Rangers celebrate 25-year anniversary of 1994 championship

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NEW YORK — From the moment Mark Messier came to the New York Rangers in 1991, he knew he was expected to lead the team to its first Stanley Cup championship in more than 50 years.

”There was no escaping the pressure of 1940,” Messier said about the last year the Rangers had won the Cup. ”Coming here and understanding what the Original Six franchise was and this history, there was no escaping it. The pressure was real, from the fans, the organization.”

Messier accomplished the task in 1994 as the Rangers ended their 54-year title drought by outlasting the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final. Honored with a parade in the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan that June, the players from that team were back at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to celebrate the 25-year anniversary.

”When you are in New York, not a day goes by that you don’t run into someone that you get reminded, get smiles,” Adam Graves said before the ceremony that preceded the Rangers’ game against Carolina. ”Back then you never thought you’d be impacting the way we have been, it is very special.”

From general manager Neil Smith, coach Mike Keenan, to stars Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Craig MacTavish and Stephane Matteau, each were introduced one by one to a rousing ovation. The only absences from the group were Alexander Karpovtsev, who was killed along with most of the KHL Lokomotiv team in a plane crash in 2011, and Brian Noonan, who was said to have a prior commitment.

Messier said he’s been approached by countless people over since who thanked him and claimed to have witnessed the Game 7 win in New York.

”I didn’t realize Madison Square Garden holds 2 million people,” he joked, ”because I’ve talked to 2 million people over 25 years that were here that night. That’s been interesting. It never gets old … never get tired of speaking with people on the street or in the subway or trains, or taxi drivers that recognize the guys or myself and thank us for the Cup.”

Messier is also remembered for his famous for his declaration before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against New Jersey when, with the Rangers trailing 3-2 in the series, he guaranteed the team would win Game 6.

Messier said he was simply trying to let his teammates know he believed in the team.

”I really felt we could go into New Jersey and win, and I wanted the guys to know it,” he said. ”The papers the next day were what they were. It wasn’t going to motivate New Jersey any more.”

Leetch said the team chuckled when they saw Messier’s Game 6 guarantee in the papers, and it didn’t change anything about their preparation for that game.

”Just was kind of a light-hearted thing to remember that we’re in New York, everything gets magnified,” Leetch said. ”One comment gets turned into a guarantee. It was something for a little bit that we had a laugh about”.

Messier then backed up his words with a hat trick in the third period to rally the Rangers to a 4-2 win.

”He’s always done things his whole career,” Leetch said. ”He’s been a part of a lot of big moments and rises to occasions in big games, but the fact he did that here in New York when it was on the front and back pages, we still shake our heads at it that he was the guy to do it in that game.”

The Rangers then won Game 7 on Matteau’s goal in double-overtime.

They lost the opening game in the championship series against the Canucks despite having a big advantage on shots, then won three straight to get to the cusp of ending their long drought before being forced to the deciding game.

”I remember saying we should have won this series four straight,” Messier said. ”Coming back and losing Game 5 and 6 and then we’re back in another Game 7.”

Then, Messier came through again, giving the Rangers a two-goal lead that stood as the winner to deliver the franchise and the city the long-awaited title he had been brought in to get.

”When Mark came across the ice to celebrate the Stanley Cup victory and handed it to me and I looked it over, the first thing that came to my mind is I can’t believe how difficult this trophy is to win,” said Keenan, who said he is doing well after his treatment for prostate cancer last year. ”As now time passes, 25 years later, that endorsement of how difficult it is stands even more in my mind.”

Difficult indeed, as the championship in 1994 remains the Rangers’ only title in the last 79 years.

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Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

Andrei Kuzmenko
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.

Hurricanes top Stars in OT to win matchup of 1st-place teams

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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DALLAS – Martin Necas scored 1:34 into overtime to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

Sebastian Aho had a short-handed goal and Brent Burns also scored for the Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The game-winner was Necas’ 19th goal this season.

Dallas is still atop the Western Conference, and the Central Division, after its second consecutive 3-2 overtime loss at home. Jason Robertson scored his 33rd goal for the Stars, and 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston got his 13th.

Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t return after the first intermission because of an upper-body injury, soon after a strange sequence that ended with Robertson scoring on a shot from what seemed to be an impossible angle.

The puck was bouncing on the ice behind Andersen and settled against the post after Tyler Seguin‘s shot before the goalie was able to swipe it away to his right. Robertson then shot from behind Andersen, and the puck apparently ricocheted off him and into the net for a 2-1 Dallas lead. Robertson’s 33rd goal matched his assists total.

Antti Raanta replaced Andersen and stopped all 15 shots he faced – none in overtime – after the starter had four saves. Raanta had to shake off getting struck in the head by Mason Marchment‘s stick when the Stars forward was behind the net fighting for the puck midway through the third period.

Stars goalie Jake Oettinger stopped 22 shots, including a glove save of Andrei Svechnikov‘s wrister with just more than five minutes left in regulation.

Aho’s 200th career goal put Carolina up 1-0 midway through the first period. The Stars got even just more than two minutes later when Johnston scored unassisted after a faceoff.

Johnston also had a shot ricochet off the post with just under six minutes left.

In between the first two goals, Oettinger went into a fully extended split, with his right skate against the post, to deny Paul Stastny‘s attempt to knock in a loose puck.

Burns tied the game at 2 in the second period, getting the puck after a faceoff, then skating over the top of the circle and scoring top shelf over Oettinger’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Marchment was coming out of the penalty box at the same time Carolina made an errant pass in the second period. He had a breakaway attempt, but couldn’t get enough control of the puck to get off a quality shot. … Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce and Stars center Luke Glendening both got five-minute penalties for fighting in the second period.

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Will play San Jose on Friday night in the first of three consecutive home games.

Stars: Host the New Jersey Devils on Friday night in their last game before the All-Star break.

Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry out until after the All-Star break

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry‘s on-again, off-again season is now off again.

Coach Mike Sullivan said that the two-time All-Star will miss at least two games with an upper-body injury.

Jarry was scheduled to start against Florida but reported an upper-body issue when he arrived at PPG Paints Arena. Casey DeSmith got the last-second start as the Penguins pulled out a wild 7-6 victory over the Panthers.

Jarry is out through at least the All-Star break. Pittsburgh plays at Washington and then hosts San Jose before getting a full week off.

The 27-year-old Jarry has played well when he’s been in the lineup, posting a 16-5-5 record with a 2.65 goals-against average in 27 games. His availability, however, has been an issue of late. He missed more than two weeks earlier this month after being injured against Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Penguins are not as sharp when Jarry is out. Pittsburgh is 8-10-3 with DeSmith or Dustin Tokarski in goal this season. The Penguins recalled Tokarski from their American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to back up DeSmith during Jarry’s absence.

Letang scores twice in return, Penguins beat Panthers 7-6 in OT

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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PITTSBURGH – Amid a nightmarish season off the ice, Kris Letang has been searching for joy. A sense of normalcy.

He found a little of both.

The veteran Pittsburgh defenseman scored twice in his return from a lower-body injury, the second with 54 seconds left in overtime to give the Penguins a 7-6 victory over Florida.

“I was just happy to be out there,” Letang said. “Be in the atmosphere of the team.”

Letang’s 17th season with Pittsburgh has been pockmarked by health issues and a profound sense of loss. He missed two weeks after suffering the second stroke of his career shortly after Thanksgiving. He then tweaked something in a loss to Detroit on Dec. 28.

His father died unexpectedly a few days later, and Letang spent an extended amount of time with his family in his native Montreal, with his teammates making an unexpected stop to join Letang for his father’s wake at the end of a West Coast swing earlier this month.

The Penguins activated him off injured reserve on Tuesday afternoon. Letang responded with four points in a rollicking game that featured 13 goals, the last Letang’s one-timer from just above the left circle on the power play that gave Pittsburgh just its fourth win in 12 overtime games this season.

“It was kind of surreal, you know?” Letang said. “I didn’t know what to think or how it was going to go. These guys supported me for the last month… it’s just great to be back.”

The Penguins, currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, opened up a small bit of breathing room over the ninth-place Panthers by beating Florida for the 18th time in its last 21 trips to Pittsburgh.

Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for The Penguins. Rickard Rakell and Drew O'Connor also scored for the Penguins.

Casey DeSmith struggled in place of Tristan Jarry, a late scratch with an upper-body injury. DeSmith stopped 33 shots, including both he faced in overtime, to win for the third time in his last 10 starts.

“That was a huge two points for us,” DeSmith said. “Obviously we’re battling with them in the standings. Character win at home.”

Carter Verhaeghe scored twice for Florida, including a tying goal with 2:32 left in regulation. Aaron Ekblad had a goal and two assists. Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Reinhart each had a goal and an assist. Colin White‘s sixth goal of the season 4:10 into the third gave the Panthers the lead but Florida couldn’t hold it.

Alex Lyon made 42 saves after getting the start when Spencer Knight was unavailable for reasons head coach Paul Maurice would not disclose. The Panthers are 7-3-2 since January 1 to surge back into the fringe of contention.

“We’re so much more of a different hockey team than we were a month ago at this time,” Maurice said. “Rallied around each other, battled as hard as they could to get a point on the road in the circumstances that we’re in. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Neither Lyon or DeSmith – who got the heads up he was playing less than an hour before the opening faceoff – appeared quite ready to play on short notice. They gave up a six goals – three by each team – during a frantic first period that included Letang’s first goal since Dec. 15 and Tkachuk’s 25th of the season.

Things settled down in the second. Ekblad’s short-handed goal put the Panthers in front but Crosby knotted the game at 4-4 with a pretty backhand through Lyon’s legs with 40 seconds to go in the period to set up a hectic third in which both teams squandered one-goal leads.

“It wasn’t pretty but you need to find ways to win sometimes,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of that here today.”

UP NEXT

Panthers: Host Angeles on Friday night.

Penguins: At Washington on Thursday night.