For the 1994 Vancouver Canucks, that seven-game Stanley Cup loss still stings.
A series against the New York Rangers that started as a David and Goliath contest quickly turned into one of the greatest stories in hockey history, and a remarkable love affair between that team and the Canucks faithful.
But the members of that Vancouver squad, who overcame myriad adversities and stretched the 112-point Rangers all the way to a decisive Game 7, still haven’t made their peace with how it ended.
“We live it every day, people talk about it all the time. It’s always nice to talk about it, but at the end of the day we didn’t reach our ultimate goal,” former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean said Saturday during After Hours on Hockey Night in Canada. “It was a great experience, but we lost.”
Instrumental in Vancouver’s campaign that year, McLean had 52 saves in Game 1 of the Final at Madison Square Garden, helping his team to an overtime win and kickstarting a significant movement toward a seven-game series.
He was among the former players on that ’94 team to be honoured ahead of the Canucks’ win over the Rangers at Rogers Arena on Saturday, which turned into a loud reminder of how much appreciation the fans have nurtured, and still hold to this day, for the Final run despite the disappointing result.
“It’s always a wonderful feeling,” McLean said. “For some reason, (fans) gravitate toward the ’94 team. We had, obviously, (Stanley Cup Final appearances in) ’82 and 2011, but it never gets old.”
The Canucks beat all the odds that year. As a seventh seed in the west, they found themselves down 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs against the Calgary Flames, then came back to win the last three games in overtime. With that effort, the bond between fans and club carried over to Toronto and later to New York.
“It’s disappointing to have lost, but I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world,” former Canucks forward Greg Adams said during After Hours. “I didn’t come that close to winning a Stanley Cup ever again in my 17-year career. So, it was very special.
“The whole playoffs, the thing I remember the most was the fans … It was just an amazing feeling, and this city was so electric.”
Adams was the overtime-goal scorer for the Canucks in that Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, but he still acknowledges his netminder as the main responsible in securing that win.
“It was a tremendous confidence-builder for us, winning that first game,” he said. “And we all knew Kirk stole the game for us, he basically won the game for us. I was fortunate to be able to be in the position to score that goal, but, without Kirk… you know.
“We did have confidence that we could win, but we also knew that we were outplayed and if it wasn’t for him there’s no way they were winning that game.”
Current Rangers president and former goalie John Davidson was there for all seven games, back then as a broadcaster in New York. He recalls just how close the Canucks came to winning it all.
“This series could have, frankly, been four straight,” Davidson said during After Hours, “but (McLean) started it, and when they started winning games, the Canucks’ edge is they wore down the Rangers’ defence … I have also watched Game 7 over again. That was really close, that could have gone either way.”
After winning Game 1 of the Final, the Canucks fell behind 3-1 and, much like in the first round against Calgary, rallied back to force a Game 7. A hectic, gritty and sometimes desperate 60 minutes of hockey culminated in a tight 3-2 Rangers win, thus ending Vancouver’s Cinderella tale.
And though the love affair with the city still lives on, the players of that 1994 team have never truly come to terms with how the story ended.
“It’s nice that people remember where they were, and what they were doing, and name their kids after us, or whatever it may be,” said McLean. “But at the end of the day we wanted to win a championship and we came up short.”
Adams gets the same feeling whenever he thinks about the series.
“The losing part is something that hurts, and watching that hurts,” he said. “Watching videos of those games, Game 7, and still coming up a goal short, we keep hoping that something is going to change but it never does.”
The present-day Canucks secured a seventh-straight win against the Rangers on Saturday. Led by young names like Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, they currently sit third in the Pacific and have a legitimate chance to contend for multiple Stanley Cup Final trips in the coming years, perhaps even build a new love affair, perhaps win the team its first Cup.
McLean guarantees that’s all the old-school guys can hope for.
“We want to move on and we want the team to win now.”