Messier

Comparing the Rangers to the 1994 team that broke ‘the curse’

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For the first time in 20 years, the New York Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final series. It’s a big deal even if Sports Illustrated probably won’t run a cover story about how “The NHL is hot and the NBA is not” this time around.

The cast of characters is wildly different, yet there are enough interesting parallels between the Stanley Cup-winning 1994 team and this 2014 squad that it could be fun to study the similarities and differences. Feel free to share your own parallels (or disagree about these) in the comments.

The Team

The 2013-14 Rangers finished second in the Metropolitan Division, enjoying strong puck possession and getting this far by playing great team defense. The 1994 version seemed more like a total package; the Rangers scored the fourth-most goals and allowed the third least goals in going 52-24-8 (112 points) to win the Atlantic Division and the Presidents’ Trophy before that Cup win.

Fittingly enough, the New Jersey Devils were the only team close in the standings, finishing with 106 points.

The Captain

Mark Messier made that famous guarantee on his way to the sixth Stanley Cup victory of his storied career and the first Rangers championship in 54 years. On the other hand, these Rangers don’t even possess a captain.

That’s not to say they lack leadership, however. Henrik Lundqvist is a steadying presence in net. Martin St. Louis came to New York in exchange for their former captain Ryan Callahan. Rick Nash is a former captain and Brad Richards knows big-game pressure.

No one’s made a flat-out guarantee, which is wise considering the modern news cycle. That’s not to say this group is meek by any means; St. Louis did state that this is “our time” after beating the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4.

The Goalie

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

There’s something oddly fitting about Lundqvist winning his 42nd career playoff game, just now passing Mike Richter for the franchise record. Lundqvist, 32, also has a few more career regular season victories (309) than Richter finished with (301). Lundqvist also has that 2006 gold medal, a Vezina Trophy and a contract that indicates that Lundqvist will leave Richter far behind statistically speaking.

Even so, for many Rangers fans, “King Henrik” won’t pass Richter until he wins it all.

The Defenseman

Ryan McDonagh is a rising star defenseman. He’s even putting up some numbers that haven’t been seen since Brian Leetch was at his best. McDonagh is one of the best blueliners the team has employed since Leetch and he’s only 24. But he’s not Leetch yet.

Leetch wasn’t that much older at the time, yet he was absolutely in his peak years back then. He won his first of two Norris Trophies in 1991-92 and went on to win the Conn Smythe in 1994.

Then again, it’s not just about Leetch and McDonagh. The Rangers employed regularly underrated defenseman Sergei Zubov, who led the Rangers in regular-season scoring with 89 points (five more than Messier and 10 more than Leetch).

The Deadline deals

As this NHL.com article lays out, then-Rangers GM Neil Smith mortgaged future assets to win that year and also chisel the team into “Iron” Mike Keenan’s image. That included a deal that sent Tony Amonte to Chicago for Stephane Matteau, which still seems to haunt Smith.

Current Rangers GM Glen Sather set out to make this roster friendlier to his coach Alain Vigneault, even though the general vibe is reversed (grit to finesse). Martin St. Louis has been a fantastic fit in the playoffs in particular, yet the Tampa Bay Lightning received two first-round picks and Ryan Callahan on at least a “rental” basis for their troubles.

Even though the 1994 Rangers made a larger volume of moves, the big-picture message was the same: win now.

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The 1994 Rangers were dominant where this version is talented yet scrappy. There are some other similarities and differences (this year’s team boasts some nice young talent while the ’94 group featured the likes of Alex Kovalev), yet these big picture considerations make for an interesting comparison.

Sharks defeat Hurricanes, but Vlasic exits game with lower-body injury

Marc-Edouard Vlasic
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Talk about the ideal start.

Patrick Marleau scored just 12 seconds into the first period and the San Jose Sharks had a 2-1 lead before Saturday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes was even four minutes old.

The Sharks held on for a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes, Kevin Labanc‘s goal late in the second period standing as the winner, as the two teams traded three goals in the span of just over three minutes.

It remains awfully crowded in the Pacific Division. The Flames lead with 34 points, while the Sharks, Ducks and Oilers are all one point back.

The victory came with bad news for the Sharks.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game in the second period and didn’t return. He’s now day-to-day with a lower-body injury, according to coach Pete DeBoer following the win.

Flames dominate the Jets to take over top spot in the Pacific Division

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 10: Dougie Hamilton #27 of the Calgary Flames celebrates after scoring his team's third goal against the Winnipeg Jets during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on December 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Is there a changing of the guard in the Pacific Division?

It’s the middle of December and the Calgary Flames, now with six straight wins, lead the same division dominated last season by the California powers in Anaheim, San Jose and L.A. The Edmonton Oilers have been inconsistent at times this season but they are right there, too, one point back. Same goes for the Ducks. The Sharks and Kings are definitely in contention.

There is plenty of hockey remaining in the season. Plenty of chances for change in the NHL’s division standings, including in the Pacific. But there’s no denying the Flames are on an impressive run.

Late last month, they had a particularly frustrating loss to Philadelphia and coach Glen Gulutzan voiced his displeasure about it. They followed that up the next day with an overtime loss to the Islanders. Prior to that weekend, there had been rumblings about the future of Gulutzan with the club, despite being only a few months into his tenure.

But since then, the Flames have yet to lose. They continued their winning streak with a convincing 6-2 victory over the visiting Jets on Saturday.

Dougie Hamilton — remember all that trade speculation surrounding the Flames defenseman and Brian Burke’s classic response? — had two goals for Calgary. Chad Johnson was solid in net again. It was a pretty dominant performance all around.

Frustrating night for the Jets and it showed when Dustin Byfuglien dropped the gloves with Garnet Hathaway late in the third period.

There are more difficult tests ahead for Calgary.

The Flames face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday and then the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.

In previous seasons, a Friday night game between the Flames and Blue Jackets in the middle of December might not garner much interest. But they are both among the hottest teams in the league right now and it’s likely not many would’ve predicted that a short time ago.

Video: Perlini’s first NHL goal helps lift Coyotes over Predators

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 10:  Brendan Perlini #29 of the Arizona Coyotes reacts alongside Calle Jarnkrok #19 of the Nashville Predators after Perlini scored his first career goal during the second period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on December 10, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The Arizona Coyotes have moved out of last place in the NHL’s overall standings, courtesy a 4-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Minus forward Max Domi, placed on IR and expected to be out on a week-to-week basis, the Coyotes got a 44-save performance from goalie Mike Smith and recently recalled forward Brendan Perlini pitched in with his first career NHL goal.

That goal gave Arizona a 3-1 lead. Thanks to the play of Smith, the Coyotes wouldn’t relinquish the lead, snapping a six-game losing skid.

It wasn’t all good news for the Coyotes.

Defenseman Connor Murphy played only 4:12. He left the game with an upper-body injury and didn’t return. Per reports, Murphy is considered day-to-day at this point.

The Blue Jackets just keep on winning

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Zach Werenski #8 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is congratulated by Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets after scoring his first career NHL goal during the third period of the game against the San Jose Sharks on October 15, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. San Jose defeated Columbus 3-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Jack Johnson, Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones each had a goal and an assist as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

Josh Anderson, Brandon Saad and Lukas Sedlak also scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky had 25 saves.

Josh Bailey and John Tavares scored for New York, which had earned a point in a season-high five straight games (4-0-1). Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves until he was pulled after the Blue Jackets scored four consecutive goals in the third period.

Anderson put Columbus ahead 3-2 at 2:19 when he picked off a defensive pass and banged it in from the slot seconds after coming onto the ice for his shift.

Saad, Sedlak and Jones scored in a 5-minute span to make it 6-2 with 5:37 to go.

New York’s third-string goalie Jean-Francois Berube then replaced Halak and stopped the one shot he faced in his season debut.

The Islanders came out quick and it took Columbus a while to get going. New York took a 1-0 lead 5:59 in when a defensive pass by the Blue Jackets’ Sam Gagner at the boards was deflected by Bailey, and the popup was bobbled by Bobrovsky into the net. Bailey was given credit for an unassisted goal.

The Blue Jackets tied it up on a power play with 6:01 left in the first when Johnson wound up from just inside the neutral zone and fired a bullet past Halak. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season.

Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky and New York’s Travis Harmonic went to the penalty box for 5 minutes each when both threw down the gloves and threw punches near the end of the first quarter.

Columbus took a 2-1 lead when a speeding Atkinson took a pass from Johnson in the neutral zone and beat Halak on the breakaway 10:16 into the second. New York tied with 7:28 left in the period when Tavares lifted the puck over Bobrovsky’s pad from in front of the net.

The Blue Jackets took off in the third period.

After Anderson gave Columbus the lead for good, Saad made it 4-2 on a wrister from the high slot at 9:23.

Sedlak, who scored his first NHL goal on Friday night, scored another when he tapped in a loose puck with 7:21 to go. Jones capped it with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining.