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.

A really bad day for NHL ice

Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) knocks the puck from New York Rangers right wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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In two different NHL arenas, there were two emphatic complaints about the ice on Sunday.

The first complaint was launched by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, after his team defeated Detroit, 1-0, in overtime at Joe Louis Arena.

“I know the ice was the same for both teams, but the quality of the ice today was just horrendous,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “When you can’t put two passes together because the puck is bouncing all over the place, makes it very hard on both players, who have some skill. It makes it hard to put that skill on display.”

The second complaint came from Canucks goalie Ryan Miller, following a 3-2 loss to Chicago at United Center.

“This ice is the worst ice I’ve seen in my career,” said the 36-year-old netminder, a guy who’s been in the NHL since 2002.

Perhaps Miller was upset about the loss, but the winning goalie at United Center was Corey Crawford, and Crawford himself is no fan of the ice in many NHL buildings.

“I’ve always thought the real issue (with the lack of scoring) isn’t goalie equipment,” he said recently, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “The issue is ice. If you can make ice like the way it is in Colorado, the way it is in Washington, Edmonton — you make the conditions like that for every game in every rink, guys are going to score. … Massive difference between battling with the puck and making sure it’s going to be on the ice, and just playing. … You watch a game where the ice is just horse[bleep], it makes a huge difference.”

We wonder if Crawford has heard that the ice in Edmonton isn’t actually that good anymore.

Outspoken agent Allan Walsh weighed in on the topic Sunday.

“Hearing from players that generally the quality of ice league-wide is getting worse,” Walsh tweeted. “Over time, can lead to groin, back and hip issues.”

Now, to be fair, it’s not an easy task, making good ice in buildings that also host basketball and concerts and whatever else.

But if the quality of the playing surface is, indeed, getting worse, then it’s a problem that the NHL needs to address. Whether it’s sending more experts to help, or even cracking down on teams whose buildings don’t meet the standard, something needs to be done, because the entertainment product is at stake.

P.S. — Sunday in Pittsburgh, there weren’t any emphatic complaints about the playing surface at PPG Paints Arena, but there was a lengthy ice-related delay that sent the Penguins and Bruins to the dressing rooms with 6:26 remaining in the first period.

Pens d-man Ian Cole called it “a pretty good hole” in the ice.

“They got it slush-filled, and then the ref came over and checked it and it was just slush,” Cole said, per the Post-Gazette. “It wasn’t even close to ice, so they were like, ‘OK, we need to do a little more work on it.'”

Related:

Barclays Center ice was ‘unplayable’

The Sharks are going to try and fix their ‘garbage’ ice

Amid trade rumblings, Gionta wants to ‘continue the job’ in Buffalo

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 10:  Brian Gionta #12 of the Buffalo Sabres fires the puck into the zone during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 10, 2015 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated Buffalo 4-2. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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There’s an interesting dynamic at play with Buffalo captain Brian Gionta.

Gionta, who turned 38 last week, is in the midst of a quality campaign. With 10 goals through 46 games, he’s flirting with 20 for the season — a mark he hasn’t hit since the ’10-11 campaign in Montreal.

He’s also on pace for 39 points, which would be his high since signing with the Sabres three years ago.

For a playoff team, this kind of production and veteran presence is invaluable. More to the point, a playoff team wouldn’t part with it.

But the Sabres are right on that playoff bubble — five points back of Boston for third in the Atlantic, and five back of Philly for the final wild card — and, should they fall out of contention, the Gionta conversation becomes quite different.

At that point, he’d be a pending UFA (last of a three-year, $12.75 million deal with a $4.25M cap hit) armed with a limited no-trade clause, as opposed to the full NTC he had in years one and two.

Gionta would also figure to be a fairly intriguing addition at the deadline. In addition to his experience and leadership qualities, he’s appeared in over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, winning it all with New Jersey in 2003.

He knows it might be time to move on. But he also knows he wants to stay.

“That’s out of your control,” Gionta said of trade talks, per the Buffalo News. “The only thing you can control is on the ice, and I’ve had it before throughout my career where your contract’s up.

“I want to continue what’s here. I want to continue the job I thought I’d be a part of.”

The Gionta situation in Buffalo will certainly be one to watch as we get closer to the Mar. 1 deadline.

Detroit loses Vanek, Larkin ahead of key tilt against B’s

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 15:  Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on while playing the Tampa Bay Lightning at Joe Louis Arena on November 15, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Tampa Bay won the game 4-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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It’s been an injury-plagued campaign in the Motor City, and now that bug has carried over to two of the club’s top forwards.

Thomas Vanek — the team’s leading scorer this season, with 31 points — and speedy sophomore Dylan Larkin will both miss tomorrow’s crucial game in Boston with their respective injuries, per NHL.com.

Larkin, 20, is out for the next two games with an upper-body ailment suffered in Sunday’s 1-0 OT loss to the Rangers. Though he’s struggled in his second professional season — just 18 points in 47 games — he had shown signs of coming on lately.

In fact, Larkin starred in last week’s wild 6-5 comeback win against the Bruins, scoring his 12th goal of the year while recording his first multi-point effort since October.

As for Vanek, he also suffered an injury on Sunday — of the lower-body variety — that will temporarily derail what’s been a solid bounce-back campaign (Vanek is day-to-day, per GM Ken Holland).

The 33-year-old has shown well in Detroit after getting bought out by Minnesota last summer — as mentioned above, he’s tied with Henrik Zetterberg for the club lead in scoring and it’s fair to suggest he’s been Detroit’s best player this season, even though injuries have limited him to just 36 games played.

The Wings head into tomorrow’s action four points back of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, and four back of Philly for the final wild card spot. If they’re going to extend their historic playoff appearance streak, every game matters — yes, even ones now, in late January.

NHL on NBCSN: Sharks look to complete home-and-home sweep of Avalanche

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21:  David Schlemko #5 and Kevin Labanc #62 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate after Schlemko scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Spencer Martin #30 of the Colorado Avalanche at SAP Center on January 21, 2017 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Colorado Avalanche host the San Jose Sharks at 9:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Tonight’s game between the Avalanche and Sharks will be the second time they go head-to-head in three nights.

On Saturday, Colorado came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, but they eventually fell in overtime, as Sharks defenseman David Schlemko scored the game-winner just 1:18 into the extra frame.

Despite the loss and the horrific record they own, Avs coach Jared Bednar has felt good about the way his team’s been playing of late.

“We are coming on,” Bednar said on Saturday, per the Denver Post. “It’s discouraging at times because you don’t get the results. It’s those one or two mistakes. You have to find a way to cure, to eliminate them as much as you possibly can, make sure you’re not making the same mistakes over and over. But we’re playing real good hockey against real good teams right now and we’re fighting and in all the games.”

When you’re 13-29-2 overall, you try to find small victories in every battle, and improved overall play during losses has to be considered a small win every time.

Over their last 11 games, the Avalanche have come away with just a single win (2-1 in OT over the Isles on Jan. 6). With the OT loss to the Sharks on Saturday night, Colorado has picked up three of a possible 22 points during that stretch of 11 games.

As you may have expected, scoring has been a huge issue for them. If we look back at their last 10 games, they’ve managed to score more than two goals just once, and that came in a 6-4 loss to Chicago on Jan. 17.

As for the Sharks, things couldn’t be going much better right now.

Since their 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 14, they’ve rattled off four straight wins over Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Colorado.

So yea, these two teams couldn’t be headed in more opposite directions. San Jose won as many games last week as the Avalanche have since Dec. 8.

Saturday’s game against the Avs was the Sharks’ fifth game in eight days and at times, they looked fatigued. Even though they ended up pulling out a win, they weren’t satisfied with their overall play.

“When we’re on our game, we’re making it tough with grind time and traffic at the net, some chances,” Joe Pavelski told CSN Bay Area on Saturday. “Tonight we didn’t have as many as we could have had. We’ll try to find a little bit more for next game.”