Pens-Rangers '92 clash still resonates
"Other than the Cups, beating them that year was the most satisfying thing of my career."
- Phil Bourque, on the 1992 Patrick Division final between the Penguins and Rangers
Some memories never fade, and those from the Penguins' against-the-odds triumph over the New York Rangers in the 1992 Patrick Division final figure to last a lifetime.
"There is a hatred that builds up when you're playing the Rangers," former Penguins forward Phil Bourque said. "A lot of people picked them to win the Stanley Cup that year. But we were the defending champs, and this was the big stage, and it was our chance to get to another level."
The Penguins did - defending the Cup by reeling off a single-season playoff record 11 consecutive victories. That streak started May 9, 1992, with an epic Game 4 against the Rangers, which rates among the most memorable contests in Penguins history.
"You could probably say that about the whole series," said Bourque, now a Penguins broadcaster. "It didn't just have a little bit of everything. It had a whole lot."
May 3, 1992
Game 1, at Madison Square Garden: Penguins 4, Rangers 2
Riding the momentum from overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against Washington in the first round, the Penguins stormed to a 3-0 lead on goals by Troy Loney, Larry Murphy and Kevin Stevens. They iced the game late in the third on Ron Francis' first goal of the playoffs, set up by Lemieux, whose two points apparently struck fear in late-Rangers coach Roger Nielsen.
• Penguins lead series, 1-0
May 5, 1992
Game 2, at Madison Square Garden: Rangers 4, Penguins 2
Kevin Stevens' second goal of the series at 1:29 of the opening period silenced a nervous crowd at "the world's most famous arena." The Rangers, whose 105 points topped the NHL, were reeling - until "The Slash" less than four minutes after Stevens' goal.
Adam Graves denied deliberately hacking Mario Lemieux's left hand as the Penguins' captain carried the puck near the blueline in the Rangers' zone. Coach Scotty Bowman and the Penguins disagreed, but Graves' slash resulted in a broken hand for Lemieux, who would miss the remainder of the series.
The Rangers scored three third-period goals to overcome a 2-1 disadvantage.
"It was a very emotional room after that game," Bourque said. "We wanted to get back at Graves, do the same thing to him as he did to Mario - and we knew we couldn't."
• Series tied, 1-1
May 7, 1992
Game 3, at Civic Arena: Rangers 6, Penguins 5 (OT)
Adam Graves not only played - to the dismay of Penguins fans who called for his suspension - but he staked the Rangers to a 1-0 lead with an early first-period goal. The Penguins trailed, 3-1, when Ron Francis, elevated into Lemieux's center spot on the top line, tallied for the second time in the series to open the second. Francis' third goal of the playoffs and Larry Murphy's fifth pulled the Penguins even, 4-4, entering the third.
"At that point, it felt like an unbelievable opportunity," Bourque said. "They thought they had us because they had taken out Mario."
The Penguins wasted their opportunity and the home-ice advantage they earned with a Game 1 win. Kris King scored at 1:29 of overtime, setting the stage for a memorable fourth game.
• Rangers lead series, 2-1
May 9, 1992
Game 4, at Civic Arena: Penguins 5, Rangers 4 (OT)
Furious Penguins fans were satisfied by the NHL's suspension of Adam Graves, but the Rangers' strong early surge threatened to give them command of the series.
"We had to regroup," Bourque said. "We were at a crossroads. If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you have to overcome certain hurdles. We had the Stanley Cup, and we wanted to keep it."
Trailing, 3-1, very late in the second period, Ron Francis scored arguably the most important goal of his storied career. His long-range shot from the neutral zone eluded Rangers goalie Mike Richter at 19:54, and the Penguins rode that momentum into overtime - thanks to third-period goals from, yep, Francis and Troy Loney.
"Ronnie Francis - that's what I remember from the series," Bourque said. "And not for the reason you'd think. That overtime goal for the hat trick was the stuff of legend."
Francis' sixth goal of the series on a power-play at 2:47 of overtime sent the crowd into a tizzy.
"Our fans went nuts," Bourque said. "I've never heard the arena that loud."
• Series tied, 2-2
May 11, 1992
Game 5, at Madison Square Garden: Penguins 3, Rangers 2
Jaromir Jagr's on-ice style was loud, but his production had been quiet entering a game both clubs considered pivotal. Two of his three assists in Games 3 and 4 set up tying goals, but Jagr had not tallied in the series despite 13 shots.
Rangers fans were convinced their team's Stanley Cup drought - the Blueshirts had last raised the chalice in 1940 - was destined to end, even when Rick Tocchet's first goal of the series pushed the Penguins ahead, 1-0, only 1:15 into the contest.
"We had the type of team that relished playing in New York," Bourque said. "We relished that stage. The more important the game, the louder the crowd, the brighter the lights - we really enjoyed playing in New York and winning big games there. The way (Rangers) fans are was built-in motivation.
"But I think Jagr just wanted to score a goal."
He did, finally, at 7:04, toasting Rangers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck on a penalty shot - the first for a Penguin in playoff history.
The Rangers could feel their grip on the series slipping, and they played the next 50 minutes with noticeable desperation. New York tied the score, 2-2, early in the third on Mike Gartner's goal, but all that did was set the stage for Jagr to bitterly disappoint the fans he now entertains.
His fifth goal of the playoffs at 14:27 provided the Penguins a 3-2 lead, and goaltender Tom Barrasso was terrific late to hold that advantage. Barrasso turned aside 32 shots and improved to 4-1 in playoff games at the Garden.
"What is the saying: 'Great players do great things at great times,'" Bourque said. "Jagr and Tommy were killer in that game."
• Penguins lead series, 3-2
May 13, 1992
Game 6, at Civic Arena: Penguins 5, Rangers 1
A chant that had haunted the Rangers for far too long - "Nine-teen Four-teee!" - tortured them over the final 40 minutes. Rick Tocchet, Jagr and Shawn McEachern scored in the first period, and the Rangers never recovered.
McEachern, a rookie, deserved a goal after recording three assists over the five previous games. He was one of countless Penguins to "step up," according to Bourque, and that group included the famed "Muskegon Line," a forward unit consisting of minor-leaguers Jock Callander, Mike Needham and Dave Michayluk.
"It was a total team victory in that series," Bourque said. "We were without our big gun, but we had other weapons."
No weapon proved more potent than Ron Francis, who scored into an empty net with 41 seconds remaining for his seventh goal of the series. Francis finished with 12 points.
"It showed you what he was made of," Bourque said. "It showed what our team was made of. Everybody thought the Rangers were going to win the Stanley Cup, especially after the Graves stuff. But we showed in that series why we deserve the rings on our fingers."
• Penguins win series, 4-2
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