Top 10 Rangers Moments on The Garden’s 50th Anniversary

Picking the Top 10 Rangers Moments in celebration of Madison Square Garden‘s 50th anniversary is the beauty part of this job.

The challenge — and believe, you, me — it is a challenge, happens to be trimming down a ton of choices to just 10.

But The Maven is here for reason, so here goes. (And if you disagree, please send in your choices).

Honorable Mentions:

  • November 4, 2003: Mark Messier ties and passes Gordie Howe for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list
  • February 22, 2009: Simultaneous jersey retirements for Andy Bathgate and Harry Howell
  • February 18, 1968: First hockey game at MSG IV. Rangers beat Flyers, 3-1

1 JUNE 14, 1994: RANGERS WIN THE STANLEY CUP

Editor’s Note: On this date, June 14, back in 1994, the Rangers ended a 40-year championship drought by capturing the Stanley Cup. Look back at the nerve-wracking moments during Game 7 of the Final, and the emotions felt by the Rangers and their fans when they won the Cup at The Garden.

“Patience and Fortitude.” That was the motto of the Blueshirt Faithful as their heroes pushed for the club’s fourth championship.

They came within a hit goal post of turning the trick in overtime of Game 7 in the 1950 Final but lost to Detroit. But there was no mistaking the Rangers’ run during the 1993-94 season.

Winning the title didn’t come easy; not when the Vancouver Canucks rallied from a 3-1 games deficit in the Final Round to tie the count at three. Which explains why angst was the order of the day at The Garden in the hours before opening faceoff.

The first goal would be decisive and just over the 11-minute mark of the first period. Brian Leetch took passes from Messier and Sergei Zubov and fired a laser past goalie Kirk McLean to put New York ahead at 11:02.

Roaring constantly, the overflow crowd wanted a cushion goal and Adam Graves delivered a power-play goal at 14:45 of the first, enabling the Rangers to exit the first frame ahead 2-0.

But the visitors weren’t about to quit and early in the second period, Trevor Linden put the Canucks on board with a shorthanded goal, giving about 19,000 witnesses conniptions.

Once again The Captain restored decorum. Messier converted a power-play goal at 13:29 — 3-1 New York. For the second straight time, the Blueshirts were able to head for the locker room with a two-goal advantage.

That lasted until 4:50 of the third when the ubiquitous Linden beat Mike Richter on yet another power play goal and nerve endings began frazzling once more. And for good reason, as at least two Canucks beat Richter only to have their shots clang harmlessly off the pipes.

So, it came down to the final minute and still the Blueshirts hung on with only one more faceoff to be won with less than two seconds left. Craig MacTavish took care of the faceoff business, thereby enabling Berserk to be the order of the day, night, week and month.

Or as MSG Networks Rangers play-by-play man Sam Rosen blared, “The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are Stanley Cup Champions!”

2 MAY 27, 1994: THE MATTEAU GOAL

Reaching the pinnacle in 1994 required some awfully difficult climbing for coach Mike Keenan‘s sextet. He orchestrated an exceptionally strong team but still had nagging equations that had to be solved.

While General Manager Neil Smith was satisfied his club could win The Cup, Keenan disagreed and insisted that trades be made by the deadline to further enhance chances for the elusive silverware.

Smith finally consented and in his most significant move sent promising ace, Tony Amonte to Chicago for Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. At first look, the exchange hardly excited the local faithful.

Amonte had been a fan favorite and for good reason; he was exciting and had enormous potential. Neither Matteau nor Noonan tickled anyone’s fancy on Seventh Avenue; that is until the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Final Round against the New Jersey Devils.

Battling the Rangers more intensely than expected, the Devils won the opener at The Garden after which Keenan’s skaters tied the tourney in Game 2, 4-0.

Enter Matteau, Stage Left in Game 3.

With the score tied 2-2 in regulation time, the teams battled scoreless in the first sudden death period. Early in the second overtime, Matteau made headlines, smacking a rebound past goalie Martin Brodeur at 6:13, putting New York ahead in the series, 2-1.

Up and down, like a yo-yo, the series evolved until finally, it came down to Game 7 at The Garden as the Garden Staters refused to yield. Leetch opened the scoring at 9:31 of the middle period and the way Richter was holding the fort it appeared that the Blueshirts would win with a shutout.

With one last faceoff in the Rangers’ end, the Devils won the draw and Valeri Zelepukin beat Richter to tie the count, sending yet another game into overtime.

The first sudden-death session was marked by close calls at both ends of the rink. At one point, New Jersey’s Bill Guerin appeared to have the winner on his stick with Richter out of position but the Devil couldn’t convert and the game stretched into a second sudden-death.

By now, the Devils were the tired team. “We were running out of gas,” assistant coach Larry Robinson later told me.

Time and again, the Rangers crossed the enemy blue line only to be repulsed. Finally, Devils defenseman Slava Fetisov made an errant cross-ice pass, intercepted by the Rangers who moved the puck behind the Devils goal.

It was there that Matteau corralled the biscuit and bulled his way in front to squeeze the rubber between the right post and Brodeur’s left skate.

Rangers radio play-by-play man Howie Rose articulated the play with these words: “Matteau behind the net, swings it in front…he scores! MATTEAU! MATTEAU! MATTEAU! The Rangers are headed to the Finals.”

3 OCTOBER 7, 2001: RANGERS RETURN TO A GRIEVING CITY

Following the September 11, 2001 catastrophe, The Big Apple remained in a state of mourning while seeking solace whenever and wherever possible.

The city’s sports teams suddenly became ambassadors of comfort to New Yorkers. As it happened, the team first to return was the Rangers; first by playing a preseason match with the New Jersey Devils as a prelude to the season-opener against the Buffalo Sabres.

Before the match, the rink boards were cleared of the usual advertisements and replaced by a message: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the injured and lost, New York’s Finest and Bravest, and all volunteers.”

A stirring, half-hour long pregame ceremony honored those who had lost their lives. One of the most arresting moments occurred when FDNY hockey team co-captain Larry McGee honored lost buddy, FDNY Chief Of Operations Ray Downey, who died in the 9/11 attacks.

McGee presented Rangers Captain Mark Messier with Downey’s FDNY helmet and asked Mark to don it in memory of Downey. Messier put on the helmet and then addressed the crowd, dedicating the game and the season to those lost and to the fans themselves.

Messier followed through by setting up the first goal en route to a 5-4 overtime victory. Following the game, Mark took off his jersey and gave it to Downey’s widow, Rosalie, for one of the most touching moments in Madison Square Garden’s long history.

4 NOVEMBER 2, 1975: THE RETURN OF EDDIE GIACOMIN

View of a banner that reads ‘Eddie Still # 1,’ at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, November 2, 1975. The sign references former New York Ranger Eddie Giacomin, an extremely popular player with fans who had been traded to the Detroit Red Wings two days earlier; back in New York to face his old teammates, Ranger fans cheered him and his new team on to victory over the home team. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

As a fan favorite, few could match the adulation heaped on Hall of Fame goalie Ed Giacomin.

From his rookie season, 1965-66 and for almost a dozen seasons, Eddie was adored for his ability, courage, daring and connection with the Garden Faithful. For GM Emile (The Cat) Francis, trading a goalie who he personally traded for and admired so deeply was out of the question.

Or was it?

Necessity may be the mother of invention but it also is the mother of trades. In the fall of 1975, the Rangers were in a tailspin and desperate for change and Francis knew that deals had to be made. But the stunner of all stunners was The Cat’s decision to put his pal on waivers.

Even more shocking was the Detroit Red Wings move to claim the veteran puck-stopper. No less astonishing was the coincidental fact the Rangers next foe happened to be none other than Detroit — with Giacomin starting in goal! His appearance inspired a curious — make that unheard of — response.

As Francis recalled, “The crowd was chanting, ‘Eddie … Eddie’ for the first 55 minutes and ‘Kill the Cat’ for the last five.” At one point, there was fear that Francis might be physically harmed. The Chief of Security asked Cat if he wanted protection. “Listen,” Francis replied, “I walked in here by myself, I’ll walk out of here by myself. Somebody may get me but I’ll take a couple with me; believe me.”

As for Giacomin, he put the night into this perspective: “This game was the best memory of my career. I don’t think any athlete has been treated this way. The New York fans, who I enjoyed playing for so much, put me in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”

5 FEBRUARY 16, 1969: BLIZ BOFFS BLUESHIRTS

MONTREAL, CANADA- CIRCA 1972: Head Coach Emile Francis of the New York Rangers follows the action from the bench Circa 1972 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

New York has been socked by blizzards over the century but the one that most affected the Rangers took place during the 1968-69 season and resulted in the Blueshirts GM Emile Francis signing himself to a $1 contract as the backup goaltender.

Of course, the blizzard was to blame; that and the fact that some Rangers attempted to drive from their Long Island homes while others — including goalie Ed Giacomin — chose to take the Long Island Rail Road which had a long history of blizzard failures.

As luck would have it, the train with Giacomin and others broke down in Elmhurst, Queens, far from Madison Square Garden. What was worse was that the New York-bound contingent essentially was marooned on the tracks with no emergency help in sight.

Meanwhile, other Rangers were able to drive in a truck owned by injured forward Orland Kurtenbach. Despite the hazardous road conditions and harrowing experiences pushing the vehicle out of the snow, a cadre of Blueshirts finally made it to The Garden. One of them was goalie Don Simmons.

When Francis learned that Giacomin, his top goalie, would not make it, he realized that the NHL insisted that every team have two netminders able to play.

“I phoned NHL President Clarence Campbell for advice and asked him if I could sign myself to a contract,” Francis remembered, “and he said I could. Then, he added, “Be sure to sign yourself to a good contract!”

Meanwhile, the Flyers, who had played the previous night in Boston, were having troubles of their own. The game was slated to start at 7 p.m. but by 8 p.m. there was no word when it would begin. Philadelphia’s skaters began to enter The Garden at 8 p.m. but their equipment didn’t arrive until a half hour later.

I was there at the time, with my wife, Shirley, and we wondered whether the contest would ever begin. So, too, did the 5,723 fans who showed up. Finally, at 9:15 p.m. the puck was dropped and Philly pushed into a 3-0 lead that looked insurmountable. But, then again, so did the blizzard.

Relentlessly, the Rangers fought back and with five minutes remaining had reduced the deficit to one, 3-2. Then, with only 42 seconds left on the clock, Cat pulled Simmons for an extra skater. Justice triumphed when Bob Nevin scored the game-tying goal and the exhausted skaters left the ice tied 3-3.

“What a night this has been,” said Francis.

I agreed; wrote my story and then, with my wife in hand, hustled over to a Western Union office on Broadway to have it in the papers the next day.

As for Giacomin and his buddies, the LIRR eventually got the trains going but too late for them to reach the game.

The best news of all for the Blueshirts was that Francis never had to revive his goaltending career.

6 APRIL 18, 1999: WAYNE GRETZKY RETIRES

For years, Neil Smith dreamed about bringing The Great Wayne Gretzky to Manhattan as a Ranger. The dream came true on July 21, 1996 and Wayne — now in the twilight of his career — still had the goods and entranced the Seventh Avenue crowd with his playmaking ability.

But late in the 1998-99 season, even Gretzky realized that it was time to call it a career. On the afternoon of April 16, 1999, Wayne announced to the world what nobody — except possibly opposition goalies — wanted to hear. He was prepared, once and for all, to hang up his skates. What’s more, he would call the home game against Pittsburgh two nights later, his finale. With a mere couple of days to prepare for the gala occasion, The Garden came through as it always does with a super-duper production.

Pregame ceremonies included three Hall of Famers, Gretzky and his longtime Edmonton teammate Mark Messier as well as the Penguins legend, Mario Lemieux and Glen Sather, who had mentored Gretz when Wayne was a teenager with the Oilers. Capping the pregame ceremonies, Commissioner Gary Bettman declared that once Gretzky took off his Rangers jersey no NHL player ever again would wear Number 99.

As for the game, Gretzky got an assist on a Brian Leetch power-play goal. It was the 2,857th and last point of his career. The only bummer was an overtime goal by then Penguin Jaromir Jagr.

Attending the postgame press conference in The Garden confines, I was stunned to see The Great One show up in his New York jersey and hockey pants. “Probably, subconsciously, I don’t want to take it off. I’m not going to put it on ever again,” Gretzky concluded. 

7 MAY 29, 2014: MARCHING OVER MONTREAL TO THE CUP FINAL

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 29: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers and the rest of the team pose with the Prince of Wales Trophy after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six to win the Eastern Conference Final in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2014 in New York City. The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1 to 0. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Nothing is more exciting than playoffs at The Garden. This was especially true in the spring of 2014 when the Rangers flexed their postseason muscles and fought the Montreal Canadiens in a series which would propel the winner into the Cup Final.

As always at playoff time, goaltending is decisive and this never was more evident when the teams lined up for the two anthems. At one end stood Henrik Lundqvist, now in his puck-stopping prime and 180 feet away at the other end was Dustin Tokarski, a backup replacing the injured ace, Carey Price.

No, it wasn’t as easy for the Blueshirts as one would seem. Tokarski enjoyed the game of his young life, holding the Rangers scoreless for almost two full periods.
But late in the second frame, fourth-liner Dominic Moore converted a slick passing play from Brian Boyle and Ryan McDonagh, beating Tokarski at 18:07.

Still, there was at least one full period to play with the Seventh Avenue Skaters protecting the one-goal lead. Now, it was up to King Henrik to hermetically seal the deal as only he could; without allowing a single puck to elude him.

For moral support, the capacity crowd kept chanting, HENRIK! HENRIK! HENRIK!.

One fan turned to another and blurted, “I’m afraid that the Garden roof is going to fall in.”

Neither did the roof collapse nor did a goal get scored on Lundqvist.

When the final buzzer sounded for the 1-0 Rangers triumph, it felt like more than 19,000 of the Blueshirt Brigade let out one tremendous exhale.

And well they might have because the victory propelled the Rangers into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1994.

8 APRIL 29, 1971: THE PLAYOFF STORMING OF THE STEMMER

Vic Hadfield and Pete Stemkowski join Ron Duguay and Bill Pidto on Rangers Stanley Cup Countdown for a chat about Stemmer's legendary triple-OT goal in the ’71 series vs. Chicago and their days as teammates.

Peter Stemkowski was a playoff hero before he became a Ranger. As a rookie forward with the 1966-67 Toronto Maple Leafs, he helped power Punch Imlach’s sextet to an upset Stanley Cup victory over the defending champion Montreal Canadiens.

Clearly, The Stemmer had not lost The Knack when he became a Ranger; particularly so in the 1971 playoff against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blueshirts won the series opener, 2-1, in overtime with none than Stemkowski scoring the sudden death goal only 97 seconds into the extra session, beating Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito.

But the rest of the series was totally unpredictable and after five games, Chicago held a three games to two series lead, needing only one more win to annex the tournament on New York ice.

The crowd was deflated as Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Rod Gilbert got one for the home crowd in the second while his G.A.G. Line buddy Jean Ratelle tied the count in the final frame sending yet another game into an extra session.

Only this time there was no quick fix by The Stemmer. Instead, the teams battled into the second OT and at one point it seemed certain that the Blueshirts had blown it when Blackhawks star center Stan Mikita had an open net at his disposal but bounced his shot harmlessly off the goal post.

It was perspiration-hot in The Garden and after the second overtime ended with no score both teams needed oxygen to revive them for the third sudden death.

In his excellent book, “We Did Everything But Win,” author George Grimm interviewed the chief protagonists behind the decisive goal, as follows:

Stemkowski: “It was approaching midnight and we were pretty much going on emotion. But the adrenaline was going pretty good.”

Garden fans — The Maven among them — were exhausted as well. “The concession stands had nothing left,” Francis recalled. “They were sold out.

“I came in after the second overtime and said would somebody put the puck in the net so we can get out of here. So Stemkowski pipes up and says, ‘Yeah, it’ll be too late to get a beer.'”

But it was not too late for the winner which originally was organized by defenseman Tim Horton, who fired the puck into the enemy zone where the Rangers Ted Irvine was in pursuit.

Irvine: “I had pretty good speed and got in the corner pretty quickly. Most of the time — out of the corner of your eye — you know where your center is, so I threw it to the front of the net.”

Stemmer was in the right place at the right time for the right pass.

“The puck came out to me,” Stemkowski told Grimm, “and I put it in.”

I can vouch for Stemmer’s postscript but, like Matteau against the Devils, Stemkowski against the Blackhawks goes down in Rangers fame.

As Pete told Grimm: “A lot of people remember where they were and what they were doing; they still come up to me on the street and tell me that they remember that game.”

Or, as the song goes, “Unforgettable; That’s What You Are.”

9 MAY 8, 1979: THE UPSET OF UPSETS -- OVER THE ISLANDERS

Canadian hockey player John Davidson (right), goalkeeper for the New York Rangers, shakes hands with Bob Lorimer (left) of the New York Islanders following a playoff game at Madison Square Garden, New York, New York, 1979. Also visible are Islander Denis Potvin (#5) who shakes with Ranger Ron Duguay, and Ranger Ron Greschner (behind Duguay). (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)

By the end of the 1978-79 season, the New York Islanders were regarded as the class team of the NHL and an odds-on favorite to win their first Stanley Cup.

Led by Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Clark Gillies up front with future Hall of Famer Denis Potvin anchoring the defense and other Hall of Famer-in-waiting, Bill Smith in goal, they formed a team that seemed to have everything.

By contrast, the Rangers — coached by enigmatic Fred (The Fog) Shero — seemed more like a rag-tag group fronted by one of the best young goalies in captivity, John (JD) Davidson.

“A month earlier,” said Rangers defenseman Dave Maloney, now an MSG Networks Blueshirt analyst, “nobody with a sane mind would have bet on us getting to the Stanley Cup Final. And that includes me.”

But the opening game of “The Battle Of New York,” rapidly altered the thinking. Invading Long Island, the Blueshirts outplayed the favorites and skated off with a 4-1 victory. It was a portent of things to come. Good things for the Manhattan skaters.

An overtime goal by Denis Potvin just about saved the Isles from extinction. Still, the Rangers now were confident and beat the Nassaumen in Game 3 before Bobby Nystrom won another overtime battle to tie the series at two apiece.

But the once friendly Coliseum didn’t help Al Arbour‘s skaters in Game 5. With the score tied 3-3 in the third, it already felt like overtime but an extra session was not needed. At 17:47 the swift Swede, Anders Hedberg beat Billy Smith and it was 4-3, Rangers and a three games to two lead as they returned to The Garden for the closer.

Mike Bossy opened the scoring for the Visitors but the Rangers simply brushed it away and soon were ahead 2-1 dominating in every corner of the rink.

Crowd chants alternated between LET’S GO RANGERS to JAY-DEE clap-clap, JAY-DEE clap-clap.

With 17 seconds left in the third period, Arbour gathered his troops at the bench to talk strategy. As The Garden decibel count went through the roof Walt Tkaczuk beat Trottier on the faceoff, the buzzer soon sounded and delirium was the order of the night.

One headline summed up the story: IMPOSSIBLE ACHIEVED AT THE GARDEN.

Then Rangers rookie Don Maloney underlined the significance of his team’s win.

“The Islanders were on top of the league,” he said. “They were the best. We were just this young group of guys that kind of came on the scene and ended up winning; on to the Finals.”

10 JANUARY 18, 2001: MIKE RICHTER BREAKS ED GIACOMIN'S CAREER RECORD FOR WINS

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 4: Former goalie of the New York Rangers Mike Richter is greeted by former Rangers Rod Gilbert #7 and Ed Giacomin during Richter’s #35 jersey retirement ceremony at Madison Square Garden before the game against the Minnesota Wild on February 4, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Philadelphia-born, goalie Mike Richter emerged as one of the all-time most beloved Rangers. Having succeeded a previous fan favorite, John (The Beezer) Vanbiesbrouck, Richter followed that tough act by goaltending the Rangers to their last Stanley Cup in 1994.

But Mighty Mikey wasn’t through there. Seven seasons after sipping the Cup champagne, Richter took aim at what previously had been thought of as an unattainable record.

That was “Most Franchise Wins By A Rangers Goalie.” The magic number was 266 and as the indefatigable Richter kept winning he finally came within beating the mark early in the New Year of 2001.

After tying the record, Richter’s chance to beat the Giacomin standard reached a crescendo at The Garden on the night or January 18 with the Toronto Maple Leafs as his foe.

Not caring about the record, the Visitors took it to the Rangers, leading the Blueshirts, 1-0, in the third period. Aware of their teammate’s quest for the record, the New Yorkers mounted an offensive and it paid for when Mike York beat Leafs goalie Curtis Joseph to knot the count, sending this melodrama into overtime.

Richter held the fort for more than four minutes whereupon his mates stormed the Toronto zone. Defenseman Brian Leetch — Conn Smythe Trophy-winner after the 1994 Cup win — whipped a shot off the near-side post and past Joseph at 4:33 of the extra session.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks wrote: “When Leetch scored, The Garden erupted as one pile of players tumbled atop Leetch and another surrounded Richter.”

Surrounded by the media in the postgame dressing room scrum, Richter explained, “I’m very proud, happy, flattered and humbled to be a part of this and to have a record like this, but, really, at the same time we all have a job to do and that’s to win games.”

Then, a pause and a moment of reflection: “The best part about this record is that it’s a record for wins; which is what a goaltender is paid to get.”

Or, as my associate, Matthew Blittner, observed, “Mike always knew how to balance his unique wit with his humbling nature.”