By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Twenty years ago, the New York Rangers found inspiration in their fiercely determined captain Mark Messier to end a 54-year wait for a Stanley Cup title.
Now an emotional lift from Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore, who set aside personal tragedies to join their team mates on a championship quest, may help the Rangers reclaim the NHL's cherished silver in the Stanley Cup Finals starting on Wednesday.
The New York Rangers arrived with a splash in the Roaring Twenties, but over the last three quarters of a century fans of the Broadway Blueshirts have been the longest-suffering in the National Hockey League.
Of the NHL's 'Original Six' teams which comprised the league from 1942 to 1967 before expansion doubled it to a dozen, the New Yorkers have won the fewest Stanley Cups with four.
It all began on a positive note for the franchise.
Madison Square Garden president George “Tex” Rickard, encouraged by crowds that came to watch the New York Americans hockey team, decided to launch a team owned by the Garden and his club joined the NHL for the 1926-27 season.
Stocking it with young talent scouted by Conn Smythe, whom he lured away from the University of Toronto, the club was an immediate hit.
Sportswriters took to calling the new team "Tex's Rangers" and the Rangers' name stuck as the newcomers won the cup in their second season and again five years later.
In 1940 with another wave of talent, they won cup number three.
It would be their last cup for more than half a century and led to derisive chants of "1940" in opponents' arenas, mocking reminders of the fallow decades that followed that title.
Messier came to the Big Apple in 1991 after 12 seasons with his hometown Edmonton Oilers and five Stanley Cups, four won alongside "The Great One", Wayne Gretzky.
In New York, Messier was welcomed as a Messiah.
The captain breathed fire into the team, and they reached the playoffs in each of his first five New York seasons.
In 1993-94, the Rangers posted the NHL's best record but found themselves down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals and heading across the Hudson River for a do-or-die road game against the New Jersey Devils.
“We’re going to go in and win Game Six,” Messier told reporters, and the captain's 'guarantee' was blared from the back pages of the tabloids.
New York trailed 2-0 in the second period before Messier began to back up his bravado.
Messier assisted on an Alexei Kovalev goal that made it 2-1 heading to the third period.
Then he scored three times in the final period - his only hat trick as a Ranger - for a 4-2 win that sent the series back to the Garden where New York clinched the series on the way to a seven-game triumph over Vancouver that at long last brought the Cup back to Broadway.
These Rangers came together after a poor start this season, helped by the brilliance of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, and were galvanized in the playoffs by late-season addition St. Louis.
The 38-year-old goal scoring spark plug who came over in a trade with Tampa Bay was dealt a shocking blow when his mother, France, died suddenly back home in Quebec during the conference semi-finals against favorites Pittsburgh.
St. Louis flew home to join his family but returned to the team in Pittsburgh for Game Five with the Penguins leading the series 3-1, one game from advancing.
The Rangers rallied around the grieving St. Louis and beat the Pens 5-1. Game Six was back in New York on Mother's Day, and with his father and sister cheering from Garden stands, St. Louis scored the first goal in a 3-1 win.
St. Louis assisted on the game-winning goal by Brad Richards as the Rangers completed the rousing comeback with a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh in Game Seven.
New York went on to beat the Montreal Canadiens in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994, clinching with a 1-0 win on a goal by Moore.
Moore is in his first season back with the Rangers after a year-long leave following the death of his wife, Katie, who passed from liver cancer in January 2013.
"I know both him and Marty have been through some challenging times," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "They've found a way to find a place where they can be happy, and this is at the rink with their teammates and on the ice.
"They've both been very inspirational leaders."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- New York Rangers
- Mark Messier
- Martin St. Louis
- Dominic Moore
- New York
- Madison Square Garden