“The waiting is over. The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions!”
Rangers fans had waited 54 years to hear those words and I imagine it was music to their ears. It was nails on a chalkboard to a certain 10-year old kid who stayed up past his bedtime, watching the game in his Pavel Bure jersey.
Full disclosure, I was born in Vancouver and though my family lived in Toronto at the time, I was a Canucks fan in 1994. Other than the iconic call by Sam Rosen at the end of the game, I only remember a couple of other details about that Game 7. Mark Messier scored the game-winning goal and Mike Richter was a brick wall.
Nearly 26 years later, out of equal parts boredom and curiosity, I’ve decided to open up that painful childhood memory to take a look at this decisive game in more detail than it’s ever been viewed. With the help of Sportlogiq’s industry leading technology, every detail of this game has been quantified and analyzed. So, here it is – Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers, like you’ve never seen it before.
In this article, we’ll dig into what made the difference at the team level and highlight the most noteworthy individual performances in the game, for better or worse.
The Rangers won the puck possession battle in the offensive zone but that only led to a few more shots on goal and the quality shots in the game were even.
That said, the Rangers were noticeably better in a three key areas that helped them win the game – zone entries, the powerplay and face-offs.
The Rangers did a terrific job of skating the puck through the neutral zone and attacking off-the-rush, which is how they scored their first two goals.
Midway through the first period, Mark Messier blows past Pavel Bure in the neutral zone and starts a pretty passing play that ends with Brian Leetch sliding the puck into an open net. 1-0 Rangers on what would be the only even-strength goal of the game.
While the Rangers and Canucks had a similar number of entry attempts in the game, the Rangers were twice as effective at gaining the blue line with possession of the puck.
New York dominated in this area at even-strength and on the powerplay. The Rangers were 4-for-4 on their powerplay entries which brings us to the second goal of the game.
What a luxury to have Sergei Zubov OR Brian Leetch rush the puck up ice on the poweplay. Zubov makes a great pass after gaining the blue line and again, New York scores off-the-rush. 2-0 Rangers.
The Rangers powerplay would strike again later in the game with Mark Messier scoring the game-winning goal after more slick passing in the offensive zone.
The Rangers finished the game 2-for-3 with the man advantage, picking the Canucks penalty killers apart in the process.
Messier, clutch as ever, had a brilliant game finishing with the game-winning goal and an assist. He also had a bunch of chances, firing 4 shots on goal from the slot, second most of any player in the game. He was, without question, the best Rangers forward on this night but the best Rangers skater was Conn Smythe winner Brian Leetch, who put up some insane numbers.
Leetch played well over 30 minutes, had the puck on his stick more than anyone and was a one-man breakout machine. Leetch completed 31 passes in his own end – nobody else in the game had half as many completions. Overall, Leetch connected on 47 passes, almost twice as many as the next best total which belonged to Zubov with 25. And as good as Leetch was at delivering passes, he was just as impressive at taking passing lanes away, finishing the game with more blocked passes than anyone. Game-highs all around.
Leetch was such a great skater, passer and intelligent player. One of those guys who made it all look effortless. A shout out to his defense partner as well, Jeff Beaukaboom. Remember the graphic showing the low zone entry success rate the Canucks had? Well, Beaukaboom finished the game with 6 zone denials, most of any player. These guys complimented each other well on the Rangers back end.
You know who else had a very solid game?
20-years old and in his sophomore season, Kovalev picked up an assist in Game 7 and put up terrific while-on-ice numbers with linemates Stephane Matteau and Steve Larmer. The trio played nearly twelve minutes together at five-on-five and dominated the Canucks in those minutes. At five-on-five, this was the Rangers best line and the only line that finished with a positive slot shot differential.
The line didn’t score a goal but they didn’t allow one either and spent much of their time on the ice in Vancouver’s end. The Rangers got a great game from their dynamic Russian forward, the Canucks however, did not.
Bure scored 60 goals in the regular season and finished with 107 points. No other Canucks player had more than 70 points. The Russian Rocket was also their leading scorer in the playoffs entering Game 7 with 30 points in 23 games. Bure did pick up an assist on Trevor Linden’s first goal of the game but did little else to impact the game in a positive way for the Canucks in just over 20 minutes of ice time.
Remember, Bure was the guy Messier blew past to set up the opening goal of the game and wasn’t exactly engaged defensively on the Rangers second goal of the game.
However, there was a flash of Bure brilliance late in the first period. A determined puck battle followed by some great patience with the puck that took Richter out of the play. However, Messier’s well timed stick check didn’t allow Bure to get a good shot off.
Had Bure found a way to score on the play, who knows how the rest of the game would have played out for him and the Canucks. Then again, there are plays like this in every Game 7 that players likely think about for some time afterwards.
On a positive note for the Canucks, their captain had a phenomenal game.
Linden scored both goals and was a threat to score on a number of occasions. Linden did everything in his power to will his team to victory, recording game highs in just about every meaningful shooting related measure imaginable.
After falling behind 2-0 and 3-1, Linden twice brought the Canucks back to within a goal, scoring on a delayed penalty in the 2nd period and on the powerplay in the 3rd.
Thanks to Linden, the Canucks entered the final minute of the game down 3-2, needing just one well placed shot to force overtime. However, the Rangers had been the better team in the face-off circle all night and their advantage in this area payed off at a crucial time in the game. New York won three straight defensive zone face-offs in the final forty seconds of the game to secure the win.
Messier won the first two and finished the game 8-for-10 on defensive zone draws, best of any player.
However, with 1.6 seconds left on the clock, Rangers coach Mike Keenan called on Craig MacTavish to take the final face-off to the right of Richter. MacTavish got a healthy jump on the puck drop and swept the puck into the corner. Sam Rosen with the call…
MacTavish won 7 of the 9 defensive zone face-offs he took in the game. Overall, the Rangers won 18 of 24 in their own end, good for 75 percent.
Finally, a summary of this game wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the outstanding goaltending at both ends of the ice. Kirk McLean was great, Mike Richter was even better.
Richter made some incredible saves in this game, highlighted by an old school, two-pad stack on Cliff Ronning.
The better team won on this night.
A dominant rush attack led by Leetch and Zubov, a dymanic powerplay, an exceptional job of starting with the puck by winning face-offs and the always critical stud goaltending performance helped the Rangers capture their first Stanley Cup in over half a century. I’ll admit, 10-year old Mike was pretty sour at the time but I had fun watching this game again and putting this story together. Hopefully you enjoyed revisiting this classic game through a bit of a different lens.