One cannot mention the New York Rangers without the year 1994 coming up in the discussion.
For Rangers fans, 1994 was the year the team broke the dreaded 54-year Stanley Cup drought by beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games. It was a year to remember as the team set many single season franchise records and ruled the rest of the National Hockey League.
If this sounds similar to what a particular team accomplished this season, it should because it just so happens to be the 2011-12 version of the Blueshirts as well. While the Rangers did not finish atop the NHL standings this season, they certainly accomplished similar things that the 1994 club did.
For starters, in both 1994 and this season, the Rangers won the Atlantic Division and finished first in the Eastern Conference. In 1994, the Rangers finished the regular season en route to their division title and perched at the top of the Eastern Conference.
This season, the Rangers were just as good as the 1994 team was. The Blueshirts finished the regular season with 109 points and captured their first division title since, you guessed it, 1994.
While it is tough to compare these two, another similarity that this year’s edition of the Rangers shares with their 1994 predecessors is a captain that was the heart and soul of the team. In 1994, it was the Mark Messier story for the Rangers.
That playoff season, the Rangers found themselves down 3-2 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New Jersey Devils heading into Game 6. (Exact same thing this year.) It was at that time that Messier decided to take the responsibility of getting the team to win on his shoulders by guaranteeing a win.
Not only did Messier deliver on his guarantee, but he did so by scoring a hat trick and picking up four points in the game. Besides lifting the Cup, this was Messier’s greatest moment as a Blueshirt.
The heart and soul of this year’s Rangers club is Ryan Callahan and like Messier, he’s the team captain. Game in and game out, Callahan plays the right way by playing hard, forechecking, producing, playing on the power play, killing penalties, throwing the body and blocking shots.
In his first season as team captain, Callahan had career highs in goals (29) and points (54). Like Messier did in 1994, Callahan also delivered when his club needed him to this season.
Of course, when looking at 1994 and this year, both Rangers’ teams had another element that was crucial to their success and that’s a good goaltender. In 1994, Mike Richter had his coming out party and showed why he could be a big-game goaltender.
Richter was simply outstanding in the 1993-94 regular season with 42 wins, a 2.57 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and five shutouts.
With that said, Richter’s regular season did not define him that year. It was his performance in the playoffs that helped put Richter’s name among the elite goaltenders in the NHL, especially since he made perhaps one of the best saves in Stanley Cup history in helping the team to slay the 54-year-old dragon.
This season, the Blueshirts have a goaltender who might just be the best netminder in the world in Henrik Lundqvist. While Rangers fans adored Richter in his playing days and even now, Blueshirts fans LOVE Lundqvist.
There is no question that Lundqvist is the "King" between the Rangers’ pipes, having been nominated for the Vezina Trophy for the fourth time in his seven-year career and the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player for the first time. Lundqvist finished the regular season with 39 wins, a goals-against average of 1.97, a save percentage of .930 and eight shutouts.
If Lundqvist continues to play well this post-season and the rest of his team follows suit, there is a chance that this year’s Rangers might be able to relive 1994 by lifting the Cup when all is said and done with the 2012 post-season.