By Matt Calamia
When the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup on June 14, 1994, Henrik Lundqvist was 12 years old. Brad Richards had just turned 14 and John Moore was still five months shy of his fourth birthday.
That’ll all change tonight, when the Rangers host the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden, the first Final game at the World’s Most Famous Arena since the Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks, 3-2, in Game 7 of the 1994 Final.
“I think it’ll be good for us to get back home here, get the home crowd behind us,” Dan Girardi said following the team’s morning skate at MSG Monday. “They’ve been hungry for 20 years, and we’re going to have to harness their energy and use it to our advantage.”
Heading into the playoffs, the Rangers fielded many questions about their 20-17-4 home record in the regular season, compared to their 25-14-2 line away from New York City. Through 10 games, the Rangers have gone 6-4 at home, including series-clinching wins against Philadelphia and Montreal. The players know how important having the home crowd behind them will be as they look to overcome their 0-2 hole against Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be nice to come back here,” Derick Brassard said. “We saw the support when we were in L.A., especially in Bryant Park. I think that’s great. The atmosphere is going to be really good. When you have the fans behind you, it gives you a lot more energy on the ice. We’re going to try and feed off that.”
With 20 years of waiting comes 20 years of stories and 20 years of memories and reminiscing. While today’s Blueshirts were mostly kids just learning how to skate back in 1994, the fans of the team have told the players just how much that squad from two decades ago and what it accomplished means to them.
“There hasn’t been much talk in the room,” Moore said when asked about the 1994 club. “It’s more when you’re outside of this room and you run into people on the streets. There’s a lot of talk that way. A lot of talk about the fans. None of us were around here 20 years ago. As you look around here, we’re all well aware of the history and we know how important it is to this franchise … You see how cool it was in the environment here. It gives you chills.”
The emotions will be ramped up, and Alain Vigneault said his squad must not try and do too much right off the bat.
“We have to hold service, and we know that,” Vigneault told reporters Monday. “But we know our game and we know the way to play. When we do that, we’re a good team. We have done that for the most part throughout this series. But even though we’re playing hard and we’re playing the right way, they’re a great hockey team. I mean, it’s been nine periods of real good hockey so far.”
The Rangers have not trailed a single second during the Stanley Cup Final, yet find themselves down two games to the Kings. There isn’t much going wrong for the Blueshirts, but more the little details on little plays that become big details on big plays.
“I think we need to be ready every shift to compete, make every little play,” Girardi said. “Obviously, the two overtimes, the little plays hurt us. We’ve had the lead for the majority of the two games and we’ve obviously been doing something right. Just have to find a way to — don’t take a shift off, don’t make a little mistake that could cost us.”
As the old sports cliche goes, the Rangers will take it one period and one game at a time. That focus and mindset helped a few weeks ago when the Rangers found themselves down 3-1 to Pittsburgh, only to win three games in a row to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
“We all know the outcome of the series, so obviously it’s frustrating to work so hard and not get rewarded with anything,” Brassard said. “ You win some and you lose some. You can’t win all the games, but at the end of the day, we have seven games in this series to win the Cup, so we’re just going to focus on tonight.
“If we end up winning both games at home, then this series is tied,” Brassard added. “That’s going to be the main thing for us.”