On This Date, May 19, 1994: Stephane Matteau Scores First of Two Game-Winners vs. Devils

Sean Hartnett
May 19, 2020 - 11:30 am

Stephane Matteau never scored 20 goals in any of his 13 NHL seasons. Before the 1994 playoffs, he wasn’t a household name. Yet, Rangers head coach Mike Keenan campaigned hard for the 6-foot-4 wing’s acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Having coached Matteau in Chicago, Keenan strongly believed that the rugged forward possessed the physical attributes and experience to add balance to a Rangers team that had an overabundance of skill – but lacked hardnosed traits.

Keep in mind, the NHL of 1994 was far different from today’s game that is built on speed and skill. Offense declined following the barnburning, eight-goal contests of the 1980’s. Clutching and grabbing became a prevalent tactic and teams began favoring the neutral zone trap. The NHL was soon entering “The Dead Puck Era.”

Back in the 90’s, there was a greater need for physicality, grit and size. Keenan, general manager Neil Smith and team personnel met on the road in Calgary prior to the 1994 trade deadline. Despite sitting in the first place, the Blueshirts were busy on trade deadline day.

In came Matteau, Brian Noonan, Glenn Anderson and Craig MacTavish. Out went Tony Amonte, Mike Gartner, Phil Bourque, Todd Marchant and Peter Anderson.

Some fans were upset at the prospect of the Rangers losing a pair of renowned goal-getters. Amonte had scored 33 goals or better in each of his first two NHL seasons. Gartner had recorded 40 goals or more in the past three seasons.

Keenan had gotten his way. The Rangers now fit his image with an influx of battle-hardened veterans tailored to play his system. A street fight between bitter rivals in the Rangers and Devils loomed in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final.

On this day in Rangers’ history, Matteau scored the first of his two double overtime goals of the series. Heading into Game 3, the series was tied at 1-1. Stephane Richer’s double overtime goal won Game 1 for the Devils. The Rangers responded with a 4-0 victory in Game 2.

From early on, Game 3 had spilled into a black-and-blue affair. Bernie Nicholls’ unpenalized cross-check to the neck of a vulnerable Alexei Kovalev had raised the temperature in the first period. Jeff Beukeboom delivered a knee-to-knee hit on Bobby Carpenter. Devils captain Scott Stevens and Esa Tikkanen exchanged pitchforks and pleasantries throughout the night. Rangers captain Mark Messier high-sticked Ken Daneyko. Claude Lemieux retaliated by landing a straight right to Messier’s face.

Like a Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed bout, this contest was about who would be left standing as double overtime progressed. Anderson saved the day for the Rangers by clearing the crease after Mike Richter made an acrobatic, behind-the-back save to deny Tommy Albelin.

On an extended shift, the Rangers swarmed Martin Brodeur’s crease. Anderson nearly converted a second-chance effort from an odd-angled Brian Leetch shot. Anderson regained the puck, circled behind the net and lifted the puck.

The puck trickled down from Stevens’ chest. Kovalev then attempted to bank a shot past Brodeur. With a backhanded effort on a loose puck, Matteau beat Brodeur and jumped for joy.

It had taken 50 shots to defeat Brodeur and the Devils. The Rangers exited Brendan Byrne Arena with a hard-fought, tank-emptying 3-2 victory and a 2-1 series advantage.

At the time, it was incompressible that Matteau would score a more significant and more dramatic goal in his career. Yet, as we all know today – he would repeat the trick under even greater pressure in Game 7.

Game 3 was Matteau’s first step to securing a permanent place in the hearts of Rangers fans. What would come in Game 7 elevated his status even further among The Garden Faithful and etched his name in hockey history.

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