A lot can transpire in 18 years. A newborn then can now not only possess a license but can vote and is graduating high school. That same child’s parent may be wondering where the time has gone, as they give their child the keys to the family car or signs the first tuition check. Someone may be planning their 20 year reunion from high school. A loved one may have passed away, you may be pulling six figures in a job where you were a lowly analyst 18 years ago. You may be living in a different part of the country. Or you may have just stayed put from where you grew up, but you don’t recall having a 36-inch waist 18 years ago.
Eighteen years ago, the New York Rangers ended their 54-year Stanley Cup drought by defeating the Vancouver Canucks in a heated seven-game series. Prior to that, the Rangers defeated the rival New Jersey Devils, also in a heated seven-game series, in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the word “Matteau” is a dirty word to most Devils fans to this day, though they themselves have had success in winning three cups in response while the Rangers have won none. In that time period, the rivalries shifted from Rangers/Flyers and Rangers/Isles to Rangers/Devils.
Tonight kicks off the Rangers and Devils duking it out in the Eastern Conference Finals again, where winner continues to the Stanley Cup finals, and the other team goes home to shave.
To this Ranger fan, the only thing that remains similar to that series 18 years ago is that Martin Brodeur is still the goalie for the Devils. And even he’s 18 years older. And that’s about it. The ownership has changed for the Rangers, the coaches have changed, the team has certainly changed.
Sure, there are similarities. But it’s NOT the same.
The Devils have won three cups since the last time these two teams faced off in the finals. The storied guys that helped them on those runs with names like Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko are long since retired. The last cup was in 2003. That was 10 years ago. Eighteen years ago, the Devils were playing in the Swamp. Now they play in a nice new arena called Prudential Center.
The Rangers have visited the Eastern Conference Finals one other time since then, and it was lackluster. They’ve since had their storied guys not only retire, but their numbers are now enshrined. Names like Richter, Messier, Leetch and Graves are now hanging from the rafters at the Garden, where the Rangers have stayed but the refurnishing of it makes it seem like a brand new arena.
The 1994 team was full of mercenaries and then there was Brian Leetch and Mike Richter, who came up with the team. Neil Smith, then-GM, thought it prudent to trade away the future and try to recapture some of the Edmonton Oilers success. This ultimately led to changes at the top, such as Glen Sather coming in and trying to do the same recipe. Until he realized it no longer worked.
Apparently, there is some pact with Sather and James Dolan that we’re not privy to that will only happen if the Rangers make the “big” finals. Because of that, Sather started to focus less on the free agent mercenaries and allowed the growth movement to start from within. Guys like Lundqvist, Callahan, Girardi, sprinkled with guys like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. It’s no longer Mike Keenan but John Tortorella. Dave Checketts isn’t pissing off his talent, but it’s now
True, those guys in 1994 were very hard working. But they were mostly established. Messier had won several championships. He was the Captain of all Captains. Callahan wears his “C” with pride, but he believes in the team work ethic that clearly trickles to the rest of the team.
To think that this is some sort of “revenge” match-up, to think this is something of a “torch passing” of a fat overrated goalie to the future of goaltending, diminishes what this series is all about. To call this is a revenge series is laughable because, I don’t know call me crazy, isn’t three cups in an eight year span one that says, “Hey, we’re not so bad either guys.”
These are two teams that have worked very hard to get to the finals, and will work harder to get to the next level.
To me, the differences are clear. Yet most of all, 18 years ago was a long long time ago. Nine years ago was long long time ago. Then was then. This is now.