Former Rangers Stephane Matteau, Adam Graves and Jeff Beukeboom bask in Garden memories
They have seen this before. More to the point, they have heard it. Three Rangers who played huge parts in the 1994 Stanley Cup were in New York Thursday, visiting firehouses before settling into the Garden maelstrom that they remember so well.
"Against the Rangers, it's tough. For the Rangers, you feel the love," said Stephane Matteau, who scored the most memorable goal in the Cup run, the double-overtime clincher in the conference finals against the Devils, creating a Garden frenzy. "After I got traded, I got booed out of the building. They told me it was the respect they had for me."
No hard feelings. Matteau receives only great applause when he returns, as he did Thursday night to see another conference finals, with the Rangers entering with a 2-0 lead over the Canadiens.
The atmosphere reflected the stirring turnaround for the team, which seemed finished after Game 4 of the second-round series against the Penguins. The electricity also marked a revival for the fans, who had been either quiet or dyspeptic for most of the first two rounds.
For Matteau, Adam Graves and Jeff Beukeboom, that was a beautiful reprise. Their experience tells them there is no place like the Garden in springtime.
"It's everything you can imagine and more. It's hard to describe," Beukeboom said at Engine 1/Ladder 24, a half-block from the Garden, where the threesome finished its tour Thursday afternoon. "Once that crowd gets into it and once that aura of Madison Square Garden takes over, you feel it."
Said Graves, "I've said this many times: I can't wait until 8 o'clock tonight to get in and see the game presentation, the energy start to build, watch John Amirante step onto the ice -- I hope he's got his blue jacket on -- and sing the national anthem. The energy and the electricity; for me it's just a passion, it's the energy, it's something."
All three alumni acknowledged what an unexpected pleasure the current run is, compared with the high expectations that they handled 20 years ago. They all are proud and they are pleased that it has conjured so many memories.
"I had [Alain] Vigneault as a coach in juniors for two years," Matteau said. "I think Alain is one of those coaches who has adjusted over the years because he was a hard-nosed coach, a hard-nosed player. He seems so calm. I think his presence behind the bench calms everybody down. Everybody has a role and they accept it."
Calmness behind the bench is definitely a contrast with 1994, when Mike Keenan coached with an edge. But Keenan liked Matteau enough to have imported him on four different teams. "I was cheap and I was always available," Matteau said. "I don't know why."