Because our memories are short and make-good guarantees are gold, the singular playoff performance of Mark Messier’s six-ring Hall of Fame career everyone outside of Edmonton points to is the New York Rangers’ Game 6 victory over the New Jersey Devils during the 1994 Eastern Conference final.
But what of the events 10 springs prior?
We tend to think of the ’84 Oilers, which will reunite Friday at Rexall Place, as Wayne Gretzky’s team. Messier didn’t really take over until 1990, after Gretzky was traded to L.A., right?
In fact, it was the Moose who hoisted the Conn Smythe Trophy — his only one — when the young Oilers finally snuffed out the New York Islanders’ dynasty and kicked off one of their own.
Of the 26 points Messier scored in that 19-game ’84 run, none was more crucial than the series-turning goal he scored in Game 3 of the final:
New York had thumped Edmonton 6-1 in Game 2 and seized a 2-1 second-period lead on Clark Gilles’ second goal of Game 3. The defending champs owned the momentum.
That is until Messier gathered the puck near his own blueline and took off like a freight train. After undressing defenceman Gord Dineen something awful, he fired the puck past goalie Billy Smith, sparking an offensive barrage that would result in Smith getting yanked and the Oilers winning three straight games — and the Cup.
“It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but I guess it is,” Messier says when I ask about The Goal. “All of the memories are so vivid, and that’s the beauty of winning a Stanley Cup and going through that process, that journey. Having that respect for the guys that you played with, and the moments that turned the tide. Whether it was a successful moment or one that caused a lot of heartache, you remember them all. But when you finally come out on the other end, and you’re able to hoist the Cup, it makes those indelible moments that much richer.”
Messier would take the Cup back the family home to St. Albert, Alta., as those Oilers began the tradition of each player formally spending a day with the Cup. He partied at the Bruin Inn. <-- Do yourself a favour and click on that hyperlink.
“Nobody on the team had won a Stanley Cup prior, so we had to slog our way through it and find our own way together. It was a great bunch of men that came together to succeed,” he says, still hesitant to take individual credit. “Looking back on it now, a lot of sacrifices are made by any Cup winning team, and certainly for us as well. It was incredible.”