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Making His Mark

I've never been one for neatness, so you might say I'm a little messier than the average guy. Or, if we're talking hockey, you could also say I'm a little Messier than the average guy and I'd be okay with that too. Of course, in that case, we're talking about ex-New York Rangers legend (and that is the appropriate word here) Mark Messier

They raised the captain's No. 11 to the rafters of Madison Square Garden on Thursday night in what by all accounts was a touching display, and Jaromir Jagr took the proverbial torch from the Rangers captain and lit the lamp for the game-winning goal in overtime as the Rangers defeated the Edmonton Oilers.

Mark Messier shall be hailed forever in New York sports as the leader of the team that ended a 54-year drought without a Stanley Cup championship. You can place him on a level with the all-time greats who have played for city teams, and if you insist on separating the imports from the homegrowns, his place belongs right alongside Reggie Jackson (sorry for the Yankees reference...he's a better comparison than Mike Piazza).

You can, should, and will talk about the guaranteed win in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, when Messier scored three third-period goals to cap a Rangers comeback from the brink of elimination as his defining moment, or the game-winning goal he was (probably unjustly) credited with in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks, but in this space, and this case, we'll talk walk-offs because it seems most appropriate.

The one I wish to reference took place during that 1994 season, the regular season actually, on January 27, 1994. As Rangers games go, I'm guessing it's not one that is particularly well-remembered, since there were many games that overshadowed it, but this is one with a fun finish. It is albeit a little messier (or Messier) than most games because of the way it concluded.

The Rangers were the hot team in the NHL throughout 1993-94 and they were in the midst of a nice run in January, having followed up three straight losses with four consecutive victories. They aimed for number five in Los Angeles against Wayne Gretzky and the Kings and it looked like they'd get it with ease, as the Rangers had a 4-1 lead in the second period, with a Gretzky goal the lone Los Angeles tally. The Kings, on their home ice, mounted a nice comeback against Rangers goalie Mike Richter, scoring twice in the second to get within a goal and then striking for the tying goal with 4:13 remaining in regulation.

This one went almost the full extra five minutes allotted to such contests. The Rangers dominated the overtime, but couldn't score. In the closing seconds, the Rangers caught an unusual break when Tony Granato came off the bench too soon on a change, trying to thwart a New York breakaway. The call, amazingly enough was for a penalty shot, but Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey was up for the challenge, and he stopped Rangers forward Tony Amonte's 1-on-1 attempt.

The ensuing face-off was in the Kings zone, but only 11 seconds remained, so there wasn't much time to try to work something out. The 1994 Rangers were a team that flourished in all situations regardless of time or score and on this occasion, it was there captain who came through. The Kings won the face-off and tried to immediately clear, but Rangers defenseman Sergei Zubov kept the puck in the zone and fired a slapshot. Hrudey made the save but could not corral the rebound. Messier, coming from behind the net, curled in and scored the winner on a backhand shot.

"I learned that from 'The Great One,'" Messier told reporters after the game, referring to Gretzky, and I wonder if Jagr said the same thing after Thursday night's game referring to his nifty game-winning wrist shot.

True Mettier fans know...The 1993-1994 Rangers had three regular-season walk-off (overtime) goals (scored by Mark Messier, Mike Gartner and Tony Amonte) and two more in the postseason (both tallied by Stephane Matteau).

Back to baseball, with maybe a little Jets, over the weekend or next week

Comments

Metstradamus said…
Jaromir Jagr scored the overtime "walk-off" winner on Messier Night...and also the overtime "walk-off" winner during Gretzky's final NHL game as well while with the Penguins.

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