Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How Long It's Been: The Rangers Were In the Stanley Cup Finals

They dare? Ranger fans dare to mock the Devils for their pathetic performance in the Stanley Cup Finals?

They dare mock the performance of the very team that knocked them out of the Playoffs? Partly because they won 2 out of 3 at Madison Square Garden?

It's true: In the first 199 minutes of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, the New Jersey Devils have scored just 2 goals.

That's 2 more goals than the Rangers have scored in the last 18 Stanley Cup Finals.

How long has it been since the Rangers were in the Finals?

We all know the date: June 14, 1994. Nine days short of 18 years ago.

"The waiting is over!" Howie Rose said of the 54-year drought. "The New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup! And this one will last a lifetime!"

It will have to.

Since then, the Devils have won 3. The Detroit Red Wings 4, the Colorado Avalanche 2, and the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins (and, it sure looks like it now, the Los Angeles Kings) 1 each.

18 years down. 36 years to go?


June 14, 1994...

The Knicks were also in the NBA Finals. And came closer to winning it than they have at any time since 1973. But they lost in Game 7 to the Houston Rockets. No shame in losing to such a good team... but the way they lost, with John Starks sending up brick after brick after brick... and the fact that the Knicks of Patrick Ewing never did win a title... That was shameful.

The Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Nets, Devils and Red Bulls have all built new facilities. Even the new Rutgers Stadium, now renamed High Point Solutions Stadium, wasn't quite finished, and would open in September. The two Garden teams, and the New York Islanders, are the only area teams that have not since replaced their venues, although the Garden is currently undergoing a renovation that has its major work done in the off-season, which sent the New York Liberty to share the Prudential Center with the Devils for the 2011, '12 and '13 WNBA seasons.

Of course, there wasn't any WNBA in June 1994. Nor was there an MLS: Major League Soccer, at this point, was just a concept, something that the U.S. Soccer Federation hoped to establish as the result of a successful World Cup, which was to start on June 17. The New York/New Jersey MetroStars, now the New York Red Bulls, barely even existed on paper at that point; the people putting MLS together knew they wanted a "New York" franchise, and they knew they wanted Giants Stadium as a home field, but it was all just an idea.

Who had the Rangers replaced as Stanley Cup Champions? The Montreal Canadiens. No Canadian team has won the Cup since. After 18 years, can that possibly be as a result of chance? Or has Commissioner Gary Bettman fixed it as such?

The defending World Champions in the other sports were the Toronto Blue Jays, the Chicago Bulls and the Dallas Cowboys. At this point in the 1994 season, the Yankees had the best record in the American League, but the best record in Major League Baseball belonged to the Montreal Expos. They have since moved.

So have the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Raiders, Cleveland Browns (a franchise since restored) and Houston Oilers. The NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Vancouver Grizzlies and Charlotte Bobcats began play, but the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, and the Bobcats replaced the Charlotte Hornets, who moved to New Orleans. The Seattle SuperSonics moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the New Jersey Nets have just become the Brooklyn Nets. In the NHL, the Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche, the old Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes. The Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets began play, but the Thrashers became the new Winnipeg Jets.

Most Clevelanders hadn’t yet realized what a jackass Art Modell is, nor had most of them heard of LeBron James. They were also under the impression that Bill Belichick, while one of the most accomplished defensive coordinators in NFL history, was a lousy head coach. Maybe they were right: It was only in New England that he began to cheat.

The Atlanta Braves, the Florida Marlins, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the team currently known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won their first World Series. In other sports, winning their first World Championship since then have been the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Rockets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat, the Dallas Mavericks, and, as stated earlier, the Devils, Avs, Stars, Bolts, 'Canes and Ducks.

The Marlins, the Diamondbacks, the Houston Astros, the Colorado Rockies, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers have each won their first Pennant. The Tennessee Titans (who hadn’t done so as the Houston Oilers), the Baltimore Ravens (who hadn’t done so as the old Browns since 1964, before the Super Bowl era), the San Diego Chargers (who hadn't reached a league championship game since they were AFL Western Division Champions in 1965), the Bucs, the Saints, the Carolina Panthers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals (who never got that far in St. Louis) have advanced to their first Super Bowl. The Orlando Magic, the Utah Jazz, the Nets, the Heat, the Mavericks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have reached their first NBA Finals. The Devils, the Avs, the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals, the Stars (who had done so twice as the Minnesota North Stars), the Hurricanes, the Ducks and the Lightning have advanced to their first Stanley Cup Finals.

The Braves won their first World Series in 29 years (since they were in Milwaukee), the Boston Red Sox won their first in 86 years, the Chicago White Sox their first in 88, and the Giants their first in 56, or their first since moving to San Francisco. The Rams won their first NFL Championship in 49 years, or their first since moving to St. Louis. The Colts won their first Super Bowl in 36 years, or their first since moving to Indianapolis. The Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, the Detroit Red Wings their first in 42, and the Boston Bruins their first in 39.

On June 14, 1994, hockey legends Maurice Richard, Sid Abel, Syl Apps, and Frankie Brimsek were still alive. So were 9 members of the Rangers' last Stanley Cup-winning team, of 1940: Mac Colville, Art Coulter, Dutch Hiller, Murray "Muzz" Patrick (brother of teammate Lynn Patrick and son of team GM Lester Patrick, both already dead by 1994), Alf Pike, John Polich, Alex Shibicky, Clint Smith and Stan Smith. Stan Smith, a lefty-shooting center, is apparently the last survivor of the 1940 Rangers. Counting the '40 Playoffs, he played a grand total of 10 NHL games, scoring 2 goals and an assist, all in the 1940-41 season. He was a victim of the NHL's having only 6 teams, as he starred for some minor-league teams, and World War II, missing 3 seasons due to military service. If he makes it to this coming August 13, he'll be 95 years old.

There was even 1 member of the 1928 and 1933 Stanley Cup-winning Rangers still alive: Murray Murdoch, who died in 2001, making him also the last survivor of the original 1926-27 Rangers.

On June 14, 1994, the Canadiens were still playing at the Montreal Forum, Toronto was still playing at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Bruins at the Boston Garden, the Sabres at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, and the Blackhawks had just closed Chicago Stadium.

The aforementioned World Cup was won by Brazil, beating Italy on penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and extra time. Since leaving the U.S., the World Cup has been held in France, Japan, Korea, Germany and South Africa.

The European Cup/Champions League soccer tournament has been won by AC Milan (3 times), Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid (3 times), Manchester United (twice), Bayern Munich, Porto, Liverpool, Barcelona (3 times), Internazionale Milano, and now Chelsea.

The Olympic Games have been held in America (twice), Japan, Australia, Greece, Italy, China and Canada. The World Cup has been held in France, Japan, Korea, Germany and South Africa -- and had never previously been held in Asia and Africa, or in a joint venture (2002 in Japan and Korea).

Bill Clinton was in his first term as President. George W. Bush was running for Governor of Texas. George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and their wives, and Lady Bird Johnson were all still alive. (Reagan, Mrs. Johnson, and Mr. and Mrs. Ford have since died.) Richard Nixon had just died. Barack Obama was teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, and Mitt Romney had just entered his first race for public office, for the U.S. Senate seat of Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. He would, deservedly, lose.

The Governor of New York was Mario Cuomo, about to lose a bid for a 4th term to George Pataki. The Mayor of New York City was Rudy Giuliani, and the Governor of New Jersey was Christine Todd Whitman.

The Internet was still new to most of us. Most of us had never heard of Microsoft or Netscape or America Online. There was no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Instagram and no Pinterest. VHS videotapes were still the dominant way of recording and playing back movies and TV shows. Mobile phones were still roughly the size of the communicators on the original Star Trek series.

Major films of the late spring and early summer of 1994 included The Crow, Speed, The Lion King, Forrest Gump, and 2 baseball-themed movies, Little Big League and a remake of the 1951 film Angels in the Outfield. Michael Douglas was about to turn 50 and was wrapping up filming Disclosure with Demi Moore; he was still married to Diandra Douglas, she to Bruce Willis. Catherine Zeta-Jones was then 23 and starring in a film version of Thomas Hardy's novel Return of the Native.

Television shows that were about to air their final first-run episodes were In Living Color, L.A. Law, the cartoon Rugrats, The Arsenio Hall Show, and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Soon to debut were Inside the Actors Studio, My So Called Life, New York Undercover, the live-action version of The Tick, Party of Five, All American Girl, the medical shows Chicago Hope and ER, Touched by an Angel, Friends, The Secret World of Alex Mack, and NBC's Entertainment Tonight clone Extra!

In June 1994, the Number 1 song in America was “I Swear” by All-4-One. The day after the Rangers won the Cup, Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic relations. Two days before, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered. South Africa had just held its first all-races elections, inaugurated Nelson Mandela as President, and rejoined the British Commonwealth. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed.

In the spring of 1994, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Ralph Ellison, and, on the very day the Rangers won the Cup, Henry Mancini, died. In that calendar year, Dakota Fanning, and Saoirse Ronan, and Justin Bieber were born. That's right: The last time the New York Rangers appeared in a Stanley Cup Finals game, Justin Bieber wasn't a "Boyfriend," he was a "Baby."

Will the Rangers ever appear in another Stanley Cup Finals? You might "Never Say Never," but I don't think it will ever happen again in "My World."

Something for Ranger fans to think about, the next time they mock their superiors in Newark. If, that is, they have the capacity to think at all.

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