By Neil Keefe
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I would be lying if I said I didn’t watch “Matteauuuu! Matteauuuu! Matteauuuu!” regularly on YouTube. (That and videos of Louis C.K.’s stand-up.) But while everyone remembers the Rangers’ run in ’94 from the Matteau goal in Game 7 against the Devils or Messier’s guarantee in Game 6 against the Devils or Richter stoning Bure on the penalty shot in Game 4 of the finals, I feel like Game 7 of the Rangers-Canucks series isn’t talked about or referenced enough.
On Tuesday night with the Yankees-A’s game not starting until 10, MSG was airing Game 7 of the 1993-94 Stanley Cup finals, so I had to watch to relive a piece of my childhood and to see the difference of seven-year-old me watching that game on Tuesday, June 14, 1994 and 24-year-old me watching it on Tuesday, May 31, 2011.
The one thing that stood out to me the most (except for Craig MacTavish playing without a helmet, which always seems surreal no matter how many times I see it and seems even more surreal now in this age of enhanced safety and protection and concussions) was the Garden crowd. It was like the crowd from the “Boudreau” game in April, except amplified and relentless for 60 minutes of hockey and a few hours of real time. And it didn’t go away or stop because the Rangers of 17 years ago didn’t blow a lead in a must-win game at home.
It was chaos at the Garden that night. The shots panning the crowd following each Rangers goal were remarkable and made me nostalgic for early-90s hockey when the crowd was full of fans in the home team’s apparel crushing beers like the entire arena was participating in a fraternity’s initiation. I miss the days when “Rock and Roll (Part 2)” was the universal musical response for goals and when “Enter Sandman” was part of nearly every team’s warmup playlist. The days before tie downs on jerseys and when the crease inside the goal was still painted blue.
Watching Game 7 brought me back to when I was seven years old; about to finish second grade and when hockey and the Stanley Cup consumed my life, and the finals were my version of Disney World. I remember the ’94 finals as if they were last June and not 17 Junes ago, and luckily I have MSG to help me relive them nearly every day since not many other memories have been made at the Garden over the last two decades.
The first championship I remember was my mom waking me up after I fell asleep during Game 6 of the 1990-91 final to watch the Penguins celebrate against the North Stars. I remember the Penguins going back-to-back and a belly-to-belly against the Blackhawks the next year and McSorley’s ill-timed illegal stick penalty the following season against the Canadiens. Then there was the Rangers and then the Devils in the strike-shortened season and the Red Wings a bunch of times after that.
But the first championship I remember was that Penguins-North Stars series in the spring of 1991. A year before that was the Bruins’ last finals appearance. The only memories I have of the Bruins-Oilers series in the 1989-90 championship are those that were recreated for me on “Rock’em Sock’em” tapes and various other NHL VHS tapes over the years like “Dynamite on Ice.” I have no real time memories of the Bruins playing for the Cup, and I’m not sure anyone my age does.
I don’t watch the baseball postseason or the World Series if the Yankees have been eliminated, but I always watch the Stanley Cup playoffs for reasons like this year where the nearly past two months have been as addicting as when I first found out about “Friday Night Lights.” (And yes, I watch the NFL playoffs even if the Giants aren’t in it, but for other reasons. Cough, cough, SPREADS, cough, cough.)
With the NHL doing anything and everything to attract new fans, the conference quarterfinals this postseason has been the best infomercial for a product since Gerry Gardner, Maury Gardner and Maury’s wife were shown a video brochure of Camp Hope in “Heavyweights.” Think about these two things:
1.Four of the eight first-round series went to a Game 7. Two of those Game 7s went to overtime.
2. There were 49 games in the first round. 14 of those games went to overtime (29 percent).
Sure, the last two rounds have been a letdown (especially with a pair of sweeps in the Eastern Conference semifinals), but think about it like the first Thursday from this year’s March Madness … it was going to be impossible to sustain that type of drama over the next two rounds and then in the finals. The tournament of 16 is down to two and down to one series with the best team from the regular season representing the West, and a team I used to enjoy watching and used to actually have an attachment to through Ray Bourque and then Joe Thornton, representing the East.
There was a time when I would have actually wanted the Bruins to win this series, but that’s no longer the case. Sure, it would be special for some of my friends from college I in Boston who have been waiting there entire lives for this opportunity and fear that it might not come around again for another 21 years. But for me it would be disgusting to see Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien (two men who would be unemployed if the Canadiens could have held a lead or scored in overtime) win the Cup. It would make me gag to see Zdeno Chara or Milan Lucic drink from the Cup, or see the final chapter of the Mark Recchi story finish on a high note.
It saddens me that there will be a lot more people wearing Bruins hats in Boston and more people at the bars outside TD Garden starting tonight and going through the remainder of this series only because the Bruins are in this series. It sucks for the real fans that wearing a Bruins hat will probably become the “cool” thing to do in Boston even though there are plenty of people who have been wearing them day in and day out for years. And now playing with the Bruins in NHL 2012 won’t be anything, but trendy and considered “cheating.”
I have rooted hard against the Bruins this postseason. Not because they’re from Boston and not because the “pink hats” are popping up at a post-2004 Red Sox pace, but because there are just too many unlikable players and personalities and personnel on the team. However, for someone without a horse in the race, the Canucks-Bruins matchup is certainly more intriguing than a Canucks-Lightning matchup would have been. And I think it only happened because Gary Bettman finally put a team back in Winnipeg where they never should have left, and began to pick apart at his failed plan to make hockey popular in the southern U.S. If the Thrashers were still a franchise, Bettman would probably be looking at a San Jose-Tampa Bay final, but he made a good move for hockey and the Hockey Gods repaid him.
I believe this series is going to be a classic, and I rarely get that feeling about any championship series. Two teams from complete opposite sides of the NHL map with 3,000 miles separating Games 2 and 3, and 4 and 5 if necessary, and then 5 and 6 if necessary again and then 6 and 7 if necessary one last time. The two teams have both played 18 postseason games and now a total of 100 games since October as the season begins its ninth month of play. Mental focus will have to overcome fatigue for two of the best goalies and defenses in the game with the insane travel between the two teams that hasn’t been scene since the last time the Canucks played in a game this far into the postseason. That game from June 14, 1994.
Predictions are stupid and meaningless and just something for fans to get overly excited or overly upset about it. They don’t mean anything unless you back them with money and no one is bold enough to pick anything crazy like a sweep or a five-game series even they do in fact happen. I’ll admit that I had the Bruins and Canucks both going down in the first round, and they both nearly did in Game 7. But here we are on June 1, and they are both still standing after staving off their rivals (more so the Bruins) weeks ago when the Rangers’ offseason was new and when the baseball season was young.
But everyone else is giving his or her prediction, so here’s mine.
Canucks in 7.
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