Goals, not games, measure Matteau's impact
Surprise hero of 1994 playoffs says heart will always be with Rangers
As MSG announcer Sam Rosen declared on Adam Graves Night back on Feb. 3, “he needs no other introduction than "Matteau, Matteau, Matteau.”
Few athletes have had a greater impact on a franchise in a shorter amount of time than Stephane Matteau had on the New York Rangers. His Ranger career lasted just 85 regular season games but his legacy in New York will live on because on his heroic moments in the postseason.
|Stephane Matteau scored a pair of double-OT goals in the 1994 playoff series vs. New Jersey, and the second one -- in Game 7 -- was arguably the most thrilling moment in Rangers history.|
“When they announced I got traded to the New York Rangers, I thought I was going to be a safety guy just in case someone got hurt. I was very disappointed at the time.” Matteau remembers. “I knew I was going to a better team but as a professional athlete, you want to contribute, you want to play.”
Disappointment quickly turned to excitement as Head Coach Mike Keenan immediately paired Matteau with Alexei Kovalev and Steve Larmer on the second offensive line. The move was a stroke of genius, as Matteau scored his first Ranger goal in his very first game.
Matteau would go on to scored three more goals and assist on three others in the remaining 11 games of the 1993-94 season to help lead the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy with the best overall record in the NHL. But it would be the playoffs where Matteau would cement his name in Rangers lore.
The Blueshirts had a relatively easy time in the first and second rounds of the playoffs in 1994. New York needed just a total of nine of games to skate past the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals to advance to the conference finals.
“That saved us because we were not a young team,” Matteau recalls of the 1994 squad. “We played the longest series after that, 14 max games.”
The Rangers would be pushed to the limit in the final two rounds of the 1994 playoffs.
The conference finals against the New Jersey Devils is still talked about as one of the most memorable series the sport of hockey has ever seen. The series is best remembered for two events: Mark Messier’s Game Six guarantee and Matteau’s double overtime game-winner in Game Seven to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“Game Six to me was the best game I have ever seen or experienced in my life,” Matteau said. “I didn’t even score a point in that game but to be a part of the puzzle of the 1994 team, for me, was even better than my goal I scored.”
Messier’s declaration of victory and subsequent hat trick in Game Six is, without question, a momentous event in that series, if not in all of sports, and secured Messier as one the greatest leaders in sports history. But without Matteau tucking the puck past Devils goaltender Martin Brodeau at 4:24 of the second overtime in Game Seven, the Rangers might not have had the opportunity to end the franchise’s 54-year Stanley Cup drought.
“The goal was huge for the hockey team and huge for myself,” Matteau succinctly stated.
Games Six and Seven were such dramatic moments in the Eastern Conference Finals that some have forgetten that Matteau also scored a double overtime goal in Game Three in New Jersey as well. The left winger netted a backhander through traffic at 6:13 of the second sudden death period to give the Rangers a 2-1 series lead.
“The drama of Game Seven overshadowed Game Three,” Matteau said.
The love affair New York has had with Stephane Matteau, and vice versa, has not waned in the 15 years since the Stanley Cup victory. Matteau said he finds himself back in New York at least three or four time a year and cherishes both the city and fans that show their appreciation for what he accomplished during his brief tenure in New York.
“I only played 85 games with the Rangers but it seems like I played a thousand,” Matteau said. “I’m totally a blue guy now. I played for six different teams but the New York Rangers is the team I’ll never forget.
“The fans treat me like nobody else. They treat me even better than in my hometown,” he continued. “I’ll never miss an opportunity to come back here.”
Stephane Matteau might have played for five other teams during his 13-year NHL career but in the hearts and minds of Blueshirt fans he will always be a New York Ranger.