Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The 1994 New York Rangers took to the road to resume their battle with the 1980 New York Islanders as the two Stanley Cup championship teams continued to see-saw back and forth for supremacy in the metro area.
A long storied history between two clubs tends to build up animosity and rugged play and this series would be no exception. With two storied captains leading the charge, Mark Messier for the blueshirts and Denis Potvin for the Islanders, you can pretty much bet the ranch that neither team would go down quietly.
After being pulled in game four, Billy Smith came back and produced an epic display as he led the Islanders to a game five win which set up the return to Hempstead turnpike that the Rangers did not have any intention of taking.
As Mike Keenan and Al Arbour continued to trade wits behind their respective player benches, it would ultimately be the play on the ice dictated by the goaltenders that would decide not only this game but the series as well.
The Islanders have showed trademark resiliency all throughout the 1980 season and it was to be expected here as well when they trailed in the best of seven series 3 games to 1. The Rangers, beefing up their roster with Stanley cup experience left over from the days of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty and with hall of famer Messier being arguably one of the greatest leaders in sport, quickly reversed a trend from the first two games that saw them take many unnecessary penalties, leaving them shorthanded for long stretches and swinging the momentum pendulum back towards their rivals.
What would game six have in store for us? Would the plucky and determined Isles be able to take this to a deciding and ultimate seventh game at Madison Square Garden? Or can the Rangers fall back on the leadership of their captain and get Mike Richter back to playing his trademark acrobatic style and close out the blue and orange? Onward and upward as they say……..
New York Rangers @ New York Islanders
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
Game Six (Rangers lead series 3-2)
First Period : The Rangers came out aggressively in the opening 20 minutes, clearly trying to seize the momentum back that the Islanders had gained with their dominating game five victory. But Smith would stand tall, as he has since the middle of game four, making several outstanding saves. He saved his best for late when Bryan Trottier took an ill-advised interference penalty at 18:28, sliding across with both pads stacked and denying Glenn Anderson right on the doorstep. It would get the crowd into a game that had up to that point been controlled by the blueshirts with their aggressive dogged determination on the forecheck and their puck possession. With time running out in the period, Sergei Nemchinov however would get ahead of himself when he took 867 strides (Ok, maybe not that many) and charged into Wayne Merrick as the Islanders center chipped the puck out of his defensive zone. A double minor was issued and the Isles would begin period two on the power play. Shots in the first dominated by the Rangers 18-11.
Second Period : On the ensuing power play to begin the second frame, Butch Goring, seeing rare man advantage ice time, proved Al Arbour a genius when he banged home a rebound of a John Tonelli wrist shot to give the home team a one goal lead. With the crowd now fully immersed in the action, play roared on. Time and time again what the NHL playoffs have proven to us all is that goaltending trumps every other wild card you can possibly think of. Holding true to that tested statement, it would be the Smith show again in the second with the Rangers continuing to crash the crease and throw shot after shot from every conceivable angle. But it just would not happen for the Rangers in the second twenty either and the Islanders remained steadfast in their defensive system to enter the third and final period up a goal. Shots in the second again well one sided for the Rangers at 19-8 and over two the visitors held an ice tilting 37-19 advantage.
Third Period : Sensing, obviously, that the next goal was perhaps the most important in not only the game, but in the Islanders case, the series, John Tonelli continued his outstanding play by taking a pass from underrated Anders Kallur and rifling a low snap shot between Richter’s feet. At just the 46 second mark it was the goal that might have just broken the camels back. After Gord Lane and Nick Kypreos each received matching two minute minors for roughing both were released from their respective penalty boxes at 7:24 and immediately met at center ice. With the two men jostling Kypreos realized the situation on the scoreboard and retreated back to his bench to not put his team short again at a crucial stage. 1:05 later it really would not matter as Mike Bossy slapped a howitzer from just outside the left faceoff circle over Richter’s outstretched glove after taking a cross ice feed from Trottier. With a commanding 3 goal lead and just over 12 minutes to play, the Islanders looked in control of their destiny. One slight bump in the road would remain to forcing a game seven when Lane found himself in the dressing room after being ejected for a cross check to the neck of Rangers star defenseman Brian Leetch. The blueshirts would score on the ensuing major power play with Sergei Zubov blasting a point shot past a screened Smith. That would be all the visitors could muster however. The final horn sounded and the crowd roared, sensing a fitting conclusion to a fantastic series by two great hockey teams. Shots in the third finally favored the Isles 12-10 but had it not been for Smith, the outcome of this contest would have been much different.
It’s the ultimate in hockey competition. Game seven….do or die….win or go home. I would argue that there is no greater spectacle in all of sports. And it takes place in the world’s most famous arena in the heart of Manhattan. Tune in tomorrow to see who ends up victorious in this classic battle.
Shots By Period
Stars Of The Game