Thursday, May 24, 2012
Let's not party like it's 1994
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer recalls 1994 as a time when he still had hair.
Martin Brodeur, who played goal in what was one of the most dramatic playoff series of all time 18 years ago, recalls it as a time when no one knew his name or who he was.
New York Rangers coach John Tortorella initially feigned ignorance altogether at the significance of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals between the Mark Messier-led Rangers and Brodeur's Devils.
That's the beauty of history: It is what you want it to be, something or nothing.
It can be a reminder of past glories or failures, a touchstone to help you believe in the face of doubt, or simply an innocuous distraction to help you forget about the reality of your situation.
The reality for the current Rangers squad is that 1994 is a kind of fairy tale.
Michael Del Zotto was 4 years old when Messier made his famous guarantee of victory before Game 6 of that series.
Chris Kreider had just turned 3.
Derek Stepan was 4.
Martin Biron, the oldest member of the Rangers team at 34, was still shy of his 17th birthday.
"Not for a second" does that series come into play for the Rangers as they prepare for Game 6 of this series Friday night in Newark, N.J., Tortorella said Thursday.
"Not to disrespect what happened there but that has nothing to do with how we're preparing. I think it's the best way to put it," he said.
Of more import for the Rangers as they face a 3-2 series deficit for the second time this spring is how they emerged from the situation the first time, against Ottawa.
In that case, they scored twice on the power play in Game 6 for a 3-2 victory and then eked out a 2-1 victory at home in Game 7.
"It's just a belief in each other and a belief in our system. We can only focus on one game at a time here," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Thursday. "It's just believing in each other and knowing that we can accomplish it."
Not surprisingly, there wasn't anything approaching a guarantee of victory emanating from the Rangers' locker room Thursday.
Different time, different personalities within the room.
Current captain Ryan Callahan said it wasn't in his nature to be doing something like that when asked about following in Messier's footsteps.
Still, whether the current players think about it or not, 1994 remains a shining moment for a franchise that has been short on such moments. In 18 years, nothing has approached that season's drama, or the success that was borne of that drama, for the New York Rangers.
Perhaps that's why this Rangers season has captured the attention of so many and why so many were talking about the parallels Thursday. Young, hardworking and backstopped by the charismatic Henrik Lundqvist, this looked like a team that had the makings of a champion.
Now the Rangers are one game from seeing that dream dashed once again, having fallen behind the Devils 3-2 after losing a heartbreaker 5-3 in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Tortorella said he's confident in the resiliency of his group and its ability to force a Game 7 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. And whether he likes it or not, a win would only up the ante on the '94 revival.
"I'm very comfortable as far as our mindset as we approach. Today was a good day for us. As we approach our game, I'm very comfortable in where we're going to go," the coach said.
How the Rangers respond Friday in Newark will say a lot about this team and what its future -- not just this week, but long term -- represents.
"This is all really good stuff for our team," Tortorella said. "This is how you gain experience, by going through it.
"Some guys have thrived [in these situations]; some guys haven't. These are all situations you look at as an organization as far as what guys are in these types of situations. So the more you're in it, the more situations that you go through, the better."
Brodeur is the only player on either team who was on the ice that night 18 years ago, when the Rangers rallied to tie the series in New Jersey. He sure isn't drawing a line that spans 18 years, although he humored reporters looking to make such a connection.
"I don't see anything that is similar," Brodeur said via conference call Thursday as the Devils took the day off. "I know if you guys look at it, it looks the same. But it's different teams and a different way of playing the game. That's 18 years ago. That's a long time. I know I'm feeling a lot different. I'm feeling a lot more appreciative of what's going on.
"Before, the Rangers were a good team when they beat us. We were not supposed to compete with them at all in '94. They made these trades and they had all these big guys at the end, and they pulled it off in a dramatic way. But this time around, we feel we can play with them. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable going into these games coming up."
Interesting to note, though, that while that moment might have been painful for Brodeur and the young Devils, it marked the beginning of a long run of success for the lower-profile New York-area franchise.
While the Rangers have never managed to replicate that success, the Devils went on to win three Stanley Cups and lose another in the final after that seminal series in 1994.
History, as it applies to the Devils, is about a long-standing expectation of success. And while 1994 likewise has no bearing on how the Devils approach Friday's potential series clincher, the team's history of success is a constant touchstone for the current roster.
"I think tradition in an organization is very important," DeBoer said. "When you walk in our dressing room and see the pictures of the previous Stanley Cup champions and where you want to get to, and the tradition of winning that's been carried through in the organization, I think that's very important."