May 24, 2012
No guarantees from RangersMessier's '94 promise rehashed
By Rob Longley, QMI Agency
NEW YORK - The banner hangs from the rafters of the world's most famous arena, an everlasting legacy to former New York Rangers captain Mark Messier.
But before No. 11 was retired and before the Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win their first Stanley Cup in more than half a century came the Messier promise that has become part of New York sporting legend.
With his team down 3-2 in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference final against the New Jersey Devils, Messier issued the bold proclamation that would light up the tabloids, bring comparisons with Jets quarterback Joe Namath's Super Bowl guarantee and set the Broadway stage for one of the great moments in Rangers history.
That it happened 18 years ago this month is big news for obvious reasons given the two teams are in the exact same situation as they were in the 1994 playoff tournament.
"I know we're going to go in and win Game 6 and bring it back here (to the Garden) for Game 7," were Messier's iconic words and they did just that, thanks to a hat trick from the captain. A younger, overmatched Devils team was as good as done and the Rangers wrapped up the series at home in Game 7.
Incredible to the present chapter of the story is the fact Martin Brodeur was in net for the Devils then as he will be Friday night at the Prudential Center where he will try to avoid his team repeating history. He'll certainly attempt to avoid allowing the soft backhand that was the first of Messier's three goal and started the Rangers back from a 2-0 hole on the road.
But beyond the parallel circumstances too juicy to resist, neither side is interested in the story angle that has both sides of the Hudson River buzzing heading into the first potential elimination game of the Eastern Conference final.
"I don't see anything that is similar," the 40-year-old Brodeur said in a conference call Thursday as coach Peter DeBoer gave his team a day off from practice. "It's different teams and a different way of playing the game and it's 18 years ago. That's a long time.
"I know I'm feeling a lot different. I'm feeling a lot more appreciative of what's going on."
Back then, Brodeur was just making his mark as a rising star, setting the stage for the Stanley Cup wins that would come in due time. The Devils were the upstarts that year, facing a Rangers team that was loaded with high-priced talent, Messier included.
"We were not supposed to compete with them at all in '94," Brodeur said. "They made these trades. They got all these big guys at the end and they pulled it off in a dramatic way. But this time around, we feel like we can play with them."
As for the famous Messier missive, the type of hype that plays so well in Manhattan, Brodeur claims not to remember it at all.
"We didn't even know before the game was ended that he made the guarantee," Brodeur said. "I don't recall it having an affect on us at all. At the end of the game, everyone made a big deal of that. If he really said it, it's a really gutsy thing to do."
Whether selective memory or not, there isn't much Brodeur will want to recall from that game, even though the taste of playoff competition would serve him well during the ensuing decades. Underdogs or not, the collapse stung and set up the Rangers for their one shot at glory since 1940, as they went on to defeat the Canucks in seven games to win the Cup.
The Devils would leap forward from that stage in 1994 and win three Cups -- in 1995, 2000 and 2003.
As you might expect, the Messier manifesto means little to the current Rangers as well -- at least publicly. The closest thing to a guarantee New York coach John Tortorella would issue Thursday was that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who let in three goals on the first five shots he faced in Game 5, would have his best game of the series on Friday.
"No disrespect to history, but we're worried about ourselves," said Rangers centre Brad Richards, who could wake up and contribute any time. "We want to create our own story and that's what we're here to do."