The New York Rangers will face the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, where there hasn't been a Game 7 since the Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup in 1994.
But if it weren't for left winger Stephane Matteau, the Rangers might never have gotten a chance to play against Pavel Bure and the Canucks. Without Matteau, opposing fans might still be chanting "NINE-TEEN FOR-TY."
Stephane Matteau played for 13 seasons in the NHL for six different teams. The Rangers acquired him from the Chicago Blackhawks at the 1994 trade deadline, along with Brian Noonan, in exchange for Tony Amonte.
Rangers' head coach Mike Keenan had worked with both players while in Chicago, and he exercised astute judgment in making the acquisition. He must have sensed that the Rangers needed a little more experience in their go-for-broke quest for the cup.
In addition to trading Amonte, the Rangers made two other moves on March 21st that year. They traded goal-machine Mike Gartner to Toronto for Glenn Anderson and Scott Malone, and they exchanged Todd Marchant with Edmonton for the helmet-less Craig MacTavish.
The rebuilt Rangers already looked like some of the Oilers teams that had previously won the Stanley Cup, with Mark Messier, Adam Graves and Esa Tikkanen also sporting Broadway Blue.
The 1994 Rangers were constructed as a win-now team, dripping with experience and gritty stars. But it was a role player who propelled them to the Stanley Cup Finals that year.
Matteau played only 85 regular-season games with the Rangers over three seasons, scoring just 11 goals. He was dealt to the St. Louis Blues in 1995.
But for some reason, he shined in those 1994 playoffs. Matteau scored six playoff goals that year. Two of those were overtime game-winners, and both came in double overtimes against the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The first goal won Game 3. The second won Game 7, and sent them to the Stanley Cup Finals to face the Canucks.
Matteau's Game 7 goal against the Devils will forever be remembered for Howie Rose's ecstatic play-by-play call:
"Matteau swoops in to intercept. Matteau behind the net, swings it in front. HE SCORES! MATTEAU! MATTEAU!! MATTEAU!!! STEPHANE MATTEAU!!!! AND THE RANGERS HAVE ONE MORE HILL TO CLIMB, BABY, BUT IT'S MT. VANCOUVER! THE RANGERS ARE HEADED TO THE FINALS!"
Never mind that Matteau's wraparound bounced off rookie-goalie Martin Brodeur's stick. It went into the net to end a marathon series, and sprinkled the Rangers with some magic pixie dust that made them a team of destiny.
Mark Messier may have got them to that Game 7 with his guarantee, and then his hat trick in Game 6, but Matteau put them in the Finals.
To this day, every Rangers fan (and Devils fan, for that matter) thinks of Matteau's name in triplicate, and simultaneously envisions his goal in their mind's eye. Game 7 victories can last a lifetime, and the 2012 Rangers need new heroes to step up Thursday night.
The Rangers have high expectations for this year's playoffs, and while it's only the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, they need to invoke the spirit of Stephane Matteau to propel them forward. The magic could come from anywhere, but keep your eye out for a no-name with the puck behind the net.
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