06/06/14 New York Rangers Cup Final Appearance Brings Back Memories for Spirit Coaches
If you rewind the NHL clock back to 1994 of course you will find that year’s edition of the New York Rangers hoisting the Stanley Cup when all was said and done in the franchise’s first such triumph since 1940. These days the Blueshirts are trying to recapture the accomplishment of twenty years ago, and Saginaw Spirit coaches Greg Gilbert and Jay Wells will be keen observers of this year’s final. Both former NHL players were in the later stages of solid pro careers when they found themselves among a veteran group of Rangers that eventually took care of the Vancouver Canucks in a tight seven game series to win the Stanley Cup that year, and now the two dusted off some old memories of the championship run.
LC The Rangers suffered just the one loss in the first two rounds of the playoffs that year against the Islanders and Capitals before two very tough series against New Jersey and Vancouver. How important was the fact there was some time to rest for the team before that Conference Final against the Devils?
GG “Playing in the Eastern Conference was definitely a bonus for the lack of travel for the first three series. They were all tough series. The Islanders, Capitals were both very competitive and hard teams to play against. We were a veteran team and that experience came into place from day one of the preseason for that particular reason. The experience we had in all areas helped to maintain the focus of how we played as a team. Each individual understood their roles and prepared each and every day to be the best at that role.”
JW “There is no question that rest is important during a playoff run and it also allowed players to heal their nagging injuries. Just know this, good teams are conditioned to play all the games, it’s the injuries that slow you down.”
LC New York and New Jersey were the top two teams in the NHL during the regular season, and that series against the Devils may be more recognized by some than the final. Talk about the up and down nature of the series with all of the overtimes to go along with the close proximity of the teams?
GG “The Devils series was a war, a series that everyone expects to have in the post season. Both teams were experienced, proud and driven.”
JW “Going into the New Jersey series I think we were a little flat due to all the sitting around and waiting to start. Whoever came out of this series would likely win the Cup, so everyone thought. Anytime you have two good teams with a hatred for each other, and add in some overtime games plus a comeback from a 3-2 deficit, it always makes a good story.”
LC With the Rangers down 3-2 in the Devils series, Mark Messier made a bold prediction of a New York win on the road, and delivered a personal three goal third period to lead to the win. What was your reaction and those of your teammates when Messier spoke up in that fashion?
GG “Messier was a strong leader. He obviously felt that at that time and at that instance we as a group needed a subtle kick in the behind and a statement to get us out of the state of mind we were in.
Great players come through in the clutch and that’s what our top players did that night. We as a group overcame adversity again and had to face it again in Game 7.”
JW “I don’t think anyone wanted to talk about his prediction at the time. He was either going to be a hero or a goat. After he performed and scored three of the four goals, we all knew he would be a god in New York and around the world. It was a very bold move but then again that was Messier.”
LC You eventually win that series against a crew that included a young Martin Brodeur in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden in double overtime to set up the Final against Vancouver. Take us back to that clinching game as you recall?
GG “Again it was a war and tough game for any team to fall short in. When Steph (Stephane Matteau) put that wrap around in it was mayhem. Atypical overtime goal for the most part, as it was everything to the net from anywhere and hope for a good bounce and we were fortunate enough to get it that night.”
JW “Game 7 was quite the game. We had seen many teams battle back and lose Game 7 but we were very confident that we would come out on top. The longer the game went the more nervous we all got. One lucky shot could extend or finish our year. I’m not sure how many shifts I got in the overtime but I do know I had the best seat in the house. What a game.”
LC How much of a distraction or motivator was the whole 1940 business when you were hearing that from rival fans as the playoffs went on?
GG “1940 was a motivator for us all. I am sure many people saw the reaction from Adam Graves, Alex Kovalev and probably a few more guys. 1940, 1940, 1940 no more.”
JW “1940 was a chant the Islanders chanted because of past history. We used it as a motivator during the first series. I never heard it much after that series.”
LC In the final against Vancouver there really was not much of a home ice advantage as it turned out with both teams winning on the road a fair bit. However playing that Game 7 at the Garden still had to be a huge factor in the outcome with that fan base behind you?
GG “Game 7 at home, that’s all you can ask for. The old adage is if you told us at the start of the season if we had Game 7 at home to win Lord Stanley would we take it, without a doubt.
Fans, families, players all were as excited as excited could be. The intensity, nervousness, all the emotions that go with everything you have worked for since day one coming down to one shift, one period, one game. It was awesome.”
JW “Anytime you can have home ice advantage, take it. The fans can really help you at the start, but the excitement of a seventh game carries you through.”
LC That team almost reminded me a bit of the 1967 Toronto Maple Leafs which won the Cup from the standpoint of so many veteran players with a lot playoff experience in their careers coming together for a championship run. You had Messier, Esa Tikkanen, Kevin Lowe, Steve Larmer, among others, so how much did that leadership play into the success that year?
GG “We were built to win. The experience we had in all positions was part of the plan. (General Manger) Neil Smith and (Head Coach) Mike Keenan did an outstanding job putting so many players from different teams, systems and backgrounds together for one purpose only, to win. There was never a night we didn’t go into a game and not feel we had the opportunity to win.”
JW “A really big part in winning. We had five to six players with great Stanley Cup experience and they were good at keeping the rest of us from melting down. It’s such an emotional rollercoaster.”
LC Jay, you win the Cup with the Rangers however you were drafted by the Kings and spent the bulk of your career in Los Angeles. How does that affect your thoughts on the series?
JW “The sad thing about the Stanley Cup is one team wins and one team loses. I wish both could win, but my prediction is six games with Los Angeles winning. New York is going to hate me. Sorry New York.”
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