Those six little words sum up the exhilarating feelings shared by Rangers fans over nine decades of postseason thrills.
Pairing the best playoff moments to a mere nine is like pushing back the Atlantic with a box of Kleenex.
But a challenge is a challenge so here goes — in chronological order — with the Nine Best Rangers Playoff Moments over 90 Years:
Lester Patrick Saves the Blueshirts
In only their second season in the National Hockey League, the Rangers were facing the heavily favored Montreal Maroons. If that wasn’t challenging enough, every game of the best-of-five series had to be played at the Montreal Forum.
The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus traditionally played The Garden in early Spring, forcing the Blueshirts to play all their games on a foreign rink. But compared to what would later happen, being the visiting team was small potatoes to manager-coach Lester Patrick and his New Yorkers.
Their first bit of bad news was losing the opening game at Montreal, 2-0. The second bit of bad news was virtually catastrophic in hockey terms. With the teams scoreless late in the first period of Game 2 on April 2, 1928, a puck fired by hard-shooting Maroon Nels Stewart struck Rangers goalie Lorne Chabot in the face. Bloodied and unable to see, Chabot was rushed to a nearby hospital, finished not only for the game but the entire series.
Since the Rangers did not have a backup goalie and the Maroons forbade coach Patrick from signing any other, Lester, himself, decided to put on the pads. Although Patrick had become a Hall of Famer as a defenseman, he never had played goal professionally. Needless to say, the Maroons figured that they’d bombard Patrick to submission.
But the Blueshirts leader fooled them all; including himself. After his right wing Bill Cook put New York ahead 1-0, Patrick blunted every Montreal barrage until Nels Stewart beat him with only 19 seconds left in the third period, forcing sudden-death overtime.
Forum fans could have been forgiven for hoping that the pressure would force the Blueshirts’ interim goalie to miss a shot but Patrick held the fort through seven minutes of sudden-death before his center Frank Boucher beat Maroons goalie Clint Benedict at 7:05 of the first overtime period.
Patrick’s unique feat has gone down as one of the most dramatic moments in the NHL’s 100-year history.
The Unlikely Goalie and the Likely Cup-Winner
When the Rangers learned that goalie Lorne Chabot would remain hospitalized for the remainder of the series, the Maroons had to consent to New York signing a substitute to bail out the Blueshirts. The only puck-stopper agreed upon was Joe Miller, who had played for the rival New York Americans and was regarded as the worst goalie in the NHL.
Given no other choice but Miller, the Rangers lost Game 3 to the Maroons and faced elimination in Game 4 on April 11, 1928. “The Maroons didn’t think much of Miller and were so sure that we would be beaten,” said Rangers center Frank Boucher, “that — before the game — they scheduled a victory party at a fancy Montreal Hotel after they won the Cup. Or, so they hoped.”
But the victory party had to be canceled. Miller — who had been nicknamed “Red Light” because of all the goals he allowed in the regular season — stopped every shot hurled at him. Meanwhile, Boucher scored late in the middle period and that goal held up as the 1-0 winner. Miller had pitched a perfect game and now the series boiled down to Game 5 on April 14, 1928.
The oft-mocked Miller once again was flawless while Boucher’s two goals had given him a cushion to work with through the first half of the third period. Finally, with only five minutes remaining Maroons ace Bill Phillips beat him, trimming the Rangers lead to just a single goal.
With the Forum crowd cheering for another Montreal goal, Red Light Miller stood tall and denied the Maroons that coveted second goal. And with those saves, the most unlikely goalie helped deliver the first Stanley Cup to New York.
That Cup victory party that the Maroons had expected wound up being hosted by New York Mayor Jimmy Walker at Manhattan’s City Hall. The Rangers had become the sporting heroes of The Big Apple — thanks to Red Light Miller.
Cook-ing Up a Cup in Toronto
If ever there was a revenge series in the Rangers’ young history — the club was only six years old — the 1933 Stanley Cup Final against the Toronto Maple Leafs was it.
Actually, the animosity was rooted in the Fall of 1926 when Madison Square Garden management hired Conn Smythe to manage the brand new franchise. During training camp, Smythe refused the order of his MSG bosses to obtain Toronto star Babe Dye, Madison Square Garden Brass subsequently fired Smythe and hired Lester Patrick to orchestrate the Blueshirts.
From that point on, Smythe harbored a grudge against the New Yorkers and it was translated into a Maple Leafs three-game “tennis” sweep — 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 — of the Rangers in the 1932 Cup Final. What’s more, the winning goalie was ex-Ranger Lorne Chabot.
In an attempt to revive his franchise, Patrick dumped goalie John Ross Roach and replaced him with an untried rookie named Andy Aitkenhead. As luck would have it, the Rangers won the first two preliminary rounds, ousting Montreal (Canadiens) and Detroit and once again met Toronto in the best-of-five tourney for the Cup.
Once again, the Rangers were underdogs with only one out of the four games played at Madison Square Garden. Plus, the veteran Chabot was considered far superior to Aitkenhead, the freshman. In the end, however, it worked the other way around.
With New York leading the series 2-1, Game 4 was held on April 13, 1933 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. As it happened, the contest turned into a goaltenders battle with Aitkenhead matching Chabot save for save through three scoreless periods.
As the sudden-death period moved past the seven-minute mark, coach Patrick wanted to replace his first line — Frank Boucher, Bill Cook and Bun Cook — with fresh legs. Bun made it to the bench as Butch Keeling moved on to left wing, but Boucher and Cook never got off the ice. Keeling nabbed the rubber and saw that Cook was uncovered on the right wing near the Toronto blue line.
Butch skimmed a perfect pass and Cook did the rest. “I saw that Chabot was giving me a wide opening at his right,” Bill remembered, “all on the stick side so I just fired for the hole.”
In the end, it was a holy goal for the Rangers. The clock stopped at 7:34 of overtime and the Rangers had their second Stanley Cup over a period of only a half-dozen years.
As New York celebrated, so did the Rangers. The Blueshirts were hailed at City Hall, not to mention what was described as “a sumptuous victory celebration” at the Astor Hotel and a private party hosted by the famed composer, Cole Porter. One of the tunes he would write was “Easy To Love.” It could have been inspired by the Rangers’ Cup victory.
Putting a Hex on the Leafs
By the mid-1930s Lester Patrick knew that his franchise needed a major re-tooling. The Cook Brothers and Boucher were slowing down and some changes had to be made. In that regard, Patrick developed a farm system similar to what baseball’s Branch Rickey was doing with his St. Louis Cardinals.
Soon the Rangers had teams in the American Hockey League, Eastern Amateur Hockey League and a spate of Junior clubs in Canada. In addition, Patrick needed a new top-notch goaltender and dealt for Davey Kerr, considered one of the NHL’s elite crease kings. In 1939, Lester stepped down as coach and named his Hall of Fame center, Boucher, as head coach.
As Lester had hoped, the farm crops were ripe and included such future aces as right wing Bryan Hextall, center Phil Watson and Lester’s older son, Lynn Patrick. Better still was a fine young, unit — dubbed “The Bread Line” — that included the brothers Neil and Mac Colville along with Alex Shibicky. The defense featured Lester’s younger son, Murray, and hard-nosed Art Coulter.
En route to the Final Cup round, the Rangers upset the defending champion Bruins in six games setting the stage for a best-of-seven title round with Toronto. In what amounted to a see-saw series — New York won the first two games and Toronto the next pair — it came down to Game Six on April 13, 1940 at Maple Leaf Gardens with the Blueshirts leading three games to two.
For two periods and eight minutes into the third, it looked like the home club had it in the bag thanks to goals by Syl Apps and Nick Metz. But, in less than two minutes the Rangers tied the count on red lights lit by Neil Colville and Alf Pike, and that meant overtime.
If the Rangers needed any further incentive, it was provided by Lester Patrick who told the troops that he had made arrangements for a victory party at the Royal York Hotel. “Don’t let me down,” was Patrick’s parting words.
Starting the overtime as if they couldn’t wait to get to the celebration, the Rangers controlled play and within two minutes had the puck deep in the Toronto end. The effervescent Watson corralled the rubber behind the net and skimmed a pass to the muscular Hextall who buried it behind Leafs goalie Turk Broda at 2:07 of the sudden death.
The Rangers third Cup win inspired kudos around the league but none more than the words later uttered in retrospect many years after the celebration by coach Boucher: “It was the best hockey team I ever saw.”
Bones Raleigh's Double Dip
Don Raleighwas an unlikely hero if ever there was one, starting with his first trip to New York as a teenager. The scary-skinny center — later to be nicknamed “Bones” — played his first hockey for a Rangers farm team that played out of the Brooklyn Ice Palace on Atlantic Avenue between Bedford and Nostrand Avenues; a snapshot away from where Barclays is now.
After skating for the Brooklyn Crescents during the 1943-44 season, he was given a Rangers tryout for 15 games and scored two goals and two assists. But it was clear that Raleigh lacked enough NHL skills and didn’t return to the Blueshirts until the 1947-48 campaign when he became a full-time Ranger.
A crafty center, better known for his passing skills than his shot, Don skated alongside Ed Slowinski on right wing and Pentti Lund on the port side. Their highlight season was 1949-50 when they paced New York to a five-game upset over the Montreal Canadiens in the opening playoff round.
That pitted the Blueshirts against a mighty Detroit Red Wings sextet in the Final round and, as usual, the odds were stacked against the team coached by Lynn Patrick. In the seven-game series, not a single match was played at Madison Square Garden because of the usual circus invasion. As a result, five games were played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium and two “home” games were granted the Rangers at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.
Not surprisingly, the Motor City skaters took a two to one lead in games before Game 4 would be played at Olympia on April 16, 1950. And that’s when Bones Raleigh took over center stage. Trailing 3-1 in the third period, the Rangers fashioned a late rally and tied the score 3-3 with less than four minutes remaining.
The first overtime featured goaltenders Chuck Rayner of New York and Harry Lumley of Detroit exchanging saves until just past the 16-minute mark when Slowinski put Raleigh in the clear and, sliding on his stomach, Bones beat Lumley at 16:26 of sudden death to tie the series at two games apiece.
Two nights later, Raleigh repeated his feat only this time Detroit rallied with a late third-period goal to tie the count at 1-1. When the overtime began coach Patrick sent the Raleigh-Slowinski-Lund line out on the ice and with only a minute and 38 seconds elapsed, Bones beat Lumley again to put New York ahead in the series three games to two.
Alas, the Red Wings came from behind in Games 6 and 7. In the finale, neither team scored in the first sudden death period although the Rangers hit a goal post but the puck went the wrong way. In the second overtime, Pete Babando beat Rayner at 8:31 to give Detroit the Cup.
Nevertheless, skinny, lifetime Ranger Bones Raleigh never will be forgotten for his double-dip sudden death feats 67 years ago.
Upsetting the Islanders at The Garden
Both in the Spring of 1978 and 1979, the Islanders were favored to win the Stanley Cup. The Nassaumen were upset in the former year by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Next, it was the Rangers’ turn and on May 8, 1979, one of the most astonishing upsets in NHL annals would take place on Garden ice.
Coached by Fred (The Fog) Shero, the Blueshirts had dominated their rivals from the get-go and even though the Suburbanites had managed two wins, the Blueshirts looked like the better team even in losing. But on May 3, 1979 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Anders Hedberg scored for the Blueshirts with just 2:13 to play putting the Rangers just one win away from advancing to the Cup Final.
Game 6 at The Garden was a classic and one of the loudest on record from the moment the Rangers took the ice. The LET’S GO RANGERS chant rocked the building and that was followed by a rousing cheer for the Blueshirts goalie John Davidson. JAY-DEE — CLAP CLAP; JAY-DEE — CLAP CLAP.
The cheering briefly stopped when Mike Bossy scored for the Visitors in the first period, but Don Murdoch evened the count at 5:03 of the second. Then, it happened; the Isles Bob Lorimer took a penalty at 7:33 and the Rangers swung into action. Phil Esposito and Don Maloney worked the puck free behind the Islanders net and dispatched it to Ron Greschner for a power play goal. The score was 2-1 for the Rangers and the house went wild.
Well into the third period, the Blueshirts dominated play while Davidson had to make only three saves. Nothing that coach Al Arbour could do would turn the tide against the Underdogs from Seventh Avenue. When the final buzzer sounded, a number of eardrums must have been broken by the crowd roaring its approval.
Fans in The Garden danced, sang, hugged and kissed each other. And well they should have to hail one of the all-time, all-time upsets.
Mark Messes Up the Devils' Cup Plans
Having won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the regular season, the Rangers were favored to beat the Devils in the Eastern Conference Final. But the Garden State skaters were coached by the remarkably savvy Jacques Lemaire and actually had worked themselves into a 3-2 series lead with Game Six at the Meadowlands of New Jersey.
Right from the start, the Rangers appeared doomed to another playoff without a Stanley Cup. The Devils were dominant, taking the lead with the still youthful Martin Brodeur in goal. For Blueshirts fans, this was not what they had expected. But there was one source of solace.
Prior to the sixth game, captain Mark Messier was quoted as saying “WE WILL WIN GAME SIX.” Of course, it sounded to some as mere rah-rah stuff and remained that way until Alexei Kovalev beat Brodeur with a dynamic wrist shot from the right side pulling the Blueshirts closer to a tie.
No question, the Devils were worried. Between periods New Jersey’s crack center Bernie Nicholls appeared on television and quietly admitted that his team was tiring. The body language suggested that he feared a Rangers comeback.
Nicholls perceptions were accurate. In the third period, Messier put the pucks where his mouth was and beat Brodeur three times to thrust the Rangers into a Game 7 at The Garden. That too was a classic, settled in double overtime by Stephane Matteau‘s goal.
Messier’s three-goal feat has gone down in New York sports history as one of those rare stories alongside Babe Ruth’s accurate World Series home run prediction; pointing his finger at the bleachers far away from where he would plant his four-bagger in the Believe It Or Not category.
Winning the Cup at Home
For years the Rangers had been taunted by Islanders fans who loved to repeat, 1940, 1940, noting that the Blueshirts had not sipped Stanley Cup champagne for a long, long time.
Sure, they came close in 1950 when a hit goal post almost resulted in a Cup victory over Detroit. Then, again, they entered the 1979 Final against Montreal and won the opener at The Forum after which they took a 2-0 lead in Game 2. But it was all downhill after that as the Habs won four straight games to dash the New Yorkers’ hopes once more.
As it happened, 1994 would prove to be another — and happier — story. Facing the Vancouver Canucks, the Blueshirts fashioned a 3-1 lead and returned to The Garden ready to wrap up the tourney. But the visitors weren’t ready to die. They upset the Rangers and then won again in British Columbia to tie the series at three apiece. The curtain soon would lift on the finale, June 14, 1994.
This was not the script New Yorkers had hoped for and there was plenty of angst before the opening face-off of Game7. But relief soon was provided when defenseman Sergei Zubov skimmed a pass to Brian Leetch on the left side and, whoopee, the Rangers were up by one at 11:02.
Adam Graves added to the ecstasy with a power-play goal at 14:45. A hush came over the arena when Trevor Linden scored shorthanded in the second frame but Captain Messier made it 3-1. Joy was diminished again in the third when that man Linden tallied on the power-play to reduce the count to 3-2.
Time and again, the Canucks counterattacked but could not produce a third goal.
Finally with the face-off deep in Rangers zone with 1.6 seconds remaining, Craig MacTavish won the face-off and the Blueshirts forever erased the 1940 chant!
Close, But No Cigar
The Rangers’ adventure into the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings can be summed up by two words, “Bitter Sweet.”
The beauty part was the Blueshirts reaching the Stanley Cup Final and then putting up a valiant effort against a mighty Tinseltown team with Jonathan Quick starring in goal with his goal posts getting an Oscar as Best Supporting Saviours.
This was a series in which Henrik Lundqvistplayed some of the best hockey in his life and the Rangers, to a man, sacrificing himself to the ultimate. But it wasn’t meant to be and that’s that.
The series opened on June 4 in Los Angeles and the Kings eked out a 3-2 victory. If that wasn’t frustrating enough. the home club just barely won the second encounter at Staples Center on June 7, 5-4. Game 3 at The Garden was a bit different but no fun for the New Yorkers; Quick posted a 2-0 blank job putting the Rangers on the precipice.
But coach Alain Vigneault‘s skaters did not take defeat lightly and rallied for a stirring 2-1 win at home. Heading back to L.A., the Rangers were not daunted and their performance in Game 5 underlined the point. They took the Kings into overtime with the score 2-2 only to be defeated on an Alec Martinez shot that beat King Henrik.
If ever there was a series in which the losers also emerged as winners without a Cup, that was precisely the point on June 13, 2014 when the Kings skated around the ice with the large hunk of Lord Stanley’s silverware, and not the Rangers who were valiant with a capital V, if not in victory.
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