Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin.

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jacob Trouba was 3 months old when Mark Messier famously scored a hat trick in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference final against the Devils.

This came after Messier expressed confidence that the Rangers would get the job done, which through the magic of the New York tabloids became a “guarantee.”

So forgive Trouba, the current captain, if he cannot directly relate to his long-ago predecessor’s vibe or try to match it and put additional pressure on the Rangers.

They are feeling it enough as it is as they approach Game 6 of this year’s Eastern Conference final on Saturday night, in which — like the ’94 team — they must win on the road to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

Times have changed, and players’ postseason interactions with reporters are not as freewheeling as they were in Messier’s era. Now it is mostly crowded scrums in largely empty locker rooms or dry sessions at interview tables.

But even through that lens, it is evident that these Rangers are as committed to the quest as the Stanley Cup winners of ’94 were.

The trick now is doing something about it.

The 2023-24 team spent an entire season finding ways to win games they perhaps should not have behind their elite special teams and star goalie Igor Shesterkin.

That formula continued through the first three games of this series. But Florida restored order by winning Games 4 and 5, and here we are.

What needs to happen now — none of which will be easy — against a Panthers team that appears to be the complete package of speed, size, skill and attitude?

Only a return to what earned the Rangers the Presidents’ Trophy in the first place.

For example: The power play, which was humming early in the playoffs but is 1-for-14 in the conference finals.

The Rangers have had moments, but not enough, as the longtime No. 1 crew of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck and Adam Fox has failed to solve the puzzle the Panthers are presenting.

Would coach Peter Laviolette consider what would have seemed like a radical idea not so long ago and add red-hot Alexis Lafreniere to that group?

The question is: Whom would he remove?

Speaking of that unit, its four longest-tenured Rangers — Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin and Fox — have totaled one goal in five games this series. That was a shorthanded one by Kreider in Game 5.

Panarin scored 49 regular-season goals but seems to have disappeared into the maw of the Panthers’ defense.

Zibanejad has had trouble matching the physicality of his Panthers counterpart, Aleksander Barkov.

Fox seems to be playing through an undisclosed leg injury that he appeared to suffer in Game 4 of the first-round sweep against the Capitals.

This just will not do.

It would be a shame if the Rangers fell short at this stage, the same one at which their road ended in 2012, 2015 and 2022. Watching them play the Oilers or Stars in the Stanley Cup Final would be great theater, and something their loyal fans deserve.

But they have earned their predicament and now need their stars to get them out of it, just like what happened 30 years ago.

Sure, comparisons to 1994 for the Rangers and Knicks over the past two months mostly have been a creation of nostalgic fans and narrative-seeking journalists.

For the players, that was a time before most can remember. All that matters is now. But the echoes always are in the background.

Trouba and his teammates on Saturday night need to channel not what Messier said 30 years ago but what he felt. The Rangers fell behind 2-0 that day in New Jersey, then scored four in a row. Think about the memories that would have never happened without that.

Few fans would recall a guy named Stephane Matteau having passed through town, and Howie Rose certainly would not exchange texts with him every May 27.

Even fewer fans would have remembered that year’s Canucks-Devils Final.

As Sam Rosen said at the time, “This one will last a lifetime!” It has, for people old enough to remember it. But the time has come for a new story.

The Rangers need six more victories, but it has to start with one on Saturday. That much is a guarantee.


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