking that curse. From their deep offense to their young but capable defense to their steady goaltending, the Rangers had all the pieces of a Stanley Cup champion and finally put it together under the leadership of their captain Mark Messier. They were a team for the ages and thus, they have earned their place at #13 in our list of the greatest teams of all time.