Curses wait goes on for Rangers

June 10, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- They've waited 54 years, and now they'll have to wait two more days. Or maybe five more. Or -- heaven help us -- maybe another half-century.

Maybe forever.

This was to be the night -- the start of the party, the end of the curse. Only problem was, the New York Rangers forgot to win. And now their tortured history is an issue once more.

The Vancouver Canucks trail this series, three games to two. They can tie it by winning at home tomorrow. They can win it if they get to Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

New York is a scary place, all right. The Garden is a haunted house, and the Rangers are doing the impossible, turning the city into a ghost town.

Last night's game was a 60-minute version of a 54-year nightmare. The Canucks took a 3-0 lead early in the third period. The Rangers rallied to tie the score. The Canucks scored three more times and won, 6-3.

Afterward, Vancouver coach Pat Quinn was walking back to his dressing room when he was stopped by a security guard he knew.

"See you Tuesday," Quinn said, laughing.

Indeed, the whole thing is downright hilarious, unless you're one of those manic Rangers fans who figured the Broadway Blues finally were ready to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.

The fans were still chanting "Let's Go Rangers!" when the final buzzer sounded, but there was no need for 300 New York City police officers to ring the ice and thwart any excess celebration.

Maybe after Game 7.

Maybe never.

The eight goals in the third period tied a Stanley Cup Finals record. The Rangers' stunning comeback -- three goals in a span of 5:35 -- surprised even coach Mike Keenan, but it was just the final tease.

The fans left the Garden muttering about a pivotal turn in the first period, when the Rangers had a goal by Esa Tikkanen nullified because of a disputed offside, then saw defenseman Jeff Beukeboom ejected after the ensuing fracas.

Blah, blah, blah.

"I had an inkling we were in trouble right from the morning on," Keenan said. "You get seduced by success. Certainly, the media was seduced in this particular case. I think that was picked up by the club."

Heck, the New York Post pasted pictures of Keenan and several key Rangers on its front page yesterday and announced, "Tonight's the Night!" A fourth straight victory over Vancouver seemed a foregone conclusion.

Two columnists urged fans not to riot. Another urged fans to chant "1940! 1940!" and finally put the curse to rest. As one writer in the Post put it, "It will be scary, and simultaneously irresistible. Life and limb must be risked for a moment this unique."

Alas, neither sacrifice was necessary.

Which only added to the suffering.

The last time the Rangers won the Cup, Germany had just invaded Norway and Denmark. It was four years before D-Day. Television was in its infancy. The Orioles were in the International League. Elvis Presley was 5 years old.

The fans recall every near miss, every bitter rival. The Rangers had won each of their three previous Cups (1928, '33 and '40) on the road because the circus was in town. Last night promised the best of both worlds -- a circus, and a Cup.

"Obviously, getting the police escort to the game was interesting," the Canucks' Cliff Ronning said. "We felt we could have taken the bus and gotten here no problem, but they tried to make a big deal out of it."

It was a big deal. Local ticket agencies reportedly were scalping tickets for $1,500. One man said he refused an offer of $10,000 for four seats. Ushers checking tickets at the gates held stacks ++ of counterfeits that they had confiscated.

Outside the Garden, nearly 300 police officers handled crowd control. Five minutes before the game, the house lights went off, and the video scoreboard showed Rangers' playoff highlights to the accompaniment of Van Halen's "Right Now."

By the time the Rangers took the ice, the crowd was deafening. The fans stood, chanting, "We want the Cup! We want the Cup!" The scoreboard flashed a picture of the treasured prize, and the place went nuts.

Then, in keeping with Garden custom, the fans treated the national anthems like fight songs, resuming the "Let's Go Rangers!' chant during the Canadian version, then releasing balloons and confetti during the American.

It was one big party.

-! Too bad they played the game.

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