Similarities and differences between 1994 Stanley Cup champ Rangers and 2014 version
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Along with shaking up the entire National Hockey League with their run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers have stirred up a lot of memories. Their fans cannot help thinking back 20 years to the last Rangers team that made it this far. The excitement seems so familiar.
Except the teams then and now are vastly different.
Just as Madison Square Garden itself is different (after a three-year transformation) and the home uniform colors are different (what with the NHL rules having forced a switch from white to blue), there are many distinctions between captain Mark Messier's Rangers and the current team, which has no formal captain (that being one of the big differences).
That is not to say one is better or worse. It is just proof that there is more than one way to reach the same place.
No one knows that better than some of the current team's biggest fans: the 1994 alumni.
"Any time you get on a run and get to this point, there are some similarities because you're winning games," said former defenseman Jeff Beukeboom, who coaches in the Rangers' system. "But I think this team is built a little differently than the team we were on in '94. They don't have the big stud center like Mess. But I think you can compare [Ryan] McDonagh to [Brian] Leetch, you can compare [Mike] Richter to [Henrik] Lundqvist, and so on and so forth. It's a defense-first team and I think the coaching staff has done a hell of a job with this team."
The greatest difference is in expectations. Twenty years ago, the Rangers were built to win and were expected to win. They earned the President's Trophy as the top team in the regular season. The 2014 Rangers are a middle-of-the-road playoff team that seemed a long shot as recently as four games into the second round.
"This year, it's a total surprise, in my opinion, and nobody would have put a dime or a buck on the Rangers this year," said Stephane Matteau, who was in the stands, leading cheers on the big video screen before Game 6 against the Canadiens on Thursday night. "But something changed in Game 5 against Pittsburgh. They look so good. Now we have high expectations; before, we didn't have any expectations. The alumni, we're all very proud of them."
Alain Vigneault's Rangers did benefit from a big deal near the deadline, with Glen Sather acquiring Martin St. Louis for captain Ryan Callahan. But Mike Keenan's Rangers underwent an overhaul, with Neil Smith bringing in Matteau and several other key players at the trading deadline.
No one on the 2014 Rangers has issued a guarantee and backed it up with a hat trick, as Messier did. Then again, no one back then had to weather the emotional waves that St. Louis has.
It's all different. It's all good, according to the former Rangers.
If there are similarities, they are solid goaltending and exceptional depth.
"The whole team looks good," Matteau said. "One time it's the [Derick] Brassard line that does something good, another time it's the [Derek] Stepan line. That's why you're successful. You need four lines and six defensemen."
So a few things never change. It could have been Richter or Alex Kovalev or Glenn Anderson who said what Lundqvist said the other day: "To put ourselves in a spot where we can play for the Cup is extremely special."