The Philadelphia Flyers didn't put up much of a fight when the New Jersey Devils eliminated them. As such, Flyers fans like myself had to feel a little better when the New York Rangers seemed similarly overwhelmed against the Devils. But unlike Philadelphia, New York finally started showing a pulse when it was on the brink of elimination - as it did 18 years ago in New Jersey.
The 1994 Rangers saved their season with a guarantee and a hat trick from Mark Messier in Game 6, then beat the Devils in Game 7 of the conference finals and finally won an elusive Stanley Cup. 18 years later, the Rangers rallied from another early 2-0 deficit while on the brink of elimination in New Jersey in Game 6 on May 25 - but the ending turned out far different.
Instead of a 4-2 regulation win and a Game 7, the 2012 Rangers got a 3-2 overtime loss and an early end to a rough postseason. The ghosts of their 1994 salvation, as well as their narrow escapes from the first and second round in these playoffs, would not save the Rangers from finally giving out this time.
With the glaring exceptions of the beginning and very end of Game 6, New York dominated most of the way. The Rangers even erased their early 2-0 deficit earlier than the 1994 squad did, as they tied it at 2-2 in the second and had a full period left to finish the job. But despite their opportunities, they could not beat Martin Brodeur one more time and had to do it in overtime.
New York's fate was decided in just a minute, as a brief chance was foiled and New Jersey went over to swarm Henrik Lundqvist. As he did for much of the season, Lundqvist stood on his head to withstand the charge and keep the Rangers alive. But finally, rookie Adam Henrique was open to tap the puck in before the Rangers could clear it out.
This time it was the Devils who got to eliminate their cross town rivals in the conference finals with an overtime goal at home. This time it was Henrique who became a legend in this rivalry alongside Messier and Stephane Matteau. This time Brodeur erased one of the rare failures in his career, as he began it by losing to the Rangers on this stage and will now all but end it with revenge - and maybe a fourth Stanley Cup.
The Rangers followed the exact same pattern to win the first two rounds of these playoffs in seven games, and thought they could follow the same pattern of their 1994 champions to survive the Devils in 2012. They largely followed the same formula in Game 6, as it turned out - but they only slipped up in the ending.
Yet the same old ending for a New York hockey season is no Stanley Cup, with that one and only glaring exception 18 years ago. So in that regard, the Rangers really did repeat history.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and a Flyers fan since the age of eight - who has become quite familiar with the Rangers in that time.
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